U.S. officials face big visa overstay record backlog

WASHINGTON Wed May 4, 2011 5:33am IST

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities are facing a huge backlog of records involving people who have stayed in the United States after their visas expired, according to a report released on Tuesday, revealing that a security gap has not been fixed since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT system had a backlog of some 1.6 million records of potential visa overstays as of January 2011, said the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.

Five of the 19 men who hijacked the planes in the Sept. 11 attacks had overstayed their visas and the report found that some 36 of the 400 people who have been convicted on terrorism-related charges since 2001 had also stayed after their visas expired.

"It is simply unacceptable that we are still unable to systematically identify people who overstay -- some of whom may be terrorists waiting to attack innocent Americans," Joe Lieberman, an Independent who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

Some of the records may include duplicates because of computer system changes, may not have been reviewed yet, or include cases that are not necessarily considered to be a priority, the GAO report said.

Officials in charge of the US-VISIT program told the GAO that it had spent $3.7 million of the $5 million available to help deal with the backlog but that it needed more money, a tough task as the government is facing deep spending cuts.

As a matter of policy, records involving visa overstays of 90 days or less or those who are not deemed to pose a national security or public safety risk do not trigger an immediate lookout warning, according to the report.

U.S. officials prefer to focus on finding the more egregious violators who have stayed long beyond their visa expiration, the GAO said.

The report was released a day before Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is due to testify on border security before Lieberman's committee.

A spokesman for Napolitano said the agency gives priority to removing illegal immigrants who are a national security risk, are convicted criminals or pose other threats to public safety.

"We pursue overstay cases based on these priorities -- including by fully investigating 100 percent of overstay cases that have a nexus to national security and serious criminal acts," DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said.

There are also other ways for U.S. officials to identify those who have entered the United States legally but have stayed longer than they were initially allowed and to remove them, according to the department.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

IRAQ

Reuters Showcase

Ukraine Aid

Ukraine Aid

Russia says Ukraine aid delivered to its destination.  Full Article 

Bali Murder

Bali Murder

Indonesian police to keep Bali suitcase murder suspects apart.  Full Article 

Urging Talks

Urging Talks

Palestinian president calls for swift resumption of Gaza peace talks.  Full Article 

Ebola Threat

Ebola Threat

Philippines recalls peacekeepers from Liberia over Ebola threat.  Full Article 

Gaza Bombed

Gaza Bombed

Israeli aircraft bomb Gaza, five Palestinians killed.  Full Article 

Rising Toll

Rising Toll

Documented death toll in syria war at least 191,369 through April 2014 - U.N.  Full Article 

Tensions Ease

Tensions Ease

National Guard begins pullout from riot-weary Ferguson, Missouri.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage