Millions of illegal working immigrants may be here on expired visas

According to an article in the Boston Globe, a large minority of illegal workers may have entered the U.S. with a valid visa, then stayed on after the visa’s expiration. The Globe estimates that 40% of all illegal immigrants (which it estimates at 12 million) are here in this manner. This expired visa figure seems to be very high, but I am willing to grant that there are many over-extenders of visas and that a large share of these people work. I expect that the vast majority of non-Hispanic illegal workers in the U.S. are here by way of visa overstays. It is possible that the total 12 million estimate needs to be increased to reflect their numbers, for instance in computer-related jobs.
The Globe reports that “Immigration analysts say visa violators represent a greater portion of undocumented immigrants in the Boston area, with its huge student population and large concentration of European immigrants.

But no amount of border enforcement will have an impact on ”visa overstays,” because they don’t cross the border illegally in the first place, said Deborah Meyers, a senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. ”The overstay component has been overlooked,” Meyers said. ”It’s very important to make sure you’re actually trying to solve the whole problem, not just the most visible parts of the problem. . . . From a security perspective, in some ways the overstay population is a bigger threat.”

Two of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were in the United States on expired visas. At least six others had otherwise violated immigration laws but were nonetheless able to stay in the United States, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Of the $1.95 billion border security request Bush filed last week, only $30 million will go toward tracking down and monitoring those who overstay legally obtained visas, said Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

Department of Homeland Security had only 51 full-time agents assigned to track down the more than 4 million people who overstayed visas and were in the country in 2004. Of the 301,046 leads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency received in a one-year period on possible visa violations, fewer than half were investigated. Only 4,164 were referred to field agents to pursue, and 671 apprehensions were made.
There is a program called US-VISIT which photographs visa holders entering the country. But, according to the Globe, “US-VISIT has serious limitations. It tracks everyone entering the country, but it is a pilot program, tracking only those leaving through 12 airports and two seaports. Expanding that program nationwide is several years off. ”