My colleague David North has written about Donald Trump's recent statement linking the importance of enforcing immigration laws against both illegal border crossers ("entrants without inspection" or EWIs) and visa abusers.
Because the emphasis on visa violators (often just called "overstays," though there are other ways to violate visa rules than just overstaying) is new, North poses this question in the context of presidential election strategy:
Mexico is the prime source of EWIs and has relatively few visa abusers in the United States. ... Second, there is the hidden politics of such an enforcement emphasis. Whereas illegals speaking Spanish are likely to be EWIs and are the largest, by far, element among illegal aliens, there is no comparable body of ethnic support for the visa abusers, whose origins are much more diverse ... is there a hint of tilting the scales in favor of the Hispanics as a sub-set of the nation's undocumented?
In my view, it is much more likely Trump was simply following advice from his immigration advisers, many of whom are quite well versed in immigration enforcement matters, including the troubling fact that nearly half of all aliens in the United States today originally entered legally with visas or border crossing cards, or via the visa waiver program, and then simply chose to stay.
This more benign interpretation of Trump's remarks would also be consistent with his promise to triple the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) interior enforcement officer corps, out of recognition that not only do all of these visa abusers live in the interior of the United States — but so do the aliens who manage to evade the Border Patrol's grasp when illegally entering. In other words, it shows an increasing sophistication in understanding where and how enforcement our nation's immigration laws needs shored up.
But it's also worth pointing out that it would be a mistake to equate Mexican immigration violators solely with EWIs, because of the issuance of millions of border crossing cards (BCCs), and a prior iteration of these cards known as "laser visas" that are still in circulation. BCCs are issued to Mexican nationals, usually those who live in relative proximity to the physical border with the United States, who enter our country frequently to shop or conduct brief cross-border business affairs.
BCCs are unique to Mexico. They were created as a way to save time and effort for American consular officers and port inspectors on for trustworthy Mexican repeat visitors to the United States. (Canadian citizens have near unfettered rights to enter the United States provided they don't unlawfully take jobs or commit crimes, and leave in a timely manner, because their economy is on parity with ours, and immigration violator rates have historically always been low.)
The BCCs function(ed) as the equivalent of a multiple-entry visa, although BCC holders were limited to a 72-hour stay within 25 miles of the border, and issuance was very strictly controlled.
But, like all other things immigration-related, the rules have changed under this administration. First, came the change to the 72-hour rule. BCCs now permit entrants 30 days admission to the United States. The 25-mile proximity to the border rule has also been changed and replaced with a bewildering tangle of geographical variations.
What's more, issuance of the BCCs by consular officers has become much more relaxed, no doubt as the result of the president's little-remarked "executive action" on upping the number of overall visas issued worldwide, embedded in Executive Order (EO) 13597, "Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness".
The consequence of these cumulative changes has been a dramatic increase in the issuance of BCCs. Take a look at the "B1/B2/BCC" and B1/B2/BCV" categories in the Department of State (DOS) 2014 annual statistical report for visas: in 2010, DOS officers issued 563,494 BCCs; by 2014 that figure had more than doubled, to 1,200,413 in a single year.
The loosening of the built-in control mechanisms to ensure that the holders of border crossing cards don't violate status or overstay once admitted has taken place amidst the backdrop of a calamitous decline in immigration enforcement, both at the border and in the interior. What's more, according to a GAO report in 2007, port inspectors reported that the rate of fraud and imposture among BCCs was both exceedingly high and difficult to detect. There is no reason at all to believe this circumstance has changed.
For all of these reasons, it seems pretty clear Mexican citizens are no longer reduced primarily to the indignity of being forced to cross the border illegally if they wish to enter the United States. Instead, an unknown but very sizable number have no doubt joined the teeming global community of visa abusers residing in the United States, courtesy of the loose new border crossing card rules and EO 13597's insistence on opening up the visa-issuance floodgates.
In sum, and to go back to North's blog: While I have a great deal of respect for North's expertise in all things immigration, in this instance I don't believe that there was any particular election strategy of softening unveiled by Trump's remarks. Mexicans will as surely as any other nationality be affected by a renewed emphasis on locating and arresting visa violators.