According to a report in the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the Department of Homeland Security has “lost track” of over 1 million foreign nationals who were recorded entering the United States, but may or may not have left.
The Times cites a report by the Government Accountability Office, critical of DHS for its failure to implement a “biometric” system for tracking when visitors to the country finally leave. Congress mandated that DHS develop such a capability in 2004. The Times quotes the GAO report saying that Homeland Security now needs until 2016 to figure out how much the exit-tracking program would cost and how well it would work.
The GAO has previously complained about a tight-lipped attitude by DHS when it comes to border statistics. When the GAO sought information about how many individuals had entered the country illegally across the southwestern border, it received only the number of people actually apprehended by the border patrol there.
The National Academy of Sciences also sought information from Homeland Security about the numbers of people caught trying to cross the border more than once, but the department refused to release those numbers unless the researchers submitted to a gag order. The researchers refused.
While tracking illegal immigrants is difficult enough, the task of tracking the legal ones is an overwhelming task, members of both Republican and Democratic parties agree. Current law requires biometric data on every foreign national entering the country, such as a fingerprint. However, due to the massive nature of such a project, a current bill under consideration in the Senate would require only a photograph, and then only at air and sea ports.
The GAO report notes that 32 percent of foreign nationals known to have overstayed their visas entered the country through land ports. The majority arrive by air.