Foreigners who overstay their visas outnumber those who cross the border illegally

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at Miami International Airport (MIA) checks the passports of international travelers.
A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at Miami International Airport (MIA) checks the passports of international travelers. Getty Images

Among an increasing number of immigration cases in Miami federal court, the ones that stand out are foreign travelers accused of making false statements in their visa applications in an effort to hide previous visits when they overstayed their visas.

At least five new cases of visa overstays appeared in court dockets in the last few weeks, coinciding with the publication of a new report that says foreign nationals who remain longer than their visas authorize now outnumber undocumented immigrants who cross the border illegally.

The report from the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) in New York says that since 2007 a majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States are the result of visa overstays, not illegal border crossers.

“The paper finds that two-thirds of those who arrived in 2014 were admitted (after screening) to the United States on non-immigrant (temporary) visas, and then overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas — a trend likely to continue,” according to a CMS statement.

The most recent case in Miami court records starkly illustrates the issue.

It began on Jan. 28 when Uruguayan traveler María de los Ángeles Moreira García arrived at Miami International Airport on an American Airlines flight from Montevideo.

“The defendant presented a Uruguayan passport and a U.S. visa to Customs and Border Protection for an examination and entry into the United States,” the criminal complaint says. “The defendant was referred to secondary inspection for admissibility verification.”

During an interrogation, CBP officials discovered that although Moreira García’s passport and visa were genuine, the visa had been obtained fraudulently, according to the complaint.

“The application for a non-immigrant visa asks: ‘Have you ever been in the United States?’ and ‘Have you ever been issued a U.S. visa?’” the criminal complaint says. “The defendant answered ‘no’ to both questions on her visa application.”

But what the Uruguayan said in the application was untrue, the complaint says, because immigration records showed she had previously obtained a visa in 2003, entered the United States and received authorization to stay for six months — but did not leave for eight years.

Court records show that Moreira García pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served last week.

A CBP spokesman said he could not comment on the specifics of the case.

But Moreira García’s lawyer, Mauricio Padilla, said he was satisfied with the judgment, but that his client was put on a plane home soon after the sentencing.

“We’re satisfied with the court’s decision,” Padilla said. “One of the most frustrating things for a criminal attorney is to have to represent a person like Ms. Moreira García who, really, had no reason to be in the criminal system.”

Dozens of similar cases emerged in court dockets throughout 2016 with dozens of travelers from different countries being charged with false statements on their visa applications.

The most recent cases came to light between August and December and included travelers from Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay and Uruguay. Most pleaded, were sentenced to time served and then sent back home.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter: @AlfonsoChardy