Right-wing media are using a new government report showing that there are a million visitors in the United States who have overstayed their visas to argue that the news will negatively impact immigration reform. However, what these media outlets are missing is that passing a comprehensive immigration bill, like the one that recently cleared the Senate, would largely fix the problem of such overstays as the bill mandates the implementation of a biometric entry-exit data system.
On July 30, the Government Accountability Office released a study reporting that as of June 2013, more than one million visitors in the United States have overstayed their visas -- thus the term overstays. GAO defines an overstay as a "nonimmigrant who is legally admitted to the United States for an authorized period but remains in the country illegally after that period expired without obtaining an extension of stay or a change of status or meeting other specific conditions, such as claiming asylum."
In a segment highlighting the report, Fox News host Heather Nauert claimed that the "news could hurt the debate over that sweeping immigration bill that we've heard so much about."
A July 30 Washington Times article similarly asserted that "the report could hurt immigration deal" and falsely claimed that the Senate immigration bill "waters down" requirements for a biometric system. The Times wrote that the bill "say[s] only that there must be a biographic-based system, which means using a photo, and that it be limited to air and sea ports."
While the number of immigrants who overstay their visas has reportedly sharply declined in the last decade, passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill would greatly alleviate the problem. According to a February 2013 study, overstays declined by 73 percent between 2000 and 2009, thanks to enhanced security measures by DHS in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The immigration bill that passed the Senate on June 27 mandates the implementation of an exit system that will monitor when foreigners leave the country. It also mandates establishing a mandatory biometric exit data system that would require that all foreigners be fingerprinted when exiting the country." The system would have to be implemented at the 10 United States airports that support the highest volume of international air travel" within two years of the bill's passage. Such a system would then be expanded to 30 airports and major sea and land entry and exit points within six years.
A fact sheet of the bill by Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) office stated that the "underlying bill improves the identification of overstays through a fully implemented entry/exit system," and that Corker's amendment "goes a step further by mandating the initiation of removal proceedings for at least 90% of visa overstays - holding DHS accountable for failing to enforce the law and targeting an issue that is at the core of a policy of de facto amnesty."
According to an analysis of the bill as passed by the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would not only reduce the flow of illegal immigration, it would also greatly impact overstays. CBO concluded that the security measures in the bill would cut illegal immigration and overstays by "between one-third and one-half compared with the projected net inflow under current law."