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Immigrant Visa Screening for Security Purposes

Federal officials have revealed that they are placing new security measures on immigrants who overstay their visas. A Homeland Security agent says they are running overstayed-visa files through multiple security, immigration and law enforcement databases. The department’s principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism said they are automatically checking for national security risks, assuring that the new system is “a pretty fully baked approach to how we’re going to deal with this issue.” Ever since September 11 th the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been under pressure to update the visa screening process given the fact that four of the 9/11 hijackers were in the country on out-of-date or invalid visas. Even though the Obama administration said this summer that Immigration and Customs Enforcement should prioritize deportations and allow non-criminals and those with family ties to the U.S. to stay in the country, this top DHS official stated that all overstayed visas will be vetted for security concerns, regardless of priority. Before DHS began automatically screening the visas this spring, a backlog of 1.6 million unchecked overstays had mounted. After running automated checks, they found that nearly half, or 800,000 specifically, had either fixed their visa status or left the country. They then went through the 839,000 that were left and flagged 2,000 that warranted investigation for national security or public safety reasons. They then came to realize that many of those were either already in jail or out of the country, but as of July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were pursuing a dozen new leads. It is fitting to note that back when the 9/11 Commission report was released, it was recommended that a biometric exit program be set up to essentially “log out” immigrants here on visas when they left the country. However practical this measure would have been, it was never fully put in place since DHS officials assured it would be too expensive. As it were, the ongoing policies regarding immigrant visa screenings have undergone various changes that increase their efficiency and effectiveness.

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