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Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. I also want to thank Senators Feinstein and Kyl for holding a hearing last Friday regarding the usefulness of improved technology in preventing terrorists and those who would seek to harm us from entering the United States.
Since the attacks of September 11, one of the many focuses of Congress and the Administration has been on immigration and immigration controls. Specifically, how the system functions and why it failed to keep the terrorists out. The USA Act, which the Senate passed last Thursday, is a good first step. Among other things, the bill expands the class of those who are inadmissible to include those who (a) are representatives of groups that endorse terrorism, (b) have used a position of prominence to endorse terrorist activity, (c) are associated with a terrorist organization and are intending to engage in activities that endanger the security of the United States, and (d) are representatives of a terrorist organization formally designated as such by the Secretary of State. The bill also (1) provides for the mandatory detention of those non-citizens that the Attorney General has reasonable grounds to believe are inadmissible or deportable on terrorism grounds, and (2) mandates State Department and INS access to the criminal history record contained in the National Crime Information Center's Interstate Identification Index, Wanted Persons File, and to any other files maintained by the NCIC that may be mutually agreed upon for the purpose of determining whether a visa applicant or an application for admission has a criminal history record.
Our job is not done, however. We must continue to examine immigration law and process and make changes that are necessary and wise. In essence, we must find the appropriate balance between facilitating the legal entry of those who wish to visit or reside here for innocent reasons, and providing sufficient safeguards to prevent the entry of those who desire to harm our government, our citizens and residents, or our institutions. I am confident that our witnesses today can offer us some guidance on how we might best achieve this delicate balance.
Principally, the focus is on the following three groups of persons: (1) illegal immigrants, (2) nonimmigrants, and (3) immigrants.
Illegal immigrants either enter the country without inspection or permission, or enter legally, but thereafter remain without authorization. To prevent the illegal entry of immigrants through our borders, it follows that we must increase our efforts to secure the same. On this front, the Congress is making progress. In the USA Act, we authorize the appropriation of funds necessary to triple the number of Border Patrol Personnel, INS inspectors, and Customs agents along the northern border. In addition, the USA Act authorizes $50 million each to the INS and Customs Service for purposes of making improvements in technology for monitoring the norther border and acquiring additional equipment at the northern border. However, we must and will look for further ways in which we can protect against illegal entries. I believe that modifications can be made that will provide for the timely entry of low risk parties, while focusing larger amounts of energy and resources on high risk travelers.
We must also focus our efforts on those immigrants who entered legally but have remained without authorization from the INS. If a nonimmigrant illegally remains in the United States, he or she must be promptly removed if relief from removal is not merited. This, of course, assumes that we know whether a nonimmigrant has complied with the conditions of his or her authorized stay. To do this, we must intelligently, using available technology, fully implement the integrated entry and exit data system compelled by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Data Management Improvement Act of 2000. In short, a mechanism should be in place whereby the INS is immediately alerted when a nonimmigrant has failed to comply with the conditions of his or her stay. Thereafter, the INS must act on that information by locating that person and initiating the process by which he or she is removed from the United States. Certainly, not every person who overstays a visa is a terrorist, but if there is less than substantial enforcement of the law, we provide a loophole by which terrorists, criminals, and others who are dangers to our nation may live within our borders without fear of detection and/or apprehension by the INS.
Regarding the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to qualified persons abroad, we must, and have, take certain steps. It is inexcusable that an alien on whom we have some intelligence indicating that he or she may be a threat to our country, should be provided a visa and granted entry into the United States. Hopefully, the USA Act, which compels data sharing between the FBI and the INS and State Department, will, along with any other needed data-sharing mechanisms, prevent any such occurrence in the future. Consular Officers and INS Inspectors alike cannot be expected to prevent the admission of terrorists and others who would harm us if they are not provided access to intelligence. We must also ensure that all visa applicants and applicants for admission receive a sufficiently thorough examination before they are granted visas and offered entry.
In sum, changes in the way we conduct our immigration business will not, by itself, prevent terrorist acts from occurring. It is, however, our first line of defense and, consequently, must be reviewed to determine whether further changes are necessary. Accordingly, I look forward to working with members of this committee in proposing and examining suggested changes to immigration law and procedure. Also, I look forward to specific guidance from our witnesses today. # # # #
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