Here's a good question for our elected representatives in the U.S. Congress. Why is it that, in this day when visas, refugees, and security screening of travelers are political hot buttons, they continue to ignore the failure of multiple administrations, both Democrat and Republican, to implement the laws and deadlines they have repeatedly passed requiring an entry and exit tracking system for foreign visitors?
I'm tempted to call that question in to the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee hotline, but then, the fault belongs to them most of all. Who oversees the overseers?
It's an old issue, but the New York Times revisited it last week, U.S. Doesn’t Know How Many Foreign Visitors Overstay Visas:
Nearly 20 years ago, Congress passed a law requiring the federal government to develop a system to track people who overstayed their visas. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an entry and exit tracking system was seen as a vital national security and counterterrorism tool, and the 9/11 Commission recommended that the Department of Homeland Security complete a system “as soon as possible.” Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Satam al-Suqami and Nawaf al-Hazmi, had overstayed their visas.
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In 2004, lawmakers passed legislation that required Homeland Security officials to accelerate their efforts to create an automated biometric entry and exit data system. [TSB Note: see this GAO Report from 2004]
Congress repeated its demand for a biometric exit system in 2007 and set a deadline for 2009. But the deadline passed, with the department putting into place only a handful of pilot programs.
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Despite the call by some lawmakers for an exit system, airports and the airline industry have balked because it would cost airlines $3 billion, according to a 2013 Homeland Security estimate. The Department of Homeland Security issued regulations in 2008 requiring airports to collect biometric exit information, but carriers have largely ignored the regulation, and there have been no sanctions.
Why has practically everyone in all branches of government blown off this matter of national security? Certainly, it would be costly and difficult to reconfigure thousands of airports to place passenger bottlenecks at the departure end of traffic flows, but that's a practical kind of problem and is solvable should we actually want to solve it.
I'm going to take a wild guess here and suggest that travel and tourism trade groups, hospitality and janitorial services, food processors, big agriculture interests, universities, and the IT industry among others all work to keep their Congressmen and Senators complaisant on this matter. Security is our Number 1 priority, of course of course, BUT, they need low-wage workers.
Our elected representatives like to posture one way during hearings on this matter, but I suspect they talk another way when meeting with lobbyists and donors.