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Homeland Security Lost Track of More Than a Million Visa Holders

Image: Homeland Security Lost Track of More Than a Million Visa Holders

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 10:59 AM

By Courtney Coren

The Department of Homeland Security has apparently lost track of more than 1 million people who entered the United States on student, work or other visas and has no way of determining whether they are still here, according to an audit released Tuesday.

According to The Washington Times, the audit by the Government Accountability Office also found that Homeland has not yet fully developed or implemented a new entry-exit system, required by an immigration law passed in 1996. A new system was supposed to be online by 2004, the newspaper noted, adding that its continued delay could complicate efforts in Congress to pass a new comprehensive immigration measure.

The new system is supposed to include biometric measurements, such as fingerprints, and is supposed to be applicable to air, land, and sea ports of entry and exit.

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"DHS has not yet fulfilled the 2004 statutory requirement to implement a biometric exit capability, but has planning efforts under way to report to Congress in time for the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle on the costs and benefits of such a capability at airports and seaports," GAO auditors wrote in their report.

The audit could have an effect on the current debate on immigration, since one of the requirements of lawmakers considering a reform bill is a program that accurately tracks entries and exits. A Congressional Budget Office study of the Senate reform bill passed in June predicted that the measure would increase the likelihood that people would overstay their visas without a strong entry-exit system to track them.

Under current law, the executive branch is required to report annually to Congress on the number of people who have overstayed their visas. But that requirement has fallen by the wayside over the past two decades, The Washington Times noted, because the government has lacked enough reliable information on which to base its report.

For example, an audit released in 2011 found that Homeland Security had no idea about the whereabouts of 1.6 million visa holders who had been allowed into the country. But the department did identify 1,901 of those as potential security threats. As of March, however, 266 of them were still unaccounted for.

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