WASHINGTON (AP) – Homeland security officials told Senate subcommittees yesterday they don’t have the resources to hunt down foreigners who stay beyond the 90 days allowed those who enter without a visa.
The United States allows millions of residents from “low risk” countries such as Britain, France and Japan to enter without visas. The government has now started collecting information on their arrivals and departures.
Some don’t leave the country, Robert Mocny, director of the Homeland Security Department’s program tracking foreign visitors, told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s technology and immigration subcommittees. He did not know how many actually stay beyond the 90 days.
“You’re not saying nothing happens” when a violation is discovered? asked Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)
“At this point we are not in a position to go and to find that person immediately,” Mocny responded.
Asa Hutchinson, the new department’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, said after the hearing he would follow up on the issue “to make sure there is a proper response.”
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials complained that it was difficult to uncover visa violators with only 2,000 investigators. The INS has since been folded into the Homeland Security Department
Some lawmakers called for an end to a mutual visa waiver program with 28 countries, but supporters said such a move would hurt commerce and chill relations with some of the nation’s best allies in the war on terrorism.
The General Accounting Office concluded last November that ending the program would burden U.S. consulates with many more visa applications and cost the government millions of dollars
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said people who enter through the waiver program often are regular visitors to the United States – but “we want to make sure it’s doing what it should be.”
Congress voted last year to purchase and develop technology for tracking foreign students and visitors and a system for documenting immigrants in the country.