President Trump is persistent in living up to his campaign promise to rid the United States of illegal immigrants. His focus has been on ending the DACA program and building the wall along the US-Mexico border. But an underreported matter is the rising number of undocumented immigrants categorized as the “overstays,” those who entered the US legally on nonimmigrant visas and stayed on after their period of admission had lapsed. By not leaving, they have become illegal immigrants. And while the Trump administration has mentioned them, the president hasn’t been publicly talking about them in his anti-illegal immigrant rants.
Overstays have been consistently rising since 2007, exceeding illegal entries through border crossing by more than 500,000. The most common undocumented immigrants who entered the US legally were granted a student visa or came in as exchange visitors, and never left. Tourist and business visa holders have also stayed on after their admission dates. In 2014, 66 percent of the undocumented population were the overstaying aliens. But the Trump administration has a different priority.
Under pressure from nine attorneys general who threatened to sue him if the DACA program continues, President Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that the administration was phasing out DACA, of which many are Mexicans.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was created by then President Barack Obama in 2012 through an executive action. It grants lawful status to children who were brought into the United States illegally. DACA recipients can work lawfully, get into school and have driver’s licenses. They are also protected from deportation for two years, after which they have to renew their DACA permits. These children are called Dreamers, after the Dream Act, DACA’s predecessor which was introduced in the Senate but had repeatedly failed to pass.
To be eligible for DACA, applicants have to pass vetting. They must not have a criminal record, or be a threat to national security. They must also be currently enrolled in school or have finished schooling or served in the military. In their application, they disclose all information about themselves.
Overstaying undocumented immigrants, on the other hand, are seldom investigated, posing a concern for the immigration and Homeland Security departments. In 2016, 54 million foreigners entered the US through air and sea ports, and nearly 630,000 did not leave after their visas expired. In 2015, only 2,500 overstaying aliens were deported. These overstays are aware of their unlawful action and go under the radar, making them less easy to track.
According to Republican Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, overstay visas have been used by terrorists as their primary entry to the US. At least five of the terrorists in the 9/11 attack had expired nonimmigrant visas and were overstaying illegals. All of them were from Middle Eastern countries. In 2016, forty-three percent of Libyans with student visas did not leave on time. Issues like this should be a cause for concern for the State Department and Homeland Security, since Libya is associated with terrorism concerns.
President Trump, in his bid for the presidency, made immigration related promises, foremost among them removing undocumented immigrants from the country, barring illegal entry by crossing borders, and limiting legal entries. But he seems to be focused on Mexico and Mexicans, calling them criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.
At the time of its rescission, there were 690,000 DACA recipients, most of them coming from Mexico, and Central America’s Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Trump has passed the ball to Congress, giving them a chance to make the executive act into law or scraping it altogether. No new Daca applications will be issued but current ones that are expiring before March 6 should already have been renewed before Oct. 5. After March 5, it is uncertain what will happen to the Dreamers.
Aside from the DACA beneficiaries, majority of whom are Mexicans, Trump is bent on building a wall between Mexico and the US to prevent illegal crossing. He has been pestering the US neighbor to pay for the wall, antagonizing its president and populace. The wall should be 18 to 30 feet tall, be resistant to tunneling six feet deep, impenetrable, and should cover the 2,000-mile frontier, except for sections with natural barriers.
A report by the Center for Migration Studies found that Brazil had the highest number of visitors with overstaying visas. With border apprehensions falling rapidly, CMS is challenging the need to build the wall that Trump wants. Other issues against the wall building have been raised. The Department of Homeland Security estimates its cost at 21.6 billion. There are several deterrents to border crossing in place, including drones, radar technologies, and sensors and surveillance tools. Border patrol agents have doubled from 10,000 to 21,000 during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
Granted, 5.6 million of the current 11.3 million undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, their number has been continuously decreasing since 2007. In 2016, Mexicans are not anymore a clear majority. A Pew Research Center survey found that border arrests in 2014 numbered only 230,000, a sharp decline from the 809,000 in 2007.
Illegal immigrants, by their stay, are violating US laws. But they also make valuable contributions to the country. The United States is a land of abundance and for as long as the aliens are not committing crimes or endangering the nation, they should be treated with compassion. Trump could do better than deporting them. If European countries can accept refugees, feed them and give them homes, why can’t America welcome undocumented aliens and open up options to make their stay legal?