Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Rosemary Jenks, Director of Government Relations, NumbersUSA.com
Steven Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies
Jan Ting, Professor of Law, Temple University; former Assistant Commissioner, INS
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration in the United States.
Earlier this year, the president said, quote, “our country is a battlefield in the first war of the 21st century.” Unquote. This is why the talk of “home front” is no longer a metaphor as it was in World War II to get people to recycle their tires and not grumble about rationing coupons, but rather a literal description of the situation we face. The focus of the enemy is to attack us at home, as we saw on 9/11 and actually many instances – smaller instances – before that that we didn’t take very seriously. And because of that, effective immigration control is a prerequisite of victory. It is not sufficient, but it is necessary. Without it, we are playing offense with no defense.
There were two major legislative responses to the 9/11 attacks that took some of this into account: the Patriot Act and the legislation that we’re going talk about today, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a catchy acronym. We will usually refer to it as the visa-tracking law, but I kind of wish they came up with something like the grab act or the snatch them act. But whatever it is, this is what we have. The Patriot Act, of course, has been the subject of extensive debate and discussion, but the visa-tracking law has not, even though it is much more focused and has much more extensive immigration control components to it. The report that we’re releasing today – it’s published jointly with the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation – is an effort to remedy that, and the two authors will talk about it in some more detail.
The one thing I do want to point out, though, is that the importance of immigration control mechanisms is not nearly – is not limited to this first war of the 21st century, but likely will be important in all foreseeable future wars that the United States gets involved in because with the end of the Cold War and the creation of a unipolar world system, all the conflicts we are likely to be involved in will have a significant element of what in the jargon is known as asymmetrical conflict, asymmetrical warfare because our enemies overseas don’t really have much chance in prevailing against our conventional military forces, and frankly the war in Iraq demonstrated that reasonably well. So that whatever conflict we may be engaged in in the future, whether it’s – whether we get sucked into Colombia when the state in Colombia fails if that happens, whether we get involved in a conflict with China, God forbid – any future conflict that we are likely to be involved in is going to have a significant likelihood of attempts at mass casualty attacks on civilians within the United States, and so immigration control is a matter of permanent security concern to the United States, not – regardless of what happens in Iraq or what happens in Afghanistan.
We have three people to talk about that, the two co-authors and another person eminently qualified to comment. The first person will be the lead author of the report, Rosemary Jenks, who is Government Relations Director for NumbersUSA. Steve Camarota is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, and Jan Ting is a law professor at Temple University Law School and former Assistant Commissioner of the INS. So we will have everybody say their peace and then we will take questions after that. Rosemary?
ROSEMARY JENKS: Thank you, Mark. First I want to thank Mark and Steve and the Center for Immigration Studies for co-publishing this report with us. My organization, NumbersUSA, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan immigration reduction organization. We basically – our primary goal is to accomplish the 1996 recommendations of the Immigration Reform Commission, chaired by the late Barbara Jordan. One of the fundamentals of the Jordan Commission report was that those who should be let into the country are, those who should not be are not, and those who are here illegally should be firmly but humanely returned to their home countries.
I want to begin by telling you just a little bit about why we decided to do this study in the first place. As Mark mentioned, the two primary legislative responses to the 9/11 attacks were the USA Patriot Act and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. While the Patriot Act includes some immigration provisions – substantive immigration provisions – it focuses largely on intelligence and prosecution of terrorists. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, on the other hand, deals exclusively with trying to close some of the most gaping loopholes in our immigration system. It was drafted specifically to ensure that those wanting to do harm to the United States would not be able to enter the country legally by creating an elaborate system of information sharing and biometric identification procedures. It also was designed to ensure that aliens granted temporary permission – in other words, non-immigrant visas – to enter the United States leave when they’re supposed to and that the government will know if they fail to leave and will be better able to track them. That’s why we call it the visa-tracking law.
As a sovereign nation, the United States clearly has the right and the duty to its citizens to determine the true identity and intentions of aliens seeking entry and to deny entry to those attempting to use fraud or who present a threat to our homeland. 9/11 made it clear just how important this responsibility is and how inadequate were the tools at the government’s disposal to meet the responsibility.
The visa-tracking law resulted from a bipartisan effort, led by Senator Feinstein in the Senate and Representative Sensenbrenner in the House, to give the administration adequate tools to ensure that homeland security would not take a backseat to politics, expediency, or resource conflicts. Getting an immigration bill through Congress and signed into law was a major undertaking and a significant step toward the promise of homeland security. It was only the first step, though. The new law must be implemented before it can have any impact. Because the visa-tracking law mandates a variety of complex changes in procedures and technology, the implementation deadlines written into the law are staggered from May 14, 2002 – the date of enactment – until the end of fiscal year 2006, by which every provision in the law is to be fully in effect.
Because of the importance of this law, not just to protect the homeland from terrorists but also from criminals and others seeking to exploit our openness and generosity, we feel it’s important to monitor its implementation. While each administrative agency and department involved is responsible for ensuring implementation of those provisions that fall under its jurisdiction, they are under no obligation to report their progress to the public. We decided to take a comprehensive approach to monitoring the implementation of all the law’s mandates, gather information from all relevant government agencies, and make our findings available to the public.
Our goal in presenting this study is threefold. First, it’s to praise the administration for the actions it has taken thus far to meet the law’s mandates. Second is to point out the deadlines the administration has failed to meet to this point and encourage it to get up to speed. And third is to give notice that we will continue watching the administration’s progress in implementing this important law and that the failure to meet future deadlines will not go unnoticed.
So what are the findings of the study? The visa-tracking law includes 22 provisions that should have been implemented fully before November 1, 2003, a year and a half after enactment. All of these are listed in the chart that’s at the end of the backgrounder that you all have, so I’m just going to give highlights, not go through them in detail.
First of all, 13 of the 22 provisions, or just over half, have actually been implemented, although the administration failed to meet the mandated deadline on four of these. Among the most significant of these to homeland security are (1) the implementation of an interim data sharing system that allows DHS, the State Department, the FBI, and the CIA to upload and retrieve data on aliens through the Treasury Enforcement Communications System or TECS, a database maintained by the Treasury Department. Second is the certification by DHS and the State Department of fingerprints as the standard biometric to be used by government agencies to verify the identity of aliens and to monitor their compliance with non-immigrant visas. Third is the completion of SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, the online data collection and notification system designed to monitor foreign students’ compliance with the terms of their F, J, or M non-immigrant visas. Each of these represents a serious step toward closing the loopholes that were used by some of the 9/11 hijackers to gain entry into the United States and to remain here while they plotted the attacks. The administration and particularly DHS and the State Department deserve credit for these accomplishments.
The bad news, however, is that the administration has failed to implement nine of the 22 provisions in the visa-tracking law that should already be in effect. The most potentially detrimental of these include first DHS’s failure to ensure that immigration inspectors check the name of every visa waiver alien who seeks admission to the United States against terrorist lookout lists. This is a particularly important step with regard to visa waiver aliens because they are not vetted by consular officials abroad before they travel to the United States like other aliens who have to apply for a visa – they are vetted by the State Department.
The administration’s failure to make any progress on the creation of the Chimera system is second. The Chimera system is an interoperable data system the law requires to integrate all available identity, immigration, law enforcement, and intelligence data on aliens. This data system is perhaps at the heart of the visa-tracking law. It’s supposed to be a sort of one-stop shopping center for consular, immigration, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel who need information about a particular alien. It would maintain biometric and other identity data on non-immigrants, track their entry and exit to and from the United States, contain criminal records and information on prior immigration violations, and provide available information on terrorist connections. Rather than searching through several different and incompatible databases to determine whether an alien should be admitted to the United States or removed, enforcement personnel would know that one check on Chimera would provide all known data regarding the alien.
Unfortunately, not a single one of the mandated deadlines pertaining to Chimera has been met. The administration even has failed to establish the required commission to oversee its development, so all progress is stalled.
Finally, DHS’s failure to ensure that the fingerprints contained on border crossing cards are matched against the fingerprints of the bearer of the card at the port of entry prior to admission is a huge failure. Border crossing cards permit Mexican nationals to enter the United States for periods of up to 72 hours. They were created to facilitate border crossings by those who live near the southern border or those whose business involves significant cross-border activities. Congress required the then-INS to replace the old cards with secure, machine-readable cards that included fingerprints, but the INS failed to purchase the machine readers that could read the cards. Even though DHS is now distributing machine readers at southern ports of entry, they are of limited use because most are not yet capable of reading and comparing biometric data, such as fingerprints. Thus, the visa-tracking law’s mandate that the fingerprints on the cards match those of the bearer has not been implemented.
I want to point out in conclusion that one thing that the study does not answer is why the administration has done what it has done and has failed to do what it has failed to do. And I think the reason that it has done the actions that it has is primarily because the new immigration system under the Department of Homeland Security has an almost exclusive focus on terrorism, preventing terrorists from gaining entry, and they’re looking at the 9/11 attacks and the lessons that we learned from that in order to proceed in their mission. So they’re focusing first on closing the major loopholes that were exposed by 9/11: the student visa system, the identification system. But the fact is that terrorists will exploit any loophole in the immigration law that an illegal alien can exploit, so unless we gain control of the entire system, we will not be able to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.
So this partially explains why the administration has failed to do some of the – failed to implement some of the provisions it was supposed to. It’s sort of a combination of this priority – almost exclusive focus on terrorism and the will of the administration to gain control of the entire system, but it’s also a function of resources. It will be vitally important in the future for the implementation of the rest of the provisions in this bill not only that the President ask Congress for adequate resources to enforce the law and implement the new procedures, but also that Congress give the resources. So that will be a huge question for the future that we will also be watching.
And with that, I will turn it over to Steve.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Rosemary. I just wanted to point out before Steve started that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for homeland security issues, Senator Byrd, has commented in a press release on the report and his staffer is willing to take calls on this from reporters who are interested, and his name and number is at the top of the press release we handed out. Steve?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark. I would like to shift gears just a little bit and try to provide some more background to why these things in – why some of the things were included in the visa-tracking bill and why they’re important by looking at past terrorist attacks in the United States and what they reveal, and not just the attacks of September 11th.
As Mark has pointed out, the asymmetric threat from immigration is enormous. Now of course, the nation’s response to the attacks of September 11th must take and have taken many forms, from military action to expanded security in airports. Again, as important as these measures are, there is probably no more important tool for preventing future attacks on U.S. soil than the nation’s immigration system because the current terrorist threat comes primarily from individuals who arrive from abroad; that is al Qaeda is an organization made up primarily, though not exclusively, of foreign-born individuals who then enter the United States either by sneaking into the United States or through our immigration system.
Now of course, no immigration system can be completely foolproof, but if only some of those involved in a terrorist plot can be stopped by our immigration system, it is possible that whatever conspiracy they are a part of can be uncovered. So in other words, even though you don’t catch everyone every time, they can still be very valuable because if you just catch one person, you can often uncover the conspiracy and in fact this was the case in the millennium plot in December of 1999. The apprehension of Ahmed Ressam at the border prevented the attack from occurring because when they found the explosives in his car, the customs official who did that obviously then notified the FBI and so forth and the plot was uncovered and prevented. This shows that you don’t have to have a system that’s completely foolproof, and that’s something you can expect from your immigration system.
Now, in a report that we issued last year – we were handing them out before – called “The Open Door,” we looked at how militant Islamic terrorists associated with al Qaeda had come into the United States over the last 10 years. In that report, we found that they had used every conceivable weakness and means of entering the country. They had come as students, tourists, and business travelers. They have also been lawful permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens. They have snuck across the border illegally and arrived as stowaways on ships and used false passports and have even been granted amnesty in more than one case.
Now, one of the most important findings of that report was that violations of immigration law are very common among terrorists. It turned out that 12 of the 48 terrorists that we studied over the last 10 years were illegal aliens when they committed their crime. In fact, illegal aliens have taken part in every major al Qaeda operation within the United States. At least five others in addition to the 12 had lived in the United States illegally at some point prior to taking part in terrorism, and at least four others on top of that had committed significant violations of immigration law as well before taking part in terrorism. Now, for those who were here as illegal aliens, most entered legally on temporary visas but then overstayed. However, some did sneak across the border as well. In addition, terrorists also violated immigration law by providing false information on their applications for admission or permanent residence, such as someone like Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who of course has inspired many terrorist plots and whose ideology is considered one of the underpinnings of al Qaeda.
Now, the fact that violations of immigration law are so common among terrorists gives us a real chance to catch terrorists before they either enter the country or once they’re here. And as I indicated, the vast majority didn’t sneak across the border, though as I said some did. Of the 48 al Qaeda terrorists that we studied, 42 of them were approved for a visa by an American consulate overseas prior to entering the United States. The rest didn’t have visas when they entered or they snuck in as I said. This means contact with an immigration official, overseas in the case of the State Department – and of the 42, an additional three – in addition to the 42, an additional three had a contact at a port of entry. So 45 of the 48 either had contact with the State Department overseas or had contact with an INS agent when they entered the country.
Now, this means that if we have a more tightly controlled and monitored system that more carefully vets and tracks people, it could be enormously valuable in the war on terrorism because most terrorists have gone through that system. The problem has been partly that the system is so lax and has so many loopholes.
Just for example, the need for a better watch list is shown by the case of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman as well as Ali Mohammed, who operated in the United States for many years and is thought to have written most of al Qaeda’s handbook on how to operate in the West. Both of these individuals probably should have been denied entry to the United States because they were on watch lists overseas, but somehow the State Department either missed them in the way they searched or the list that the consulate was using wasn’t sufficiently updated.
Now, problems with the student visa system and the tracking of students’ visas of course is shown by a number of cases. Let me point to two. Hani Hanjour, who was one of the – who is thought to have maybe piloted the plane into the Pentagon, he entered on a student visa but never went home, and he never even showed up for classes. But of course, we were basically unaware of this fact because we didn’t have in place a student tracking system. The case of Eyad Ismoil is also important. He was given a student visa to study in the United States in 1989, to study at Wichita State. He almost immediately left campus and lived in the United States for three or four years illegally, and then took part in the first attack on the Trade Center in 1993. He drove the truck with the explosives.
Let me point to the problem of information sharing within federal agencies as well. The case of Rahman is important because he doesn’t just get a visa to enter the United States and then does so. He eventually applies for a green card and he eventually gets his green card, yet he’s also on the watch list. But apparently the INS didn’t do a very good job of checking that watch list when he applied for a green card, but it is also true that he used a different name. But that’s the value, or that would point to the value of, say, the Chimera system. If you have a biometric-based system where you can immediately pull up people and find out their immigration history and see if they’re on a watch list, if that’s based on photos and fingerprints, you’re much more likely to prevent a situation like that from occurring.
Let me also point out why it’s important to check the names at ports of entry of people from visa waiver countries. As most of you probably know, there are about 27 countries in the visa waiver program. These individuals are allowed entry into the United States for periods up to six months for basically tourism or business. They’re mostly Western European countries or some countries in East Asia as well as Australia. And one might think at first glance that the terrorist threat from those countries is very minimal, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In fact, because most Middle Eastern governments have done a pretty decent job of suppressing Islamic extremism in their home countries, unfortunately Western Europe in particular has become home to a number of radicals. And in fact, Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber, used the visa waiver program as well as Zacharias Moussaoui, who is often described at the twentieth hijacker.
Moussaoui is an interesting case because the French intelligence was aware of him. He does not seem to have made it into our watch list, but he could have and might have. But of course, if we don’t check the names of people at ports of entry for visa waiver aliens, the watch list of course isn’t meaningful if it’s not up and running.
The importance of checking names at ports of entry I think is also shown by the case of Khalid al Midhar. He was not a visa waiver alien, but he was someone who the CIA learned was a terrorist in January and doesn’t re-enter the United States until July of 2001. Now, it is true – and this isn’t a problem of information sharing – the CIA didn’t inform the immigration service, but the catch here is that had they informed them, it’s not clear he would have been caught at the port of entry because not everyone’s name is checked at the port of entry. So that points to a problem. You want to have information sharing, but then you also want to have checking people at ports of entry.
Now let me point briefly to the border crossing card and why that matters. This doesn’t necessarily directly relate to terrorism, but the idea that, say, Middle Eastern terrorists could slip through Mexico may seem remote, but it’s not. In October of 2001, George Tajirian, an Iraqi immigrant to Mexico, was sentenced to I believe it was 20 years in prison because he specialized in smuggling Middle Eastern immigrants through Mexico and into the United States. He is thought to have brought in a thousand people. He did so by forging an alliance with a corrupt Mexican immigration official, and in fact corruption in Mexico and the lax nature of their system certainly might make that an attractive way of coming into the United States, partly because in some ways, if you use someone else’s border crossing card or simply slip across the Mexican border, it would create no administrative record of your arrival in the United States. And if other possibilities become more difficult for al Qaeda, that possibility – there’s every reason to believe that that one will become attractive.
In fact, the case of Gazi Ibrahim Abu-Mezer, who had applied for a visa to come and study in the United States, he was turned down. However, he got a visa to study to study in Canada and then slipped across the United States’ border with Canada and then tried to bomb the Brooklyn subway system in 1997. His case points to the persistence, really, of terrorists. If they don’t get their visa but our borders remain wide open, again, it’s sort of locking the front door, leaving your windows and the back door open. There’s no reason to think that they wouldn’t try to come in.
Moving from the specifics to the overall idea behind the visa-tracking bill, why its implementation is so important is because a lax system itself is a threat to the nation, and here’s why. Think about it this way: if you’re an immigration inspector at Miami International Airport and you have got Mohammed Atta in front of you, and yes it looks like he’s pretty clear. He overstayed his visa. First off, he applied for a student visa, which he probably wasn’t supposed to do on a tourist visa immediately after arrival, but you might overlook that. And then you might – but then it’s also clear that he left and he had overstayed his visa, and you could argue that he had abandoned his application for his student visa by leaving the country. But you know what? When you have a situation where there are already 8 million illegal aliens in the United States, when you have a situation where consulates are just rubber stamping visa applications, where the whole system is shot full of loopholes, why not let him back in the country? What harm could one more illegal alien do? What harm could one more – I mean, no one takes the system seriously. In fact, prior to that, you know, the head of the INS was saying look, the way to deal with illegal immigration is we got to give them all legal status. Well, put yourself in that person’s position. Why in the hell would you do your job and keep him out of the country?
I will give you another example. Subsequent analysis of at least 16 of the 19 hijackers, of their visa applications, showed that they didn’t fill out the forms properly. Probably none of them, given their age and the other information they provided, even qualified for a tourist visa or at the very least additional information should have been required. But again, put yourself in the place of the consular officer. You have got a tremendous workload and no one seems to care anyway.
The integrity of the system is not taken seriously. And so one of the things that a full and consistent implementation of the visa-tracking bill could do is to restore that sense of integrity, to restore that sense of morale to the people who administer our immigration system. So by not implementing carefully all of its provisions – the specific provisions are creating a national security threat, but the general sense of, you know, we don’t really take this stuff seriously, we will do some of it but not all of it – this general sense that a lax system is, well, okay with us is an enormous national security threat. And if terrorists again enter our country and again commit a large-scale attack on the United States, our failure to implement the visa-tracking bill I think will point – you know, in many ways we will really have only ourselves to blame.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Jan?
JAN TING: Well, thank you. It’s an honor to be here to help publicize this very important report. I have become a big fan of the information provided by the Center for Immigration Studies, and now I’m going to start paying attention to NumbersUSA also. I think we all need to pay more attention to these issues.
I just have two points that I want to add to this report, and the first point I want to make is that the mandates of Congress in this visa-tracking bill to the immigration services of the State Department and Homeland Security were really fairly modest, probably too modest to adequately protect national security, and this makes the failure to achieve even these modest goals and deadlines particularly worrisome.
Let me just elaborate a little bit on the visa waiver issue that both Rosemary and Steve referred to. I think we need to remember that prior to 1986, there was no visa waiver system in the United States. Prior to 1986, we required visas of virtually all foreigners who came to the United States, with the exception of Canadians and Mexicans with border crossing cards. It was only in 1986, with the lobbying of the travel industry and the airlines, that we said, well, maybe we don’t need to require visas of people that are coming from the nice countries, from the European countries. And as Steve has mentioned, we have seen where that leads.
You know, Zacharias Moussaoui came in on his own French passport. He didn’t need to go to a U.S. consulate and apply for a visa. Richard Reid was able to get on an airplane headed for the United States simply on the basis of his own British passport. He didn’t even have to apply for a visa. One of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Ramzi Yousef I believe, came in on a counterfeit European passport. All he had to do is show the passport, buy the airline ticket, welcome to the United States.
Now, you would have thought – certainly I thought – after 9/11, that that would be it for visa waiver. I thought that would have been one of the first changes that we would have made after 9/11, to shut down that visa waiver window. Well, I was wrong. Indeed, shortly after 9/11 – I believe it was in February 2002 – the travel industry and the airlines came up to Capitol Hill and they testified that on a statistical basis, the number of mass murderers and terrorists coming in under visa waiver is insignificant, and it would be a tremendous burden on all concerned, because of the small number of mass murderers and terrorists coming in, to start requiring visas of all foreigners coming to the United States as we did prior to 1986. And I think the visa-tracking bill that we’re looking at was in part a response to that testimony.
And Congress said – in response to this testimony from the travel industry and the airlines that said don’t do this to us, Congress said well, okay, we will set up this sophisticated biometric tracking data collection system and then we will start checking everyone against our known terrorist list as they come in the door, and with that we can all be assured that we don’t need to abolish visa waiver. And so that establishes the importance of the report that Steve and Rosemary are presenting here, which shows that even those modest goals are not being met. And so that’s a big problem.
The findings in this report I think underscore concerns over the wisdom and success of the reorganization of the immigration services that has occurred in the past year, basically combining the old INS with other agencies like Customs and the Coast Guard and airport security in this new Department of Homeland Security. Now, I was never a fan of the reorganization. I thought that Congress misread the problem. Congress said the problem was mission conflict between enforcement and immigration benefits. It was never immigration conflict; it was always immigration overload. The Immigration Service was just overwhelmed with a geometrically growing demand for services and problems. That was always the problem and it was a lot cheaper to reorganize than to provide the personnel and the funding that it would take to make our immigration system work.
Nonetheless, I thought that the reorganization as it was actually enacted gave some hope that maybe – at least the whole INS was moved together rather than split up between two departments, and maybe putting it in a separate department would raise the importance of immigration enforcement and we would come to see that, gosh, this is really part of our national security and make it a higher priority than it has been in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening and the problems that Steve and Rosemary are raising today certainly raise those concerns, and also the fact that the department is now bragging about the fact that they’re training immigration officers to be sky marshals. Their giving them air marshal training suggests that there’s in fact being a dilution of the priority being given to immigration law enforcement, which is another matter of concern.
The underlying problem, as I think we have talked about on many occasions, is really the lack of political will to enforce our immigration laws as they exist now on the books. And so I think it’s vitally important that we bring media attention to bear on these shortcomings, and this report is going to be an important contribution to that effort.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Jan. Take questions. Please identify yourself and make it a question rather than a speech. Go ahead.
Q: I’m Carolyn Grece (ph) from Reuters, to whomever would like to answer. Well, if we understand the national security concerns, a lot of people I have been speaking to also mentioned the possible negative effects of things like the visa-tracking law. So I wanted to ask you for your thoughts on possible negative repercussions because people feel targeted or discriminated against, or on a business level tourists and businesspeople who might have a hard time coming to the United States to spend money or to do business.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Go ahead.
MS. JENKS: Well, I would say first of all, we need to start out by realizing that there is no right to come to the United States. It’s a privilege to come to the United States. The United States government determines who can and cannot come, so by asking business travelers, tourists, and anyone else who wants to enter the United States to provide us with some form of secure identification to prove their identity, to tell us what their intentions are what they get here, and to abide by the visa that we give them, that’s not asking too much. Every country in the world, every sovereign nation, demands the same thing. You abide by the laws of the country you enter. That’s all it is.
It’s not a matter of, you know, we’re placing undue burdens on people. Yes, they have to go to a consular office and they have to apply for a visa, they have to provide the information that’s requested of them, and then they get their visa, and we expect them to go home when their period of authorized admission expires. That’s all. If they do that, they can come back as many times as they want to. There will be no penalties. There’s no problem. Yes, there are additional steps that they have to take under this law, but that’s all. That’s the price of the privilege of coming to the United States.
Q: Just a quick follow up to that. Fully agree, but there have been significant delays at it and I’m wondering – of course it’s a privilege, but for the United States, too, one would assume it’s an interest of the United States to have business and trade.
MS. JENKS: Yes. You’re absolutely right, and the one thing that will be absolutely critical to every effort in this law is resources. We have to have more consular officials to process visas. We have to have, you know, more immigration inspectors, more immigration agents, you know, all of that. We need the resources, and that’s – Congress still has not done its job because we don’t have the resources in place to adequately process these people. You’re right, it is in the interest of the United States to get people here if they belong here and to be able to ensure that they leave. Without resources, none of that can happen.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, and I think Senator Byrd’s comments about the report speak specifically to that issue. If you implement a new procedure, obviously there is a transition problem, but if there’s a problem beyond that, maybe it’s because we only have 900 consular officers. Maybe it’s because we have so few immigration inspectors in the United States. Why not double or triple that number? And let me just point out that if there is – if terrorists again successfully penetrate our immigration system, the harm to U.S. business and to the travel industry is going to be enormous. It’s not clear how the airline industry would recover from another hijacking.
And so, in many ways the industry shouldn’t be pressuring for a lax system, which tends to be their goal. Rather, they should be lobbying for a whole lot more money to get this thing done and a whole lot more congressional oversight to hold the bureaucracy and to hold the administration’s feet to the fire. That’s really where their interests lie, and unfortunately I think they have been really shortsighted in the things that they have pushed for.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Could I just add as a final point, the place to discuss the burdens and the costs and the benefits of implementing – of this legislation was in Congress when they were debating the legislation. It was up to the president when he decided whether or not to sign the legislation. That’s an issue that Congress and the president have already decided, and so it’s – this is – it’s too late for that unless someone is suggesting a legislative remedy, to simply repeal some of these requirements. In absence of that, the complaints about, you know, undue burdens and what have you are really more – are just administrative attempts to obstruct the enforcement of the law.
Q: Actually –
MR. KRIKORIAN: If you could identify yourself, too.
Q: Greta Wodele with National Journal’s Technology Daily. I disagree with that in that you still have the appropriations process in Congress to fund more money in each fiscal year for these different initiatives, specifically the new technology that they are trying to implement. And on that point, there has been – it’s not so much the extra steps that people have to take – tourists and businesspeople – to get here, it’s the costs of those extra steps, the increased cost in getting a visa, the cost of traveling to the consular’s office, those sort of things that are preventing people or prohibiting people or making people think twice about coming to this country. So should Congress allocate more money for these technologies – to implement these technologies rather than putting the cost on the tourist or the businessperson that wants to come here?
MS. JENKS: Well, I think it clearly should be a combination of both. I mean, Congress – it’s just no question that Congress has to appropriate the money to make the technological systems work, to make them efficient and effective, to make them consistently used. But also, I mean, we don’t have the resources to put a consular office in every major city in every country abroad. It’s not going to happen, so people are going to have to travel to a big city in their own country to get to the State Department office to apply for a visa. Some of that is going to have to be borne by business travelers, by tourists. You know, that’s going to be a cost that they will have to bear, but there’s no question that Congress has to uphold its responsibility to appropriate the funding needed to implement all of these new technologies that are being demanded.
MR. CAMAROTA: The other thing that’s kind of troubling, we found, is that even things that don’t cost money, like appointing the commission to oversee Chimera, hasn’t even been done. That’s deeply troubling because that wouldn’t have cost anything. So why didn’t they do that, and then that commission could have issued a series of recommendations about what might work? That was the whole point, you know, to kind of report on the progress, what we’re doing on it. The fact that they haven’t even done that is deeply troubling.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you want to follow up quickly?
Q: Yeah. On that point, have you – has the Center talked to the Customs and Border Protection Office about your study and what you found, and what was their feedback?
MS. JENKS: We actually gave a copy of this study to some folks at DHS a couple of weeks ago, and they really had no feedback. They didn’t seem to really care. You know, their focus, as I mentioned, is almost exclusively on terrorism. They have not started to consider, you know, what the impact on business travelers, on tourists, on any of these other people. You know, they are so desperately trying to close the most obvious loopholes that were exposed in the 9/11 attacks. They haven’t gone beyond that.
I have to give them credit, though. They are – you know, they’re trying to do the best that they can do with the resources they have. They obviously have to prioritize. It’s understandable that their priorities are nationals from countries of special interest, terror-sponsoring states. But they need to move beyond that, and we had no indication in their response to us that they’re in that process yet.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir?
Q: Yeah. Dan Rodriguez, GAO. Your report doesn’t say much about exit controls. There’s obviously no effective tracking without exit controls. There’s no effective exit controls without land controls, and no land controls without controlling vehicular traffic. Right now when you go down through San Ysidro, the first thing if you’re driving you see is – what you encounter are the Mexican officials – (inaudible). And God knows how you do that without backing up traffic to L.A. or something. I’m wondering why you don’t comment on that and if you could.
MS. JENKS: Well, I will tell you that the reason that we didn’t comment on it too directly in this study is because the deadlines for the tracking system, the entry/exit system, have not yet come. There is the first deadline, December 31st, in a couple of weeks for the entry/exit system to be up and running in airports and seaports, and that will be the US-VISIT system as you know. You’re absolutely on target on this. The US-VISIT system – first of all, the final implementation at all ports of entry is not scheduled to be until December 31st of 2005, so we have no tracking system in the United States until at least December 31st of 2005.
Now the second part of this. Even the INS – I’m sorry, DHS says that it will have US-VISIT up and running in airports and seaports not by December 31st, but by January 5th of 2004. So it’s going to miss the deadline, but allegedly not by much. But it’s only going to have the entry part in place. It’s not – (audio break, tape change) – over the next year or so phase in exit kiosks at airports and seaports, which will be voluntary. If you feel like it, you check out through a kiosk.
Now eventually – I mean, there’s – it makes a little bit of sense because there will be a pretty serious incentive to check out through the system once it’s fully implemented after 2005 because if you don’t check out and you’re not a terrorist or a mass murderer – if you don’t check out it will be on your record that you essentially have committed a visa violation. So once you go to apply for another temporary visa to enter the United States, it’s going to be on your record that you didn’t leave when you were supposed to last time, so maybe you won’t get your visa next time. But that obviously cannot be implemented until there is an exit procedure at every port of entry and until there is an entry procedure at every port of entry. DHS at this point has no clear plan on how it’s going to enforce the entry part, let alone the exit part at the land borders.
So I mean, there are technological ways that I think this can be done, and perhaps I’m just overly optimistic. But I mean, if you think about like EZ Pass systems on highways. You know, the traffic isn’t backed up for the most part for miles and miles and miles. If you can do a system like that where the majority of people are pre-approved with border crossing cards, with the INSPASS system that INS uses or DHS now uses in airports, some of those things I think can facilitate an entry/exit system. But you’re absolutely right: we have no idea how this is going to go, we don’t have the resources appropriated for it, and we have another two years to see how it proceeds.
MR. KRIKORIAN: We will do another report then. (Laughter.)
MR. CAMAROTA: You know, we do intend to keep up on it.
Q: Peggy Sanz (ph). I’m a freelance journalist. Two questions. I suppose we’re not even close to getting – tracking people who are overstaying – I mean, who have not exited. So is there anything on the horizon about that? And second question is I just find it outstanding what Lou Dobbs has been doing lately, and do you – does that signify to you maybe a turning point, that at least it’s not politically incorrect to talk about illegal aliens? And are you hopeful that that might help persuade even Congress that there is community/public awareness?
MS. JENKS: On the first question, DHS has no plan at all to go back and track people who have already entered; you know, entered the United States before they implement their entry/exit system and find out whether or not they have left. Some of those people are on the absconder list. Some of those people will be caught inevitably and maybe returned home. But no, they have no intention of systematically going back and finding those who have already overstayed and removing them. And I will let someone else take the second question.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, I would just like to, I mean, point out that, you know, CNN’s a business, and what I have heard from them is that they have gotten an enormous response from that, an enormous public response. And what that really points to is something we did a report on not too long ago is this huge disconnect between elite preferences on immigration and public preferences on immigration. Now, there’s – that kind of disconnect exists on many policy issues, but the research that has been done seems to indicate that it’s wider. The gap between what the elite thinks and what the public thinks is wider on immigration than on almost any other and on any other issue that has been studied in that way. And you know, this may be – may or may not be an indication of that. It might indicate a political opportunity for some political entrepreneur in the future.
Q: Was that a Pew study?
MR. KRIKORIAN: That was Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. That report, along with all of our other work, is available free at our website, cis.org. First you and then –
MR. TING: Can I just give one example of that disconnect between elite and actual public opinion, and that is simply while we see this rising indignation over abuse of our immigration laws among the American public, we also see among the Washington elite this growing movement for amnesty. Now, is that a disconnect or what?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes? Go ahead, please.
Q: Alicia Stern, UPI. I have three quick questions. The first one is what can be done to address this seeming apathy among several immigration officials that you mentioned? And also, what have Mexicans and Mexican-Americans – what has been their reaction to this legislation? And third, overtures are being made to the Canadian government to kind of – (inaudible) – or control – (inaudible)?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Who wants to deal with what?
MS. JENKS: Well, I can do some. I’m not sure that there really is an apathy among DHS officials or immigration officials in general. I mean, I think they’re – you know, they’re doing the best they can do with what they have and what they’re being told to do. Keep in mind that the Bush administration is not an immigration enforcement—oriented administration, and the Bush administration controls every department in the administration. So you know, they’re getting mixed messages from the very, very top on this issue. I do think, you know – I mean, under the leadership of Asa Hutchinson and Michael Garcia – these guys are good, strong law enforcement folks. You know, they recognize the need to enforce the laws. I think they really want to enforce the laws. They want to do their jobs. I don’t think that they have got either the resources or the manpower to do their jobs effectively, and I don’t think they’re being given free reign to do their jobs.
As far as the response among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I mean, that’s two completely separate questions. Mexican-Americans in general support enforcement of our immigration laws. They believe that people should come here legally just like Americans believe. They are Americans, you know. Their views tend to synchronize with the rest of Americans. Mexicans still in Mexico or Mexicans here illegally, they – (chuckles) – would have probably different opinions.
So you know, there is not a lot being done to stop illegal immigration from Mexico at this point. We still have massive numbers going across the southern border. So you know, they’re still getting jobs. They’re still being hired by employers who are not supposed to be hiring them. I don’t think there has been a whole lot of impact. There could be with some other legislation that’s in the works, but not yet.
And on the issue of Canadians, the DHS is actually working on strengthening security along the northern border. Right now Canadians who are coming here as tourists or short-term business visitors came come here with just a Canadian driver’s license. The first step that was taken is that Canadian – that the Canadian government is now issuing more secure identification cards to landed immigrants in Canada, essentially are legal permanent residents.
We know that there’s a large terrorist population in Canada. We know that they can enter the United States with impunity once they get a Canadian driver’s license if they’re Canadian citizens. Now, if they’re not Canadian citizens yet, they have a secure document that is machine-readable and that is compatible with our machine-readable documents and the machine readers that we are supposed to be distributing to ports of entry. There are also discussions going on as to whether we should require more than just a driver’s license from Canadian tourists and business visitors.
MR. CAMAROTA: Just as a quick point out, there were a series of deadlines that they also missed. The president was to report to Congress on the feasibility of establishing a North American National Security Perimeter. They missed that one in May of 2003. State and DHS were supposed to report also in May to Congress on the possibility of encouraging Canada and Mexico to develop an inter-border database system comparable with Chimera. They missed that deadline, too, so even – there are some of the things specific in the legislation that we were supposed to do in terms of working with Canada and Mexico that they haven’t done either, unfortunately.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Could I touch on just a couple of other points you raised as well? As far as – I mean, obviously Mexican-Americans, just like everybody else, have no idea what the visa-tracking bill is any more than half the staff in Congress does. But as far as the issue, the general issue of law enforcement – immigration law enforcement – we probably did get a suggestion of what people’s attitudes were last week, when some of the more radical activist groups called for a general strike; that you know, all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in California should not buy anything, should not go to work, and it turned into senior skip day. I mean, it just was completely fizzled out. It was a non-event. No, it did not resonate with anybody other than kids who wanted to have a Friday off.
And as far as the Canadians, we have been engaged for some time now in discussions with them. We have had a Smart Border agreement, which had a whole variety of provisions where we would work together with them. We even gave them some things they wanted in order to get something from them. For instance, the Safe Third Country Agreement, under which illegal aliens sneaking into Canada applying for asylum would have to – would be sent back and have to apply for asylum here, having snuck through the United States. In other words it was a reciprocal agreement, but most of the people were sneaking through our country into theirs rather than through theirs into ours. But you know, the fact is that the demands we’re placing on Canada for immigration control of all varieties really highlight the fact that, you know, Canada is not the 51st state. I mean, it’s a different country, it has a very different political culture, and it’s little by little going to have – it’s coming to realize, I think, that the northern border is not – is going to start being taken seriously in a way that it never has, and they still haven’t politically reconciled that internally in Canada yet. They don’t know what to do about it, so that’s an ongoing story.
No, there’s somebody behind you who raised his hand first. You will go next. Yes, sir?
Q: Hi. Chris Strum (ph) with Governing – (inaudible) – Magazine. You said in the course of this discussion that there has been a misplacement of priorities as well as a lack of resources. I’m wondering if your research found one of those more – is more problematic than the other one. And then also, which agencies in particular are these problems stemming from? Is it DHS primarily, or is it Justice, or is it a combination of those two agencies, or others?
MS. JENKS: Well, I’m not sure we actually said a mishandling of priorities. I think it’s understandable that DHS has prioritized an almost exclusive focus on terrorism. It’s time now to broaden that focus, though, and we have to broaden that focus in order to have any impact on preventing the terrorist threat. But if – I think your question boils down to really it’s a question of political will versus resources, and I think they are both probably equally important. The political will to enforce our immigration laws has been absent all of my professional experience, and the resources to enforce our immigration laws have been absent in all of my professional experience. (Chuckles.) I don’t know that you could have one without the other and create a successful system, so I think it has to be a combination of both.
And from which agency are the problems most obviously coming, I’m not sure that I can answer that because my personal view is that the biggest problems are coming from the White House, not from a particular agency. (Chuckles.) You know, I think if the agencies were told you’re going to enforce the immigration laws, you’re going to do it well, and you’re going to do it consistently, I think they would do it at least to the best of their resource capability. I don’t think they have been told that. I don’t think they’re likely to be told that in the near future. So that’s my view.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir?
Q: Rod Fuller (sp) from the Center for American Progress. I just wanted to get your thoughts – I know it was passed by regulation, but on NSEERS just you know, what any of you all thought about it and recent analogies and such. It’s obviously in the news a lot.
MS. JENKS: Yeah. We actually were very supportive of NSEERS. I mean, NSEERS was initially touted as sort of the first step to the entry/exit system. This was – it required not only people entering at a port of entry for the first time to register, but also if they were in the country already on non-immigrant visas, they had to show up at a then-INS office and register, have their fingerprints and photos taken. NSEERS – I think it made sense that NSEERS started requiring – started with requiring registration of people from terror-sponsoring states, males 16 and over.
Clearly when you have got, say, 30 (percent) to 40 percent of the entire illegal population in the United States are here as visa overstayers. You have got a problem with non-immigrant visa compliance. If you are – I mean, if the INS had said everybody has to come in and register under this system, there is no way they could have done it. There had to start somewhere. They had to separate the people out somehow, and I think it made sense at the time to start with nationals of terror-sponsoring states. Our hope was that that system would be not dropped but expanded so that everyone who is here – every non-citizen in the United States – would have to register as they’re supposed to do under the law. I mean, you’re supposed to notify the INS of changes in address and so on. We don’t enforce that, so we have no idea who is in the United States. I think NSEERS was a first step at getting control – getting some idea of who is in the United States, but it should have been expanded to include every non-citizen, not just males over the age of 16 from terror-sponsoring states or states of special interest because it includes North Korea.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Any other questions? Okay, yes?
Q: Do you think DHS is at all prepared to expect women to start into maybe kind of women terrorists because everybody talks about men?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, actually there was an op-ed just today in the Post on this topic. It’s kind of like Rosemary said: you have to start somewhere. I mean, it’s a matter of triage. You can’t do everything all at once, so you know, as the – as an increasingly effective immigration control system is rolled out, assuming that’s what’s going to happen, it would eventually apply to everybody. But you know, there are more male terrorists than females, so you have to – I mean, you do have – it’s essentially profiling, but that’s the only way law enforcement can work. So eventually yes, but they don’t have the resources or abilities to do that right now.
Q: Yes. My name is Erin – (background noise, inaudible). Actually, you were speaking earlier about the efforts between the U.S. government and the Canadian government to try and run the border situation. Can you offer up any comment or opinion on similar efforts with regards to the southern border?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, we – it’s a good question. We don’t seem – this administration – neither this administration nor this Congress seem to be all that interested in making our southern border work. I mean, to the extent that there have been discussions, the discussions have all been how to amnesty illegal aliens, how to bring even more Mexicans into the United States under some fictitious guest worker system that would supposedly keep track of them. So, no. I mean, and quite clearly even at the state and local level we are seeing the increasing involvement of the Mexican government in the United States’ domestic policies, undercutting the effectiveness of any immigration policy we do undertake. So in fact, we seem to be doing in the opposite direction with regard to the southern border.
MS. JENKS: I would point out also that I think very emblematic of our troubles with dialogue between the United States and Mexico is that several – not just one, but several – high-level Mexican officials have said publicly they have absolutely no intention of doing anything or agreeing to anything that will in any way impede the flow of Mexicans from Mexico to the United States. So you know, where do you start a dialogue?
MR. TING: If I could just seize this opportunity to just shoot down the big myth that’s out there that we hear repeatedly, which is that these people do jobs that Americans don’t want. I just – it makes me angry when I hear that because the truth is, and I tell my students this all the time, Americans don’t want to do these jobs at the wages that these employers want to pay, but Americans want decent wages. And I have told them, I said if you pay me enough, you can hire me to pick your fruit and clean your toilets.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, let’s make that the last word. Jan is available for – (laughter, inaudible) – and he and the co-authors of the report are here for anybody who wants to come up and accost them in more detail. And this report and all our other work is online, available free at our website at cis.org. Thanks a lot.