Los Angeles Times

Trump opens new front in the fight against migrants

He plans to target foreign travelers who overstay their visas.

- By Molly O’Toole

WASHINGTON — The White House says it plans to crack down on the hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors who overstay their U.S. visas, a vast challenge that has largely escaped notice as the Trump administra­tion has focused chiefly on blocking migrants on the southern border.

Experts say so-called overstays by students, au pairs, tourists and others have far outpaced unauthoriz­ed border crossings in recent years and form a major portion of the estimated 10.7 million people in the country without permission.

President Trump signed a memorandum late Monday threatenin­g to ultimately suspend travel from countries with high rates of overstays, and possibly require foreign travelers to post “admission bonds” that would be repaid once they leave the country.

Visitors “who abuse the visa process and decline to abide by the terms and conditions of their visas, including their visa departure dates, undermine the integrity of our immigratio­n system and harm the national interest,” Trump wrote.

He offered few immediate concrete steps beyond directing the secretarie­s of Homeland Security and State to identify ways to combat non-immigrant visa overstays within 120 days.

Nonetheles­s, the memo serves as a rare acknowledg­ment by the administra­tion that many undocument­ed people in the country entered legally by ship or plane. Trump has chiefly focused his ire on Central Americans who crossed the border between ports of entry or entered to seek asylum.

The largest number of visa overstays are from Canada and Mexico, but 20 countries have overstay rates ranging from 10% to

41%, according to the White House.

“This has been an issue people have been trying to deal with for quite a long time,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigratio­n and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. “The majority of new additions are actually overstayer­s, not people crossing the border illegally.”

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisa­n Migration Policy Institute, called it “kind of surprising that an administra­tion so active on immigratio­n has taken this long” to focus on overstays.

“The memo itself doesn’t do anything, but it does lay the groundwork for what potentiall­y could be really strict enforcemen­t around overstays,” she added.

The latest Homeland Security Department data show that about 702,000 visitors who entered the country by sea or air in fiscal 2017 remained longer than allowed, according to a Government Accountabi­lity Office review. By comparison, U.S. authoritie­s apprehende­d 304,000 migrants at the southern border that year.

The Homeland Security data showed a handful of African countries had among the highest proportion of visa overstays, especially Eritrea, Chad, Liberia and Somalia.

The Republic of Djibouti, a tiny but strategica­lly vital country on the Horn of Africa, had a suspected overstay rate of 41.6 %, the highest proportion of any nation. Djibouti has a population of about 1 million people.

Nigeria, which has about 200 million people, had an overstay rate of 10.3%, but 19,046 overstays, far more than Djibouti.

Last year, Trump made disparagin­g remarks about African countries, expressing a preference for immigratio­n from northern European countries like Norway.

Brown, who worked for both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administra­tions, said it made sense for Trump to focus on countries with a high proportion of overstays but a relatively small number in total.

“If we were to start talking about sanctions and visa denials to a country like Canada or Mexico, there would be a whole lot more national interests to consider than some of these countries in Africa,” she said. “It’d be harder to do.”

Trump’s memo says if the countries with high overstay rates don’t reduce them, the United States may toughen visa requiremen­ts or shorten visits.

Under current policy, countries with overstay rates of at least 2% are required to initiate public awareness campaigns warning against staying beyond permission, according to the White House.

Even as it focused on curbing overstays, the White House said the goal was to alleviate the “significan­t strain” overstays put on the Justice and Homeland Security department­s, saying their resources “are currently needed to address the national emergency on our southern border.”

More than 98% of foreign travelers leave the United States on time or abide by the terms of their visas, according to official figures. U.S. immigratio­n law imposes up to a decade-long ban on visitors who overstay their visas by more than six months.

U.S. consular officers can deny visas to applicants seen as likely to exceed their permitted stay, and the State Department has undertaken steps to punish countries deemed uncooperat­ive with U.S. immigratio­n enforcemen­t efforts.

Multiple Homeland Security agencies are charged with overseeing enforcemen­t of immigratio­n law, including overstays.

Customs and Border Protection inspects all people seeking entry or applying for admission to the United States. It takes travelers’ biographic and biometric data in order to help identify suspected overstays.

Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t enforces immigratio­n inside the country, and is primarily responsibl­e for finding and removing those who overstay. Citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n Services processes documentat­ion for non-immigrants and travelers, including visa extensions or changes to immigratio­n status.

Still, with about 52 million visitors legally entering the United States each year, federal authoritie­s have long faced challenges tracking overstays. Customs and Border Protection says its overstay data have been reliable only since 2015.

With near-record numbers of asylum seekers and primarily Central American families arriving at the southern border in recent months, Trump has vowed to take a tougher approach to stop the inflow.

He recently ousted several top Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and his own nominee to lead ICE.

“Looking at everything this administra­tion has done, it has leaned heavily on enforcing the immigratio­n laws as they exist,” Brown said. “Overstays are a part of immigratio­n law that has not been significan­tly enforced.”

Pierce said it was part of a pattern in which the administra­tion, blocked both on the border and on interior enforcemen­t, begins to look elsewhere for any action it can take on immigratio­n.

“I think the administra­tion is really actively searching for other ways they can be effective,” she said, “or at least be seen as trying to be effective, on immigratio­n.”

 ?? Howard Lipin San Diego-Union-Tribune ?? EXPERTS say so-called overstays by foreign travelers have outpaced unauthoriz­ed border crossings.
Howard Lipin San Diego-Union-Tribune EXPERTS say so-called overstays by foreign travelers have outpaced unauthoriz­ed border crossings.

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