Miami Attorney Helping Plan System To Monitor Visa Entrants
Written by Suzy Valentine on September 30, 2004
By Suzy Valentine
A Miami attorney is helping to devise a plan to identify 3 million people who overstay their visas each year after legally entering the US.
G. Lee Sandler of Sandler Travis & Rosenberg LLP through consultancy Sandler Travis Trade Advisory Services Inc. is assisting Accenture, which landed a $10 billion contract to review procedures.
The US Visits Program, under the Department of Homeland Security, has introduced procedures to photograph and fingerprint visa holders entering the US but has yet to implement departure policies.
"It became apparent in the aftermath of 9/11 that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) had absolutely no way of telling who had overstayed their visas so they could be flagged as potential threats," said Mr. Sandler.
"It is taking some time to build up a database," he said. "We need to know who’s coming, whether there are issues about them and then ensure they go so that we can close the file. Ideally, once the system’s implemented, a flag would go up if anyone outstayed their visa. The system would, of course, require a lot of cross-checking."
More than a third of people who enter the US legally overstay their visas, said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for Immigration Services. Of 8 million registered visitors last year, 2.8 million overstayed, he said.
Mr. Sandler is reviewing the logistics of processing visa holders, and Accenture, which landed the contract June 1, is developing US-VISIT, an electronic tracking system designed to monitor arriving and departing visitors.
Of the three hijackers involved in the terrorist attacks three years ago who overstayed their one-year visas, one – ringleader Mohammed Atta – re-entered the US at Miami International Airport. Officials discovered his overstay when he left and re-entered the country but granted him re-entry after 30 minutes of interrogation by two airport officials.
"In making our recommendations, we hope to be very sensitive to the types of issues and the kinds of passengers moving through MIA," said Mr. Sandler. "Screening could result in substantial delays and disruptions at the airport. You have to weigh up the concerns of government with those of ordinary travelers.
"You can take the approach of a career bureaucrat or you can look at the whole picture," he said, "which is what we hope to do."
Targeting visa-holders is not enough in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Sandler said. He said the US-VISIT system, intended to be implemented in countries whose citizens are required to obtain visas to enter the US, eventually will be extended to those whose nationals now qualify for entry under a visa-waiver program.