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We Can't Afford to Be Cavalier About Our Borders

November 12, 2001|DIANNE FEINSTEIN and JON KYL | Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is the chair of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on technology, terrorism and government information. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is the subcommittee's ranking member

In this two-front war, the U.S. must do a better job of protecting the home front--and that means preventing terrorists from entering or operating in the U.S.

All 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers were foreign nationals who should not have been in the country but who used loopholes in our immigration and visa system to infiltrate the U.S. Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the attack, was allowed back into the country through the Miami airport Jan. 10 even though his tourist visa reportedly had expired. In fact, Atta traveled freely to and from the U.S. during the past two years; other hijackers also traveled with ease throughout the country.

This is why we have introduced legislation to strengthen our nation's counter-terrorism efforts by closing loopholes in our visa entry system and giving federal agencies the direction and resources they need to do their jobs. Our legislation would:

* Create a centralized "lookout" database. The database would provide the Immigration and Naturalization Service and federal law enforcement with all the information they need to monitor, track and alert appropriate authorities about visitors to the U.S. who might be capable of doing harm.

* Develop a biometric visa card. Technology is available to put a person's fingerprints, retinal scans or face recognition on identification cards. The INS and the State Department would be required within one year to ensure that foreign nationals used these tamper-proof visa cards to enter and exit the U.S.

* Reform the visa waiver program. The 29 countries from which visitors can enter the U.S. without a visa would be required to develop tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports and, within a year, provide biometric data on them that conformed to U.S. standards.

* Establish new screening procedures for foreign nationals entering the country. All airlines, cruise lines and cross-border bus lines would have to submit passenger manifests to the central database prior to departure. Additionally, all non-U.S. citizens would submit fingerprints and other biometric data to the State Department when applying for a visa that would be sent to a centralized database.

* Implement tougher document requirements. Federal identification documents--such as pilot's licenses, visas, immigration work authorization cards and others--would have to be fraud-and tamper-resistant, contain biometric data and, if applicable, include the visa's expiration date.

* Reform the foreign student visa program, which is a source of serious abuse. Enforcement is often nonexistent. Even though Syria is one of seven countries identified by the U.S. as a terrorist state, the State Department issued visas to 14 Syrian nationals after Sept. 11 so that they could attend flight schools in Texas. Our legislation would prevent people from obtaining student visas if they come from terrorist-supporting states--Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Cuba and North Korea. However, we are also including a waiver provision so that students from these nations, on a case-by-case basis, could be exempted from the ban.

* Increase federal staffing to handle additional border security and visa responsibilities.

In the past, the U.S. has been relatively lax about enforcing our immigration policies. We can no longer afford to be so cavalier.

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