Visa Violators on the Lam

Visitors to the US who violate their visas and are then ordered deported have usually remained free while they appeal the decision. Very free. Up to 85 percent of them don't show up for their final hearing.

The result: about 400,000 visa "absconders" are loose and underground across the land. That's no longer acceptable after Sept. 11 as the government tries to keep would-be terrorists out of the US.

Is there a solution to this massive breach of immigration law, one that now requires millions in taxpayer's money to track down these scofflaws?

Yes, and it's found in a pilot program called Operation Compliance that was started in Hartford, Conn., last year, and is now underway in Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver.

Under Operation Compliance, once a deportation order is handed down to a visitor by an immigration judge, that individual is immediately taken into custody. Of course, he or she still has the right to appeal, but a higher bond may be set if they do, in order to keep them from running.

This new procedure will test how much time and money can be saved to deal with absconders. Alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring devices (wrist bracelets, similar to those worn by parolees), or voice recognition systems also are being explored.

Immigration reform advocates criticize the program, saying detaining these individuals, most of whom are in violation of civil, not criminal statutes, makes use of a measure that is too harsh. But it's fair to point out that once an immigrant runs, he or she becomes a fugitive and, as such, a criminal.

Of course, immigration officers must continue to treat immigrants with respect and dignity, especially those seeking asylum and facing persecution in their home countries, even as they work to reduce the number of absconders.

With close to 940,000 immigration cases clogging the courts, and an estimated 9 million individuals in the US illegally, Operation Compliance is a needed part of a multipronged effort to account for individuals living in the US who're attempting to avoid immigration law.

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