Nearly half of the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States entered the country legally, but never left.
Carrying visas and U.S.-approved border crossing cards, they were inspected by immigration officers at 300 sea, air and land ports of entry and many—according to a year-old U.S. Customs and Border Protection policy—were told to “Have a nice day.”
A little-noticed study by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center says 45 percent of America’s illegal alien population—4.5 million to 6 million—carried legally issued border crossing cards for short-term visits or business and tourist visas for longer but temporary stays.
Ultimately, they became what the government refers to as “overstayers,” hiding in plain sight, working, sending their children to school and using health care services.
“Although Congress authorized several initiatives to track foreign visitors following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and then again after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government currently has no means of determining whether all the foreign nationals admitted for temporary stays actually leave the country,” said the center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group.
The influx continues to stream into America unchecked despite efforts by President Bush to send 6,000 National Guard troops to better secure border areas between the ports of entry, where Congress will spend $1.2 billion to hire and station more U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Michael Cutler, a retired U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) senior agent, said the government is spending billions to secure the border but has “failed miserably” at interior enforcement.
The Pew report said that 4 million to 5.5 million illegal aliens entered legally through established ports of entry with tourist or business visas and that 250,000 to 500,000 used border crossing cards.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the government has failed to enforce existing immigration laws by denying visas to those deemed likely to overstay—including persons who are unmarried, have no property, are unemployed or have lived outside of their home countries for a while.