Exit Coming Soon?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on March 12, 2012

Good news finally has come out of the Obama Homeland Security Department. At a recent House hearing, DHS antiterrorism official John Cohen said that within weeks the department will have a biometric exit portion of the entry-exit system ready to go.

This announcement came as Congress focused on how a foreigner could arrive legally, stay on after his visa expires, blend in for about 12 years, and then try to blow up the U.S. Capitol for his radicalized Islamism. The 1996 landmark immigration law called for an entry-exit system, interest revived after 9/11, yet a decade and a half later, there's still no meaningful exit screening process. That's a problem when 40 percent of the illegal alien population is comprised of visa overstayers.

Subcommittee Chairman Candace Miller noted the soft underbelly that visa overstays pose to American security:

Since 9/11, our border security efforts have been focused on securing our borders; however, more than 40 percent of all illegal aliens do not sneak across the border, they come in through the front door and never leave. The recent case of Amine el-Khalifi, an individual who allegedly attempted to conduct a suicide attack at the U.S. Capitol, is not the first time terrorists have exploited the visa process. In fact, el-Khalifi follows a long line of terrorists, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, who overstayed their visa and went on to conduct terror attacks. Clearly more must be done to ensure the security of the visa system, including enhancements to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's ability to identify and promptly remove those who overstay their visa. What is especially troubling is that el-Khalifi lived illegally in the United States for more than 13 years before being identified by law-enforcement. This hearing will examine the progress made since 2003 in identifying overstays, especially those that pose national security and public safety threats, and how the Department of Homeland Security plans to implement a robust visa exit system that will prevent terrorists from successfully exploiting the visa process.

I share my colleague Janice Kephart's skepticism, given this administration's track record on immigration. I'll believe it when I see it.

Nevertheless, that's what Cohen told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security. Biometric screening through US-VISIT may be almost here. If it actually comes to pass — and if it actually works — this tool will serve as a permanent, systematic step in the exit process as foreigners leave the country. That's important because, with this portion in operation, you can confidently assume more about aliens with questionable or expired papers. An exit portion also will deter more aliens from overstaying. That is, a viable exit system puts the incentive on the side of doing the right thing.

A Fox News report points to part of the problem: "The Obama administration doesn't consider deporting people whose only offense is overstaying a visa a priority. It has focused immigration enforcement efforts on people who have committed serious crimes or are considered a threat to public or national security."

Thus, finally introducing the Exit check partly compensates for administrative nonchalance toward one set of illegal aliens or another. Similar to a physical border wall, it won't stop everyone, but it will stop many and deter more.

It helps overcome the "needle in a haystack" conundrum that ties every Washington bureaucracy in knots. The bureaucrats hate it when they get called before the elected folks to answer for what in hindsight are glaring oversights, bad choices, and laxity.

Also helpful would be the CLEAR Act and a revived 287(g) program, which make state and local police — the 700,000 eyes and ears of every American community — real partners in border and homeland security.