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Feds increase scrutiny of overstays on immigrant visas

Federal officials revealed Tuesday that the government is increasing its scrutiny on immigrants who overstay their visas. A senior official with the Department of Homeland Security says federal officials will be using a system that automatically checks multiple databases at the same time. Previously, investigators checked a person's immigration status by performing a series of manual checks of the individual databases complied by national security officials, immigration and law enforcement agencies to determine whether an immigrant has overstayed a visa.

John Cohen is the deputy counterterrorism coordinator at Homeland Security. He says the federal government is using the new system to focus on identifying people who have overstayed their visas and who pose a threat to safety in the community or a threat to national security. A person who officials believe is in the country in violation of their visa may be detained for deportation and removal hearings.

The 9/11 Commission recommended that a system be created to log immigrants out of the country as the left under a visa. However, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security says the system as recommended would be expensive. The system was never implanted. The federal government reportedly has put a number of policies in place over the last decade in an effort to address issues such as overstaying a visa.

The new automated system to check multiple databases and at the same time run a scan of variants of a person's immigration status--such as asylum or refugee status--and variants on the spelling of an immigrants name. Cohen says Homeland Security also checking the interconnected system on a periodic basis for individual's whose visa has not expired.

Officials say there was a backlog of roughly 1.6 million who the government says had overstayed their visas. Homeland Security reportedly used the interconnected system to vet the immigrants and learned that 800,000 of those people had already left the country or had adjusted their visa status. Of the nearly 840,000 remaining immigrants, the system narrowed the list down to roughly 2,000 immigrants that immigration officials say warrant further investigation for potential deportation.

Source: Boston Globe, "Broader security checks to reduce visa overstays," Eileen Sullivan, Sept. 13, 2011

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