Why the DHS Loses 99.6% of Visa Overstays

According to the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a tangled web of IT systems that would make Mark Zuckerberg cry, and Google someone else to fix it. After reading the 45 page report, I wanted to take a bunch of sleeping pills myself, and find a quiet place.

The report, issued May 1 reveals some damning evidence of bureaucratic red tape, and makes a case for an entire overhaul of their IT network. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which operates under the DHS, has 27 databases with which to track visa applicants.

While the number of outlets may seem impressive, ICE agents aren’t always aware of which databases are best to use, and can’t be trained on all 27. If the systems can’t talk to each other, and trained agents can’t understand them as users, what good are they? The result is inefficient use of resources, and tremendous waste of tax dollars.

The aforementioned databases are spread across three agencies merged with the DHS since it was created in 2002. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has seven, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has 11, and ICE has eight more. Some are integrated and share information, but since being rolled together 15 years ago, these databases have not been merged, and many are still operating in 1990’s format. Furthermore, we still don’t have biometric entry/exit systems in place yet, and even when we do, most of these databases won’t be able to process the data that comes in.


While the DHS was created to increase sharing of info, and speed up threat response times, the sheer volume of databases an agent must have working knowledge of is alone capable of paralyzing investigations. Since 2001, legal visitors to the United States exceeds the population of Japan and England, combined. More than 10.8 million were granted non-immigrant visas to the United States in 2015 alone. Of those, roughly 970,000 were flagged for possible overstays, and about 685,000 were eventually referred to Enforcement and Removal Operations, while ICE’s counterterrorism arm processed 145,000.

Another report on ICE removals found that some agents are tasked with tracking 10,000 visitors at one time. In one case, an agent estimated that he spent an average of 25 hours per subject, resulting in nine successful removals. A month’s worth of labor. Out of the 145,000 total leads, less than one half of one percent were adjudicated. Or, 0.4%, to be exact. This is preposterous.



Visa overstays are incredibly important to investigate for two reasons. First, approximately 40% of illegal immigrants in the United States are overstays of legal visas, and second, it poses a national security risk to not know where applicants have gone, or what their activities may be. Two of the 9/11 hijackers had overstayed their visas, and wouldn’t have been in the country had we been tracking them properly. Complaints have varied from a lack of training on systems, or not knowing which are best to use, to sometimes needing 40 different passwords, and going through multiple layers of red tape to get answers on a single inquiry.

Any employee of a large corporation knows what it’s like to navigate multiple databases. But, time is money, so they streamline where they can. For instance, an employee of AT&T may find 50 systems to sift through. But, employees are also given a profile with various permissions, and a global login that allows them access to virtually any system they are granted access to. Those systems generally share data seamlessly.

That’s not to say that corporate America has this resolved. Entire industries exist to help other industries deal with the constantly changing digital universe. While information sharing is a perpetual struggle for any large organization, it’s 2017… there appears to be no excuse for the DHS to have not reduced these obstacles. We do not have the manpower, the financial resources, or the mental acuity it takes to navigate such a mindless, and unnecessary web of systems. Something needs to be done.

While I am no IT or political expert, I know enough to be sure that getting congress to allocate money to streamline the DHS would not be difficult. But, I’m not a fool either… Congress regularly issues billions of dollars with “part of a plan,” as Starlord would say. The challenge is finding someone with a mind capable of doing it, and authority to get it done quickly. We need to get our brightest minds in a room and have them figure this out. Names like Larry Ellison (Oracle), Bill GatesSatya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Picha (Google), and even John McAfee come to mind.

Illegal immigration alone would be cut in half by solving this problem. The national security implications are greater than anything else, even our refugee vetting process. It is relatively easy to fabricate a new history or steal a clean identity to gain access to the United States. But, now we see that it is even easier to evade authorities and live under the radar once you get here.

Our president prides himself on being a corporate executive who demands efficiency, so maybe there’s some hope that this problem will be fixed soon.



The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee is my own Wisconsin senator, Ron Johnson, himself a successful corporate CEO. Feel free to reach out to his office and ask him to put together a flash subcommittee of tech giants and get this resolved immediately:

328 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5323
Fax: (202) 228-6965

His counterpart on the House Committee on Homeland Security is Michael McCaul:

2001 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
phone: 202-225-2401
fax: 202-225-5955

About the author

Ed Willing

View all posts