Got Visas?

By W.D. Reasoner, January 22, 2012

As noted by Mark Krikorian and Janice Kephart, President Obama recently toured Disney World in central Florida to announce his determination , via executive fiat in lieu of cooperative action with Congress, to open up America, The Theme Park, to the world's huddled masses by loosening existing restrictions and streamlining issuance of visas.

As they say, the devil's always in the details and, while many of the details of this plan are not yet forthcoming, according to a White House press statement, "Today's announcement calls for a national strategy to make the United States the world's top travel and tourism destination, as part of a comprehensive effort to spur job creation. The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010."

The press announcement also says that the departments of State and Homeland Security will be charged with, among other things, "[i]ncreasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012" and "[i]ncreasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver."

What the press announcement doesn't say is that China and India are, respectively, the first- and second-most populous countries on the globe, containing a combined total of more than 2.5 billion people. Brazil is no lightweight either, with give-or-take 193 million residents, making it fifth among nations, by population.

Together, the people of these three countries – most of whom are decidedly not middle class – constitute about 39 percent (well over a third) of the entire global population, and nearly nine times the population of the United States.

So when I read about increasing and streamlining visas for these three particular countries, I get a little worried. My worry is multiplied in quantum scale when I also read a reference to expanding the visa waiver program (which does away with the need for visas altogether) in the very same press announcement. What does that mean?

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has been wont to say in the past that, given the terrorist and other asymmetrical threats of today's world, protecting America is a matter of risk management. Well, I clearly see the risk, but nowhere in the announcement do I see any management – leastwise none that reflects the realities of the abysmal state of immigration enforcement in our country today.

In a September 2011 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited the Pew Hispanic Center in projecting that anywhere from 33 percent to perhaps as many as 48 percent of the illegal aliens in the U.S. originally came legally; that is, they arrived and were admitted with visas or under the auspices of the visa waiver program, and then simply overstayed or violated the conditions of their entry. That's a huge number, and speaks volumes about our current visa, and visa waiver processes abroad.

And how about at the other end? How is DHS doing to police the problem inside the United States, specifically where enforcement of overstays is concerned? Pretty poorly. Here are just a couple of nuggets from that same GAO report:

Within DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) is the lead agency responsible for overstay enforcement...From fiscal years 2006 through 2010, ICE reported devoting about 3 percent of its total field office investigative hours to CTCEU overstay investigations...

[A]s of October 2010, ICE field offices had closed about 34,700 overstay investigations that CTCEU headquarters assigned to them from fiscal year 2004 through 2010. These cases resulted in approximately 8,100 arrests (about 23 percent of the 34,700 investigations), relative to a total estimated overstay population of 4 million to 5.5 million....

To put that into perspective, over the course of six years, ICE special agents arrested a hair over 8,000 people. That's about .002 percent of the overstayed population. Think they've got a handle on the problem?

According to an MSNBC article that followed the president's Disney World visit, Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president of public affairs at Marriott International and member of the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, was quoted as saying enthusiastically. "Just looking at the sheer numbers, it's going to be huge... Reducing the wait time is going to be tremendous." The article continued: "The administration's goal of reducing visa wait times to 21 days from months will open up the floodgates, she predicted."

Amen to that! And apparently said with so little irony.

So you think that somewhere between 33 percent to 48 percent of the existing illegal alien population having arrived as overstays is bad? It takes little imagination to figure out what that figure will leap to as Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian "tourists", clutching their newly-received visas, start disappearing into the hinterlands shortly after arriving.