More than 98% of foreign travelers leave the United States on time or abide by the terms of their visas, according to official figures. U.S. immigration law imposes up to a decade-long ban on visitors who overstay their visas by more than six months.
U.S. consular officers can deny visas to applicants seen as likely to exceed their permitted stay, and the State Department has undertaken steps to punish countries deemed uncooperative with U.S. immigration enforcement efforts.
Multiple Homeland Security agencies are charged with overseeing enforcement of immigration law, including overstays.
Customs and Border Protection inspects all people seeking entry or applying for admission to the United States. It takes travelers' biographic and biometric data in order to help identify suspected overstays.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement enforces immigration inside the country, and is primarily responsible for finding and removing those who overstay. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes documentation for non-immigrants and travelers, including visa extensions or changes to immigration status.
Still, with about 52 million visitors legally entering the United States each year, federal authorities have long faced challenges tracking overstays. Customs and Border Protection says its overstay data have been reliable only since 2015.
With near-record numbers of asylum seekers and primarily Central American families arriving at the southern border in recent months, Trump has vowed to take a tougher approach to stop the inflow. He recently ousted several top Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and his own nominee to lead ICE.
"Looking at everything this administration has done, it has leaned heavily on enforcing the immigration laws as they exist," Brown said. "Overstays are a part of immigration law that has not been significantly enforced."
Pierce said it was part of a pattern in which the administration, blocked both on the border and on interior enforcement, begins to look elsewhere for any action it can take on immigration.
"I think the administration is really actively searching for other ways they can be effective," she said, "or at least be seen as trying to be effective, on immigration."
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