- About half of the population of unauthorized immigrants entered with a visa, rather than as a border crossing.
- Experts say there are not nearly enough immigration agents to locate these millions of people.
- But the case also reveals a bias, some say, about undocumented immigrants from “predominantly white countries.”
David DePape, the man accused of assaulting Paul Pelosi, is a Canadian who entered the United States nearly two decades ago on a tourist visa and stayed as usual.
That fact only came up because he was charged with a serious crime — according to analysts, the most common way for U.S. immigration officials to catch up with people who have been in the country without permission.
So-called visa overruns make up about half of the unauthorized population in the United States, and Canadian overruns make up a significant portion of them, analysts say.
A San Francisco judge Friday held DePape, accused of assaulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, in jail without bail pending trial.
Prosecutors alleged that he knocked Paul Pelosi unconscious with a hammer at his home on Oct. 28 during a break-in at the couple’s San Francisco home. DePape pleaded not guilty to the charges.
How DePape, who is white, was able to stay in the U.S. for so long without being arrested and deported by U.S. immigration officials while routinely deporting Latino and black migrants underscores inherent biases in the country’s immigration system, said Muzaffar Chishti, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, an impartial think tank in Washington.
“There are large numbers of Canadians, large numbers of Irish, large numbers of Poles who are not legally in the country, but they do not consider them illegal because they do not fit the profile,” Chishti said. “It’s only when there are such high-profile cases that you realize that there are people in this country illegally from predominantly white countries.”
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What country is David DePape from?
US officials said DePape is Canadian.
Federal records show that he entered the US via the San Ysidro bridge crossing between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego on March 8, 2008, with a B2 tourist visa, which is usually valid for up to six months, but can be extended.
Officials did not specify why DePape, a Canadian, would have entered from Mexico, or whether he had been to the US before that crossing.
How did DePape stay so long?
Even if immigration officials were warned that DePape had overstayed his visa in the US, they don’t have the manpower to locate, arrest and deport him, Chishti said. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with removing undocumented migrants in the US interior, has 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in more than 400 offices across the country.
But those aren’t nearly enough agents to go after the 11 million undocumented migrants estimated to live in the US, Chishti said. Migrants entering this country on temporary visas will not be provided with tracking devices, he said.
By the time DePape’s visa expired, he had likely moved, making it nearly impossible for ICE agents to find him, Chishti said.
“We do not have an enforcement mechanism robust enough to remove people who have just overstayed their visa or who have come and stayed illegally,” he said.
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How do officials locate and remove undocumented immigrants?
Instead, ICE agents tend to focus on what are considered “high yield” targets – migrants who have committed serious crimes or considered national security risks.
They do this largely by relying on local law enforcement agencies to arrest a migrant on a criminal charge. That person’s name then goes into national criminal databases alerting ICE and other agencies to their arrest.
ICE then requests a “detainer” from the individual — or a request to detain the immigrant until the federal agency can take over custody.
According to a spokesperson for Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, ICE filed a detention order on DePape with the San Francisco County Jail on Tuesday four days after his arrest.
How Did Deportations Change Under President Trump?
Before taking office, former President Donald Trump promised to increase the number of deportations of unauthorized immigrants and his administration instructed ICE to go after all unauthorized people, not just those who committed crimes.
While domestic moves under Trump were a boost, averaging at or below 100,000 a year, they were still well below the level of President Obama’s first term, which averaged more than 200,000 ICE removals a year. according to an Migration Policy Institute report.
President Joe Biden toned down enforcement policies after taking office, reducing evictions.
Even under Trump’s aggressive removal policy, the United States would be about 46 years to deport anyone currently in the country without authorization — assuming no new undocumented migrants enter the US, said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based immigrant advocacy group.
“With 11 million undocumented immigrants, the United States government just doesn’t know who those people are, where the majority live, or even doesn’t have the resources to go after them,” he said.
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Who makes up the majority of undocumented migrants in the US?
In the past two decades, on average, about half of undocumented migrants have entered the country by crossing the border without permission, and half have been granted legal and temporary visas that have stayed too long, such as DePape, Chishti said.
A analysis 2019 of the Center for Migration Studies found that of the 515,000 unauthorized migrants who entered the US in 2016, 62% had overstayed a temporary visa, compared to 36% who crossed the border illegally.
A Homeland Security Report 2021 to Congress showed that the country with the highest number of people to exceed visas in the US in 2020 was Mexico, with 77,494 violations. Second place: Canada with 57,592.
Visa overstayers tend to be white and educated, Reichlin-Melnick said.
“There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who have their visa violations but are not on the US government’s radar,” he said.
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.