The Department of Homeland Security has lost track of more than 1 million individuals who entered the U.S. but may not have left when they were supposed to, according to a government watchdog agency.
Homeland Security is required to track and report foreign visitors granted entry to the U.S., but lacks a way to verify that they have left the country, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday. Federal law requires the department to use biometric data — such as fingerprints — to track visitors, but such a system is years overdue from being put in place.
“Each year, millions of visitors come to the United States legally on a temporary basis either with or without a visa,” the Government Accountability Office said. “Overstays are individuals who were admitted legally on a temporary basis but then overstayed their authorized periods of admission. DHS has primary responsibility for identifying and taking enforcement action to address overstays.”
A solid way to monitor foreign entries and exits into the U.S. has been held up as a crucial requirement for an immigration reform deal in Congress.
The department last year reported recommendations to develop a biometric system for tracking exits at airports and seaports, but has not addressed a similar system for monitoring exits over land, according to the agency.
Still, the 1 million unmatched records — where Homeland Security has an arrival date on file but no departure date — the GAO found as of June 2013 is nevertheless an improvement from the 1.6 million unmatched records the agency found in January 2011.
In response to the agency report, Homeland Security said it is working on trying to improve its data, and touted its success in lessening overstay cases from 1.6 million to 1 million, according to The Washington Times.
“DHS remains committed to strengthening and building upon existing capabilities to better identify and report on potential overstays,” said Jim H. Crumpacker, Homeland Security’s liaison to the GAO.