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Senator Kennedy has called a hearing today that responds to the questions that many of my constituents have asked me over the past month. After the events of September 11, no one can doubt that we need to do a better job of preventing terrorists from entering our nation. Last Friday, Senator Feinstein held a hearing on some of the technological issues involved in protecting our borders, and I am glad that Senator Kennedy is pursuing this important national security issue today.
One of the major security issues we face involves our border with Canada. I have attempted to improve our security through the USA Act, the bipartisan anti-terrorism legislation that I introduced with the Majority and Minority Leaders and other distinguished Senators, and which passed the Senate last week. Both the Senate and the House-passed bills include provisions to protect our Northern Border, which has been chronically understaffed. While the number of border patrol agents along the southern border has increased over the last few years to over 8,000, the number at the Northern Border has remained the same as a decade ago at 300. This remains true despite the fact that experts have repeatedly stated that our Northern Border is an attractive target for potential targets. That expert opinion was reinforced when Admad Ressam, the Algerian who planned to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport in 1999, and who has been linked to those involved in the September 11 attacks, chose to enter the United States at our Northern Border. It will remain an inviting target until we dramatically improve our security.
The USA Act authorizes tripling the number of Border Patrol, INS inspectors, and Customs Service employees in each of the States along the 4,000-mile Northern Border. This proposal has garnered widespread support a bipartisan group of 22 Senators wrote to the President in support of it and I urge the Administration to ensure that it is fully funded. Now more than ever, we must patrol our border vigilantly and prevent those who wish America harm from gaining entry. At the same time, we must work with the Canadians to allow speedy crossing to legitimate visitors and foster the continued growth of trade that benefits both countries.
Beyond increasing security at our Northern Border, we need to take additional steps to protect our country. We heard at last Friday's hearing from Commissioner Ziglar and Ambassador Ryan about the need to improve information-sharing among Federal agencies. We in Congress have begun this project in the USA Act, which provides the State Department and the INS with access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. Our intelligence agencies also have information that would greatly assist the State Department and the INS in making decisions about whom to allow into the United States, and we need to examine what Congress can do to facilitate the transfer of such information.
We also must make sure we develop the best possible biometric technology to identify potential terrorists entering the United States, such as facial recognition or fingerprint systems. The USA Act includes a section proposed by Senator Cantwell that requires the Attorney General to report to Congress on the feasibility of enhancing the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and other systems to better identify people with foreign passports or visas who may be wanted in connection with criminal investigations in the United States or abroad.
Finally, although we must be vigilant in preventing terrorists from entering the United States, we should also remember the important role immigration has played in strengthening our nation. Immigrants play a vital role in refreshing our democracy and strengthening our economy, and the measures we take in response to the events of September 11 should take that into account.
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