Immigration

Visa overstays are common among foreign nationals visiting the U.S.

In this file photo, international travelers are seen processing their documents via automated machines set up at passport control at Miami International Airport.
In this file photo, international travelers are seen processing their documents via automated machines set up at passport control at Miami International Airport. EL NUEVO HERALD

When Ines Gómez Calderón arrived at Miami International Airport June 1 on a flight from Colombia she was promptly arrested after immigration authorities learned she had previously overstayed her tourist visa for nine years.

While Gómez Calderon’s lengthy overstay was an unusual case, passport control officers at MIA regularly encounter travelers who have previously stayed beyond the expiration date on their visas.

Visa overstays are drawing media attention these days after the issue entered the nascent debate in the 2016 presidential race. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who announced his candidacy in Miami on June 15, told the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco in January that visa overstays are a major problem that needs to be resolved for border security.

“First and foremost, we need to control our border,” Bush said. “A great nation needs to control its border, not just at the border, which is hugely important, but also the forty percent of the people that have come here illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.”

In his remarks, Bush was quoting from credible estimates about the number of undocumented immigrants in the country.

For example, a May 2006 study from the Pew Hispanic Center said that as much as 45 percent of the total undocumented immigrants in the country — more than 11 million — entered the country with visas that allowed them to visit or reside in the U.S. for a limited amount of time.

That means that about 4.9 million arrived legally but then overstayed.

The has been singled out as perhaps more significant than the inability of immigration agents to stop all foreign nationals who sneak across the Mexican and Canadian borders.

The reason is that despite the fact that immigration authorities know when a foreign national legally comes in, they have no efficient system to track them inside the country or determine if they have left.

In the Gómez Calderón case, for example, she was not located after she overstayed her visa in 1996; she was not discovered when she left the country in 2005; and she was not denied a visa by a U.S. consul when she applied for one to visit the United States this year.

It wasn’t until she showed up at passport control at MIA that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers finally arrested the defendant.

The case began June 1 when Gómez Calderón arrived at MIA aboard an American Airlines flight from Cali, Colombia.

“The defendant presented a Colombian passport and a U.S. visa to CBP for examination and entry into the United States,” according to a criminal complaint filed by CBP.

Goméz Calderón was pulled out of the regular immigration line and sent to an interrogation room because something seemed amiss, according to the complaint.

“During the secondary examination, CBP officers discovered that…the U.S. visa had been obtained with fraudulent statements by the defendant,” the complaint says.

In her visa application, Gómez Calderón answer “no” to the question whether she had overstayed her visa, the complaint said.

“A records check revealed that Ines Gómez Calderón was previously admitted into the United States on April 19, 1996 for a period of three months on a single entry visitor’s visa,” the complaint said. “However, she did not depart the United States until December 30, 2005.”

After initially pleading not guilty on June 17, Gómez Calderón changed her plea to guilty last Monday and has since been sentenced to time served. She is now in the custody of immigration authorities facing deportation.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

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