December 27, 2005: “Overstays” A Hidden Immigrant Problem (From The Arizona Star)
'Overstays' a hidden immigrant problem
The Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.27.2005
Millions of now-illegal immigrants many from Canada, Mexico and Europe have entered Arizona and United States legally with student, work or tourism visas and then have remained after their visas expired.
Known as “overstays,” they have received scant attention in the national debate over immigration reform and homeland security, even though the government estimates overstays make up at least a third of the nation's total undocumented population of about 11 million.
Though most legal visitors from other countries return home, many decide to remain here illegally, primarily because of better economic opportunities or family ties.
Experts say any attempt by Congress to create a large-scale guest-worker program or to seal the border would have to take overstays into account.
“The more you do focus on the border and the more successful you are at the border without focusing elsewhere, the more you exacerbate the problem of overstayers,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a proponent of immigration reform that includes greater enforcement at the border and the workplace, along with a guest-worker program.
Nobody has a good handle on how many overstays there are in the United States or which countries they are from.
The majority of immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are from Mexico and Central America.
On the other hand, experts say overstays tend to come from all over the world and tend to be better educated and financially better off.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates the overstay population at 2.3 million as of January 2000, according to congressional auditors.
Most overstays came on student, work or tourism visas. In 2000, they accounted for about one-third of the total undocumented population, auditors said.
The 2.3 million estimate, however, did not include overstays from Canada and other visa-exempt countries who entered legally without visas, or overstays from Mexico who entered legally with border-crossing cards.
Earlier reports by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that overstays accounted for as much as 40 percent to 50 percent of the nation's illegal population, auditors noted.
U.S. officials say they are doing a better job of tracking and deporting foreign visitors, especially those who pose a national security threat.
In June 2003, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement created a special unit to investigate foreign visitors who violate the terms of their visas. Since then, the agency says, it has arrested more than 1,417 overstays nationwide.
The government also is phasing in an automated tracking system that collects digitized fingerprints and other data from foreign visitors at U.S. consulates abroad and at the border. The US-VISIT Program is designed to help inspectors screen out potential terrorists and criminals, and determine whether foreign visitors overstay.
The system has been implemented at airports, seaports and 50 of the largest land ports, including five ports in Arizona.
“The more you do focus on the border and the more successful you are at the border without focusing elsewhere, the more you exacerbate the problem of overstayers.”
Rep. Jeff Flake
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