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Tighten Up The Borders
By Lamar Smith
Saturday, October 13, 2001; Page A27
Our nation has endured a terrible tragedy. The human suffering is immense; the damage extensive. Suddenly, the most prosperous and most powerful country in the world is more vulnerable than we ever thought.
One reason is the relatively free access foreign nationals have to the United States.
Less than two years ago, at an immigration subcommittee hearing I chaired, I publicly warned of the danger of our lax border security. Referring to the explosion in the World Trade Center's garage in 1993, I stated, "The time to act is now before either [Canada or the United States] has another World Trade Center bombing." I wish that prediction had not been accurate.
According to the Justice Department, only nine of the 19 suspected terrorists were legally in the United States. And the INS has detained 160 foreign nationals thought to be connected to the terrorist attacks. Our land borders are too porous and offer an open invitation to those who want to harm us.
As a result, our immigration policy will change. Talk of more open borders will subside. Theoretical and utopian views will give way to more realistic and practical approaches.
On one hand, we should resist the urge to overreact. On the other, we should hasten to enforce laws and pass new ones that will make our country safer. Some examples:
• Strengthen border security. Hire more Border Patrol agents and Customs personnel. Consider using the National Guard in a backup capacity.
• Monitor those who enter on temporary tourist or work or student visas to make sure they depart as expected. More than one-third of all illegal aliens entered legally but overstayed their allotted time.
• Prohibit granting asylum to those who have ties to terrorist organizations.
• Make it easier to gather evidence on suspected terrorists. Non-citizens are not always entitled to the same constitutional rights as citizens.
• Expedite the deportation of illegal aliens who have committed crimes. Increase the deportation of other illegal aliens rather than ignore them or release them repeatedly.
• Require certain immigration documents to have biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, so they can't be used fraudulently.
• Don't allow immigrants who became eligible to be admitted legally to adjust their status while in the United States. They should apply from their home country, where embassy personnel can conduct a background check and, if necessary, deny them a visa.
• Reconsider allowing illegal aliens to "regularize" their status and become legal. We need to give those who have violated our immigration laws more scrutiny, not a free pass.
The heart of the problem is that it is too easy to cross our borders. On the Canadian front, many of the entry points are not even staffed after midnight. At the busiest locations, drivers are routinely waved through.
To the south, hundreds of thousands of people wade across the Rio Grande every year undetected. In places, the river is only a few inches deep.
Others, for the cost of an airline ticket, board a plane in a foreign country using a false ID, land in the United States and then disappear.
Immigration laws must be better enforced, and new ones must be implemented. Additional infrastructure will have to be built so that legitimate international trade will not be hampered. More facilities also will be needed to allow for the opportunity to stop individuals from coming to America for the wrong reasons.
The threat is not only from incoming missiles but also from inbound terrorists who can take advantage of a weak immigration system. Congress should respond immediately to protect the public safety.
The writer is a Republican representative from Texas.
-- K (email@example.com), October 14, 2001