While much of the discussion of illegal immigration has been over border security, visa overstay is just as much part of the problem. Overstayers fall in three different categories: those who were issued visas, those who came from countries that have been granted participation in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and those who entered from Mexico or Canada with Border Crossing Cards (BCCs).
While there is no definitive number on how many people have overstayed their visas, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number to be between 4.5 and 6 million people. That represents between 37.5% and 50% of the estimated 11-18 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S.
The fact that there is no definitive number is indicative of the problem. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not comprehensively match entry and exit records. This means they have no way of assessing the size of the problem. They also cannot ascertain which countries overstayers are coming from or demographic characteristics they have in common.
Congress mandated an electronic entry/exit system back in 1996 in the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. However, objections from the tourism industry and others derailed the system’s implementation.
In response to the terrorist attacks in 2001 and 4 of the terrorist being visa overstayers, the 9/11 Commission recommended a biometric entry/exit system which Congress approved and streamlined in 2004. Since then, Congress has appropriated funds for the it 6 times, and yet we have no system in place.
By having a biometric entry/exit system we can keep better tabs on those entering the country and reduce the number of visa overstayers.