Visa Overstays Don’t Negate the Benefits of Border Barriers

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Editors’ note: This article appeared in 2019 in Just Facts Daily. With the current illegal alien invasion at the border created by the new administration in less than two months, James D. Agresti’s piece from two years ago is more timely now than then.



Other than their mode of entry to the United States, is there a material difference between illegal immigrants who cross the border illegally and those who legally enter the U.S. and then illegally overstay their visas?

Correct Answer:

Numerous activists and media outlets have claimed that robust border security is pointless because many illegal immigrants legally enter the U.S. by using visas and then don’t leave when their visas expire. Such claims are misleading because all visa entrants are screened by the U.S. government to keep out foreigners who pose risks to the health and safety of Americans, while illegal border crossers are not. This lack of screening allows criminals to enter the U.S., and hundreds of thousands of them have committed violent crimes in the United States. “Removable criminal aliens” are non-citizens who have been convicted of crimes in the U.S. that warrant immediate deportation hearings. Based on data from 2007 to 2009, the Obama administration Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2010 that about “1.94 million removable criminal aliens are in the United States today.”



Opponents of President Trump’s plan to build a wall along much of the Southwest border often argue that it won’t be effective because many illegal immigrants enter the U.S. by using visas. Visas allow people to temporarily visit or live in the U.S., but every year, hundreds of thousands of people don’t leave when their visas expire. No matter how strong or tall a wall may be, it cannot stop this activity.

Those who make that claim—including many media outlets and “fact checkers”—are misleading the public by omitting a key fact: Visa entrants are screened by the U.S. government to keep out foreigners who pose risks to the health, safety, or finances of Americans—while illegal border crossers are not.


This lack of screening allows known criminals and others who are likely to harm people to enter the United States, such as the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens who have committed violent crimes in the U.S. and been deported.

Federal Law

Under Title 8, Section 1182 of federal law, “aliens” who pose risks to the wellbeing of others are generally “ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States.” This includes, for example, foreigners who:

  • have been convicted of or admit to committing certain crimes “that involve moral turpitude, whether under U.S. law or foreign law…”
  • have “a communicable disease of public health significance.”
  • are drug abusers or addicts.
  • have physical or mental disorders that “may” endanger “the property, safety, or welfare” of themselves or others.
  • are “likely … at any time after admission, to become primarily dependent on the U.S. Government (federal, state, or local) for subsistence.”
  • do not “make a credible showing” that “all” of the activities they will engage in “while in the United States are consistent” with their visa applications.
  • have “inadequate documentation” to prove that they meet the criteria above or other requirements of federal law.

Purveyors of Half-Truths

In comments and articles about border barriers, many individuals have raised the issue of visa overstays as a foil to Trump’s plan without mentioning that visa entrants are screened for dangers while illegal border crossers are not. Some notable examples include:

Furthermore, an examination of the first 20 results in Google News for border wall visa overstay did not produce any results that revealed the key difference between visa overstays and illegal border crossers. This systematic omission of a vital fact can lead to widespread public ignorance, something that has become common with many issues.

Likewise, when reporting on illegal immigration and crime, journalists, politicians, and scholars have distorted the truth by:

Echoing the comments of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, media outlets have also claimed that border walls are ineffective because some people find ways to get around, under, or over them. However, the purpose of such barriers is not to completely stop illegal border crossings but to stem the tide of them, and this has occurred in a variety of nations and locations where such barriers were erected.

In summary, prominent organizations and individuals have repeatedly misled the public about the life-threatening consequences of illegal immigration and the role that a comprehensive border barrier would play in reducing them.


This article first appeared on January 9, 2019 at Just Facts and is reproduced with permission.



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