One of the most common themes you’ll hear from the current field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls comes when they are pressed as to what they would do about the crisis on the southern border. (Note: the vast majority of reporters will not call it a crisis, but you know what we’re talking about here.) There’s a standard answer to the question being passed around and it involves the candidates pointing out that the “real” illegal immigration challenge we face doesn’t involve the people sneaking over the southern border in the dark of night. The largest number of illegal aliens in the country (again… not a phrase they will use) are here because they entered the country legally and overstayed their visas.
This is a disingenuous answer, but one rooted in the truth. The reality is that we are currently seeing a massive influx of illegal crossings on the Mexican border to the point where our courts, immigration enforcement officers and detention centers are overwhelmed. Pretending that’s not the case is dishonest. But at the same time, they are correct in saying that we have even more illegals in the country who overstayed their visas. Perhaps twice as many. (Government Executive)
These immigrants, who enter countries legally on student, tourist, or work visas and then stay past their visa’s expiration date, are often overlooked in the discussion of illegal immigration. But in the past 10 years, visa overstays in the United States have outnumbered border crossings by a ratio of about 2 to 1, according to Robert Warren, who was for a decade the director of the statistics division at the agency that has since been renamed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and who is now a senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, a New York–based organization.
Elsewhere, the issue is even more pronounced—in Britain and Australia, the absence of a land border of the kind the United States has with Mexico and Canada means that nearly all illegal immigration comes in the form of visa overstays. Most people who are in Britain illegally, for example, entered legally and simply stayed on after their visa expired, research by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory shows.
It’s true, leading to the question of why this particular category of illegal aliens receives so little discussion in the illegal immigration debate. The author of the Government Executive article above, Krishnadev Calamur of The Atlantic, makes the argument that people who arrive legally as tourists or on work visas often join in quickly with relatives or coworkers and are almost “invisible” compared to those digging tunnels under the border. As such, they probably provoke less antipathy from both the public and legislators.
That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take action. The White House is already working on a plan to do something about it. The Trump administration is currently developing a policy change that would focus primarily on B1 and B2 visas (most commonly issued for either tourism or business reasons). The countries with the highest number of reported overstays would see limits placed on how many visas could be issued in the future or perhaps curtail them entirely.
That’s a smart approach. Unlike the invasion at our southern border, we need the countries sending visa travelers to our nation to cooperate in tracking them. It’s a problem similar to one our government has in a few areas. For example, we’re very good at recording when people are born but we’re abysmal at recording when they die. This leads to significant fraud problems in Social Security. Similarly, we’ve gotten quite adept at tracking when visitors with visas enter our country, but we stink at making sure they leave when their visas expire. We need the cooperation of their home countries to improve in this regard. Hopefully, a new plan from the White House will address at least part of this challenge.