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Mr. THURMOND. Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for S. 1267, the Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001. I am pleased to be an original cosponsor and to have contributed to the drafting of this important immigration control measure.
This bill will help America get back control of our borders. Illegal immigration has long been a serious problem in our country. Census data indicates that there are now about 7 or 8 million illegal aliens in the United States, and the problem is getting worse. This is at least double the number of illegals that were here in 1990.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 have demonstrated how dangerous it can be for us to fail to know who is coming into our country. Of the 19 men who apparently hijacked the commercial airliners on September 11, the Director of Immigration and Naturalization Service last month testified that his agency had no record of how some of them came to the United States.
The legislation would create one centralized database of all noncitizens. It would be updated as aliens entered and left the United States through a modern system of quickly swiping a card at border crossings.
Also, the database would be integrated with law enforcement and intelligence information so that all relevant agencies could share and have access to critical data. Morever, all airlines, cruise ships, and cross-border bus lines would have to submit passenger manifests prior to departure so that foreigners could be pre-screened on the database before their arrival.
This bill would help address the rampart problem of document fraud, especially for immigration documents. It would require that all Federal identification and immigration papers, including visas and social security cards,
be fraud and tamper-resistant. Using modern technology, immigration documents would have to contain biometric data, such as photographs and fingerprints.
Further, the legislation would impose greater controls on foreigners who are here on student visas. It is noteworthy that, according to media reports, one of the hijackers from September 11 came into this country on a student visa but did not attend classes. This bill would help prevent this problem by requiring schools to report quarterly to the INS on the student's classes and whether he or she had problems with law enforcement during that period. If a foreign student dropped out, or failed to register or attend classes, the school would be required to notify the INS immediately. Further, background checks would have to be conducted prior to visas being issued, and additional background checks could be done when visas were renewed. The increased government costs for the student reforms would be paid in part through increased application fees for foreign students.
Anther important provision would prohibit any visas from being issued for students from terrorist countries. While this is a significant first step, I believe we need to go further in the future and prohibit any visas from being issued to terrorist nations, except for limited refugee and humanitarian reasons.
One provision of the bill that was included at my request requires a General Accounting Office study on returning to annual registration of aliens. Annual registration is needed to determine whether temporary aliens are actually here for the reasons they were authorized to enter, such as attend school. This was a World War II-era program that was essentially abandoned about twenty years ago, although the Attorney General maintains the authority to require any classes or groups to register. I believe this reform could be very beneficial to our security. The terrorism threat we face today is no less serious than the more conventional wars we fought in the past.
I would also like to note a related problem. Increasing penalties for illegal immigration has little meaning if the laws are not followed. In a hearing which I chaired in the last Congress in the Criminal Justice Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we showed that many criminals, especially illegal aliens at the Southwest Border, are routinely being sentenced far below what the law requires. To control the huge number of cases on the dockets in many border states, many defendants are being sentenced far below the ranges established in the Sentencing Guidelines in exchange for guilty pleas. Often, guilty pleas are for charges much less serious than the government could provide in court.
To address this problem, we need to increase judicial and related resources in these areas. We should increase the number of authorized judgeships at the Southwest Border, which has already been proposed, and the Senate should quickly consider judicial nominations from the President for existing vacancies in these areas. Also, these areas have inconsistent policies, and the Justice Department needs to work with these districts to create consistency. It is critical that we strictly enforce the immigration laws that are already on the books.
We need to do more this year to address the growing threat of illegal immigration. This bill is an important part of that effort, and I encourage my colleagues to support it.
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