The Corner

Holding Foreign Visitors to Their Promises

Yesterday’s heckler at Obama’s pro-amnesty speech in San Francisco was Ju Hong, an approved guest of the White House and an illegal alien from South Korea who recently graduated from UC Berkeley. People who still say illegal aliens “live in the shadows” obviously don’t know this guy: He’s on Twitter and LinkedIn, was a member of student government, has lobbied for taxpayer subsidies for illegal-alien students, and has been the subject of so much fawning news coverage he has his own topic page at the Cal student paper.

The salient fact here for immigration policy is that he came with his family on a tourist visa, and never left. Visa overstayers are believed to represent between a third and a half of the 12 million illegal aliens in the United States — and with improvements in border enforcement it’s possible the majority of new illegal aliens are overstayers. That translates to 4 to 6 million liars, people who swore they’d leave when their visit was over but didn’t, something at least as contemptible as sneaking into someone else’s country. Hong came as a child, so he wasn’t doing the lying, but he’s no more entitled to stay than the child of someone who lied on a mortgage application and later lost his home.

There are also more Korean illegal aliens than you might think. For instance, nearly 7,000 South Korean illegal aliens have been amnestied by Obama’s unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (a.k.a. the administrative Dream Act) through the end of August, making it the No. 5 country after Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

The reason we have 4 to 6 million illegal-alien visa overstayers is that we have no effective way of tracking the departure of foreign visitors. This despite the fact that Congress has mandated the development of an exit-tracking system eight separate times, starting in 1996. As Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano dismissed the importance of exit-tracking. At a 2009 hearing, she told Senator Dianne Feinstein the “value of that system to security is dubious.” While the Schumer-Rubio amnesty bill passed by the Senate in June made development of such a system a sort-of prerequisite before amnestied former illegal aliens upgrade to full green-card status, the ten-year deadline would mean that exit-tracking wouldn’t be in place until more than a quarter-century after Congress’s original mandate.

Exacerbating this problem with regard to South Korea and other countries is the Visa Waiver Program. As the name suggests, people from the 37 countries on the list don’t have to get visas for short tourist or business trips. Only those countries whose citizens are very unlikely to overstay are supposed to be included in the program. Unfortunately, the main force expanding the list of participating countries has been lobbying pressure from the travel industry and foreign governments. South Korea was added in 2008 and Greece — Greece — in 2010. This has been a significant driver of illegal immigration; the GAO reported earlier this year that, of a very large sample of apparent overstays, nearly half were people who entered under the Visa Waiver Program.

With a proper exit-tracking system, and guaranteed follow-up arrests of all those who overstay more than a couple of weeks, we could afford to make our visa process more flexible. But as it is, we grant visas to people who shouldn’t get them, waive visas for countries that send large number of illegal aliens, don’t have any comprehensive way of knowing whether visitors have left when they were supposed to, and don’t bother even to send a notification postcard to people we do know overstayed. It’s no surprise, then, that there are millions of illegals like Ju Hong. But until we’ve fixed these problems, there can be no justification for amnesty; otherwise, we’ll just have millions more Ju Hongs that the Democrats, and their GOP enablers, will insist have to be amnestied.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Hong was “an approved guest of the White House,” and the post has been updated to reflect that.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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