In a front page story The New York Times reports today that the U.S. has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country after their visas have expired. Homeland Security officials counsel that with more than one million crossings a day, exit monitoring is a “daunting and costly goal”.

No doubt.

Perhaps one way to alleviate the problem of temporary visitors overstaying their visas is for Congress to remove the draconian 3 and 10 year reentry bars from the law.These are the provisions which bar foreign nationals from returning to theU.S.if they have overstayed their visas for more than 6 months.Under the current law, foreign nationals who overstay can be barred from reentering theU.S.for up to 10 years.This law was added in 1997 as incentive for people to leave theU.S.when their visas expire and as punishment for those who don’t.

The idea was that if foreign nationals were barred from returning to theU.S.for long periods of time they would leave.

But the law has had the exact opposite effect.Many foreign nationals who overstay their visas or enter illegally, especially those with U.S.citizen spouses and children, remain in the U.S.because of the reentry bars.They know that if they depart, even to secure a valid visa at aU.S. embassy abroad, they will be barred from returning to theU.S. Life without documents, so they conclude, is better than life without loved ones.

Removal of the reentry bars will likely reduce the number of undocumented foreign nationals in theU.S.It will create a strong incentive for foreign nationals—particularly those who have the right to apply for lawful immigration status—to leave the U.S., and apply for documentation at a U.S. embassy in their home country without the fear of years of separation from family.

Of course, removal of the reentry bars alone won’t fix our broken immigration system.That’s why Congress needs to act now to construct a sound, forward looking immigration policy which protects our national security, reunites families, and gives American business the tools it needs to compete in the global economy.