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?
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.
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:
- Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke
- Kate Smith of CBS News
- Salvador Rizzo, Glenn Kessler, and Meg Kelly, fact checkers for the Washington Post
- Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum
- Sally Kohn, CNN Political Commentator
- Amanda Seitz and Will Weissert, fact checkers for the Associated Press
- Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin of the Center for Migration Studies
- Alan Gomez of USA Today
- Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist and commentator
- Philip Bump of the Washington Post
- Peter Wade of Rolling Stone
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker of the New York Times
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:
- lumping legal and illegal immigrants into the same crime data, which causes the low crime rates of legal immigrants to obscure the high crime rates of illegal immigrants.
- employing bait-and-switch tactics.
- cherry-picking timeframes that hide the full picture.
- misrepresenting association as causation.
- using statistical techniques that are inappropriate to the data.
- failing to mention that the U.S. government has deported more than a million non-citizens who were convicted of committing crimes in the U.S., and yet, they are still more likely to be incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities than the general U.S. population.
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.