Visas Reviewed to Find Those Who Overstayed; Aim Is to Find Any Would-Be Terrorists

Article excerpt

Byline: Eli Lake, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. intelligence agencies are combing through some 750,000 visas of foreign visitors to find out if any remain in the United States and if they pose terrorism or other security risks.

The goal of this ongoing effort is not only to identify which individuals have overstayed their visas, but also to prioritize investigation and removal actions for those that may pose a threat to national security, said Rand Beers, homeland security's counterterrorism coordinator, during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

The hearing coincided with the release of a critical report by the congressional Government Accountability Office on numerous security shortfalls in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The report, which covered all U.S. visas in the government's database, was made public in April and says 1.6 million people potentially had overstayed their visas. Mr. Beers said an automated audit showed that 843,000 of those already had left the U.S.

After the GAO issued that report, Mr. Beers said the department formed a task force to address the backlog of unvetted potential visa overstays identified in the report.

The Obama administration scored successes overseas in degrading al Qaeda by killing Osama bin Laden and several other senior leaders. At the same time, recent reports and audits of the Department of Homeland Security show major gaps in the system for keeping potential terrorists and other bad actors out of the United States.

On Tuesday, the GAO released a report that says foreign countries in some cases did not share fingerprint data with the United States used as part of the visa issuance process. In Pakistan, for example, fingerprint records are stored in a central database but not all government agencies have access to it.

In other cases, foreign governments lacked the ability to detect passport fraud or suffered from corruption among their own consular officers, the report says. …