600,000 foreigners overstayed visas in 2017

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President Donald Trump says that he is willing to shut down the government over funding for his long-promised border wall but that he’ll “always leave room for negotiation.” (July 30)
AP

More than 600,000 foreign travelers who legally entered the United States in 2017 overstayed their visas and remained in the country by the end of the year, according to Department of Homeland Security data released Tuesday.

That figure represents only 1.15 percent of the more than 52 million foreigners who legally entered the U.S. through air and seaports in 2017, and is down from 1.25 percent the year before. But it marked the second straight year that more than 600,000 visitors stayed past the expiration of their visa, turning them into undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

President Donald Trump has urged Congress to complete a biometric entry-exit tracking system that would better monitor foreigners who legally visit the United States. Completion of that system, which uses fingerprints and iris scans to more accurately capture when people enter and exit the country, was included in an executive order he signed shortly after being sworn in as president.

But Trump and his administration have focused far more on building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, even threatening a government shutdown in the fall if Congress doesn’t give him a $5 billion down payment this year to continue expanding it.

Immigration experts say that shows the president has been misguided in his immigration enforcement strategy.

More: More than 600K foreigners overstayed visas in 2016

More: President Donald Trump threatens to shut down government over border wall funding

DHS data shows that illegal immigration across the southern border is at historic lows – slightly more than 300,000 immigrants were caught crossing the border in 2017. That’s down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000, according to Border Patrol data.

In fact, more Mexicans are returning to their native country than coming to the United States, according to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center. That reversal has led to a drop in the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico living in the United States by more than 1 million, according to a 2017 report from Pew Research Center.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates for immigrants, said Trump’s obsession with a border wall in light of the visa overstay data shows that he’s “not serious about a sound immigration policy.” Noorani said the president should be focusing instead on improving port security and broader changes to the legal immigration system.

“Instead, the president wants to spend tens of billions of dollars on a border wall that doesn’t solve any real problems, but makes for a chant at a rally,” he said.

According to the DHS report, the department made some improvements in 2017 to ensure that foreigners left the country when they were required. It continued testing biometric screening processes at several air and seaports. And officials started emailing foreigners who were part of the Visa Waiver Program when the end of their visits were coming up. Citizens of 38 countries, mostly in Europe, are part of the program, which allows them to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without first getting a visa.

Despite those gradual improvements, the report acknowledges that there is “no specific cause that can be directly attributed to the decrease in overstay rates” in 2017.

Other findings from the report:

  • Canadians made up the largest group of visa overstays, with more than 92,000 remaining in the United States in 2017 despite being expected to leave.
  • Mexicans made up the second-largest group of visa overstays, with more than 47,000. The report does not include people who cross via land borders, so those numbers would likely increase for both Canadians and Mexicans.
  • Of the 38 Visa Waiver Program countries, Portuguese citizens had the highest overstay rate (1.81 percent), followed by Hungarians (1.55 percent) and the Greek (1.25 percent).
  • Of the Visa Waiver Program countries, British citizens had the highest number of visa overstays (25,694) followed by the French (16,456) and Spaniards (13,780).
  • The overall number of visa overstays has continued dropping in fiscal year 2018 as more people left the country voluntarily or through deportations. By January 2018, the number fell to 494,710, and by May, it fell to 421,325.

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