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 DHS top official said today in Congressional testimony.
This comes weeks after DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the current biographical data works well during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing as a response to Ranking Member Bennie Thompson's (D-Miss.) question about perfecting the biometric entry/exit system.
An exit system to track who is leaving the country has been sought since before the September 11th attacks.
The criminal case against Amine El Khalifi, 29, accused in an alleged bomb plot against the U.S. Capitol, has renewed the debate about how the U.S. government fails to track millions of foreign visitors who remain in the country longer than they are allowed. Khalifi had been living in the United States illegally for 12 years.
In his blog, NumbersUSA's Content and Activism Assistant Eliano Younes cites a Center for Immigration Studies report that states between the early 1990s and 2004, 59 of the 94 foreign-born terrorists who operated in the United States had "committed immigration fraud prior to or in conjunction with taking part in terrorist activity." Six of those foreign-born terrorists included in the report were 9/11 hijackers.
Younes quoted the 9/11 Commission Report which highlighted the importance of preventing individuals from entering the country and remaining undetected. "The challenge for national security in an age of terrorism is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering or remaining in the United States undetected."
Today, Rep. Candice Miller, said El Khalifi "follows a long line 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," Miller said. "The truth is, in the 40 percentile of all the illegal (immigrants) are in this country on expired visas. They came is 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 has been jailed by local authorities, including Security Communities program that shares fingerprints from local jails with the FBI, were not in place at the time.
El Khalifi is one of the estimated millions of illegal immigrants who came to the United States with a government-issued visa and never left. He never applied to become a U.S. citizen. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has routinely combed through visa records to try to identify people who have overstayed their welcome and deport those considered threats to the community or national security.
Visa overstays have long been a concern of lawmakers and law enforcement. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants have overstayed visas.
But finding illegal immigrants who, like El Khalifi, came to the United States before biometric data was collectedand records were computerized around 2004-and who overstayed visas but haven't committed a crime-can be difficult, if not impossible.
Updated: Fri, Mar 9th 2012 @ 2:20pm EST