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Experts: Our borders are unprotected Reuters
WASHINGTON - The United States' borders and entry points leak like sieves, offering the nation little or no protection against potential terrorists, immigration experts said yesterday.
"It should be universally recognized that our borders are out of control," said Bill King, a retired senior Border Patrol agent.
King told a seminar organized by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think-tank, that there were almost 9 million people illegally residing in the United States.
"They can be job seekers, criminals, disease carriers and now they can be foreign agents. . .Both our borders [with Mexico and Canada] are sieves. Anyone can cross either border today," he said.
To that extent, two Republican lawmakers yesterday proposed a drastic overhaul of the immigration service.
Reps. James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, and George Gekas, of Pennsylvania, introduced legislation to split the Immigration and Naturalization Service in two - one agency for enforcement and another for immigration services.
"It has never been more obvious than now that we need a dedicated law enforcement agency headed by a law enforcement expert to deal with border security and criminal and illegal aliens," Sensenbrenner said.
Of the 19 people thought to have carried out the murderous suicide hijackings on Sept. 11 that killed nearly 5,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, at least 13 entered the country as tourists, business travelers or students.
In addition to cracking down on borders, the new agency should improve the services it offers to people who want to come to the country legally, Sensenbrenner and Gekas said.
Calling the current system broken, Sensenbrenner said through the end of September, there was a backlog of about 4.9 million visa applications and petitions for a change of status.
Under the proposed legislation, which abolishes the INS and establishes an "Agency for Immigration Affairs" in the Justice Department, there would be an Office of the Ombudsman to monitor and improve the benefits side of the agency.
In addition, it would set up an Internet-based system that would let people who have filed an application with the agency to access information about its status on-line.
Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney for San Diego, said the Immigration and Naturalization Service suffered from a lack of money, manpower and equipment and low morale. He said special- interest groups interested in securing a source of low-paying labor consistently thwarted efforts to control the borders.
Some states were now issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, which they could then use as identification to board aircraft, Nunez said.
"Why are we allowing people to create false identities to hide in plain sight?" he said.
Last year, 500 million people entered the United States at legal entry points. Close to half were returning U.S. citizens, but the rest included tourists and visiting business travelers. The INS believes up to 40 percent of those illegally in the country are people who overstayed their visas.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies said State Department visa officers regarded foreign applicants rather than the American people as their primary customers and preferred to keep them happy, rather than keep them waiting.
He also noted that only about 400 agents were responsible for patrolling the 4,000-mile border with Canada, where "Islamic terrorists are more likely to slip into the country from the sizable Canadian Muslim community that can provide them with cover."
Several speakers noted that the INS and other law-enforcement agencies made no effort to keep track of visitors, legal or illegal, once they entered the country.
"If you can sneak past the border, you are home free. Nobody is going to look for you," said Nunez.
One of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the country on a student visa but never attended a class.
_ Yesterday in Nevada, a federal judge ordered Abdulla Noman, a U.S. Consulate employee from Saudi Arabia, to face charges he accepted bribes to grant visas to foreigners entering the United States.
Noman, a Yemeni citizen, was taped during a sting operation in Las Vegas, a city that five of the Sept. 11 hijackers visited several times, the FBI said. *
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 08, 2001
Immigration Crackdown 'Is Clearly Inadequate'
Gary Bokelmann, NewsMax.com Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2001
(Editor's note: This is the first article in a series. Parts two and three will run later this week.) "More sizzle than steak.” That’s how Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, describes the immigration crackdown announced by the Bush administration last week.
Such criticisms highlight the failure of U.S. immigration policies to deal with the problem of illegal immigration in recent years. Rather than answering critics of U.S. immigration policy, the highly publicized crackdown announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft on Oct. 31 is only drawing more attention to the many ways in which policies have failed.
'Our System Is Broken'
"Clearly our immigration control system is broken,” said Krikorian, who heads a nonpartisan research organization devoted to the impact of immigration on the United States. He noted that the immigration crackdown came just one week after the U.S. Census Bureau announced there are an estimated 8 million illegal aliens in the United States.
"The fact that we have 8 million illegal aliens is a big problem, even if only a handful of them want to kill us,” Krikorian told NewsMax. "It’s a sign of profound dysfunction in our immigration system.”
Problems in the system fall into three general areas:
Inadequate screening of visa applicants by U.S. consular officials overseas.
Inadequate protection of U.S. borders, including understaffing at airports and border crossing points.
Inadequate enforcement of immigration laws within U.S. borders, including failure to track aliens who violate the terms of their visas. Each of these shortcomings will be examined in this three-part series.
According to one former embassy official, the easiest way for a foreign national to enter the U.S. illegally is by simply falsifying a visa application or overstaying a valid visa.
Political Correctness Trumps Security
In a background paper written in August 2000, Nikolai Wenzel, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City from 1997 to 1999, wrote that compared to the cost and danger involved in using a professional smuggler or crossing the border illegally, "it is easier and safer [to] mislead a consular officer who has received training in cultural sensitivity and interview courtesy,” rather than security.
Critics of the visa application policy are skeptical of the newly announced crackdown, which listed 46 terrorist groups whose members and supporters will be banned from entering the country. Krikorian, for one, argues this falls far short of what is needed to keep terrorist sympathizers out of the U.S.
"The modest tightening-up the attorney general announced in who will get visas overseas is clearly inadequate,” he said. "We need to give our visa officers sweeping authority to reject visa applicants solely based on their beliefs and affiliations, even if they are not members of terrorist groups.”
On the other side of the immigration debate, groups such as American Immigration Lawyers Association argue the new measures announced by the Bush administration on Oct. 31 may already go too far.
"We’re troubled by the guilt-by-association implications,” said Crystal Williams, the association’s director of liaison and information.
"For instance, if you give money to a hospital, and it turns out the hospital is loosely affiliated with a group that also may be involved with terrorism, you could be excluded from the United States. That sort of guilt by association, or guilt by charitable impulse, is certainly broader than what would be the usual American way.”
Even so, she and Krikorian have one opinion in common: They both believe the new measures will do little to prevent a determined terrorist from getting a U.S. visa.
"I’m concerned about the placebo effect here, that we are telling ourselves that we’re doing something, when in fact we’re not doing anything,” she said.
Ted Kennedy Welcomes Terror Sympathizers
Critics of the lax standards for visa applications place much of the blame on the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1990, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
As a result of that law, State Department regulations are written in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible for a consular officer overseas to deny a visa to someone just because he is calling for the overthrow of the United States.
For example, Section 9 of the department’s Foreign Affairs Manual instructs consular officers that "only statements that directly further or abet the commission of a terrorist act may properly constitute a basis for denying a visa.” It goes on to warn that statements merely "approving a specific terrorist act, and asserting that such acts should be repeated, do not render an applicant ineligible.”
In other words, an applicant cannot be denied a visa solely because he leads daily "Death to America” rallies, praises the Sept. 11 terrorists as martyrs and calls for more of the same. He can be excluded only if his statements "directly further or abet” a particular terrorist act.
"The problem here ... is a systemic problem,” Krikorian said. "A diplomat wants to present his best image to the host country. But a visa officer has to reject people who are trying to come to America, and thus presents a sterner image to the host country. Those two imperatives conflict.”
Wenzel made the same point when he wrote in his 2000 background paper, "Entrusting the administration of laws to officials with diplomatic priorities is a recipe for trouble.”
Williams, however, disagreed with that assessment.
"I don’t think there’s a conflict at all,” she argued. "There has to be fairness – a fundamental fairness – in what they are doing. If our consular officers are denying visas to people on a basis that is unfair, all that is going to do is generate more hostility in the world toward the United States and also toward people in the United States.”
But Krikorian and other critics of the policy assert that fairness and security can be balanced. He is particularly critical of Mary Ryan, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, appointed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993.
"She has instilled an ethic of ‘service’ instead of ‘skepticism,’” he said. "The result has been a perception of the visa applicant as the customer we are to serve, rather than the American people as the customer ...
"The point is not that our visa officers should be rude to foreigners. The point is that their job is to protect America, and everything else is subordinate to that. And that is not the current culture of the consular bureau.”
'When in Doubt, Keep Them Out'
Congress is preparing for a torrent of legislation designed to address immigration problems. Many of the proposals call for better coordination of information among the branches of government, and others propose new high-tech solutions such as "smart” ID cards for immigrants.
As important as those long-term solutions are, Krikorian thinks there are simpler, inexpensive fixes that can be imposed quickly.
"Overseas, we can be much more stringent in denying visa applications from people who are potential problems,” he said. "When in doubt, keep them out. Pure and simple ...
"It can start with just having a staff meeting and telling consular officers, ‘You can turn down any person you want, and we won’t second- guess you.’ The way it is now, no one is second-guessed for approving too many visas, but people are routinely second-guessed for turning down to many visas. It’s just a basic inversion in values ... That’s a policy issue that has to change from higher up.”
(Note: The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has yet to respond to several requests for comment on this subject.)
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 08, 2001.
U.S. borders leak like a sieve? What else is new?
-- QMan (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 08, 2001.