Sys­tem for track­ing visa over­stays is al­most ready

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics -

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is fi­nal­iz­ing its plan for a bio­met­ric data sys­tem to track when im­mi­grants leave the United States and will present it to Congress within “weeks,” a top depart­ment of­fi­cial told a House Home­land Se­cu­rity sub­com­mit­tee Tues­day.

An exit sys­tem to track who is leav­ing the coun­try and when has been sought since be­fore the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. DHS of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano, have agreed with the need for such a pro­gram but pre­vi­ously have said it would be too costly.

John Co­hen, the depart­ment’s deputy coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­or­di­na­tor, did not dis­cuss the cost in his tes­ti­mony about the prob­lem of im­mi­grants who over­stay visas. He said the depart­ment’s re­port to Congress will ex­plain how DHS plans to bet­ter de­ter­mine who has over­stayed his or her visa.

The crim­i­nal case against Amine El Khal­ifi, 29, of Alexan­dria, ac­cused in an al­leged bomb plot against the U.S. Capi­tol, has re­newed the de­bate about how the U.S. gov­ern­ment — a decade af­ter the ter­ror at­tacks of 2001 — rou­tinely fails to track mil­lions of for­eign vis­i­tors who re­main in the coun­try longer than they are al­lowed. El Khal­ifi was ar­rested in a park­ing lot, wear­ing what he thought was an ex­plo­sive-laden sui­cide vest. He had been liv­ing il­le­gally in the United States for 12 years.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t con­sider de­port­ing peo­ple whose only of­fense is over­stay­ing a visa a pri­or­ity. It has fo­cused im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment ef­forts on peo­ple who have com­mit­ted se­ri­ous crimes or are con­sid­ered a threat to public or na­tional se­cu­rity.

Mr. Co­hen said im­prove­ments in how data from im­mi­grants is col­lected and stored has made it eas­ier for law en­force­ment to iden­tify visa over­stays and de­ter­mine if they pose a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity or public safety.

Rep. Candice S. Miller, Michi­gan Re­pub­li­can, who led Tues­day’s hear­ing, said El Khal­ifi “fol­lows a long line of ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing sev­eral of the 9/11 hi­jack­ers, who over­stayed their visa and went on to con­duct ter­ror at­tacks.” His tourist visa ex­pired the same year he ar­rived from his na­tive Morocco as a teenager in 1999.

She said 36 peo­ple who over­stayed visas have been con­victed of ter­ror­ism-re­lated charges since 2001.

“We have to rec­og­nize that we do have this prob­lem,” Ms. Miller said. “The truth is, in the 40[th] per­centile of all the il­le­gal [im­mi­grants] are in this coun­try on ex­pired visas. They came in right through the front door.”

El Khal­ifi, who is charged with at­tempt­ing to use a weapon of mass destruc­tion, never came to the at­ten­tion of fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies even af­ter a se­ries of mi­nor run-ins with po­lice in North­ern Virginia from 2002 to 2006, in­clud­ing dis­obey­ing a traf­fic sign and speed­ing. Pro­grams that could have iden­ti­fied him if he had been jailed by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Se­cure Com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram, which shares fin­ger­prints from lo­cal jails with the FBI, were not in place at the time.

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