MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. We’re going to get started now because the congressman’s on a tight schedule.
My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a lot of people in the political class were making – were saying that 9/11 was about terrorism, not about immigration. Those were the actual words of, believe it or not, the INS director. The head of the National Council of La Raza made the same point. The head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said essentially the same thing – all, frankly, kind of in a panic, that as a result of the attacks, that the nation might actually move away from its lax and frivolous approach to immigration law and immigration enforcement.
The 9/11 Commission, later – and even before that, common sense – suggested that, in fact, our lax and frivolous approach to immigration and border matters did, in fact, contribute to the attacks. It wasn’t so much the cause, but it was an important enabling factor.
The center published a report six months after the attacks called “The Open Door” which is still online which looked not only at the hijackers but at the previous decade of attempted and successful terrorist attacks on the United States – starting in ’93, with the World Trade Center attack and the attack on CIA headquarters – and found that vulnerabilities throughout our immigration system in all different aspects of it – abroad, at the border and inside the country – had been exploited by various terrorists.
Well, one of the people who also understood that was, fortuitously, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who’s joining us, who was instrumental in many of the – much of the response related to border- and immigration-type matters after – in the years after the attacks. He was author of the – or sponsor of the USA Patriot Act that had a number of immigration and border control elements to it; the REAL ID Act, which sought to raise the floor for state IDs since the 19 hijackers, it turns out, had 30 different state-issued identifications, which helped them do their jobs; and then the 2005 immigration legislation that passed the House but not the Senate because the Senate had passed an amnesty bill.
And so we – the whole point of the panel – and we’re going to start off with the congressman – is to look back 10 years. What worked? What have we done better? What has, in fact, improved? And what vulnerabilities and holes remain in the immigration and border area with regard to national security?
The congressman has to leave in a little while, so he’ll talk, take a few questions if he’d like to, and then he’ll have to move on, and then we’ll continue with the rest of our panel, and I’ll introduce them at the time. So – Congressman?
REPRESENTATIVE JIM SENSENBRENNER (R-WI): Well, thank you very much, Mark.
Right after 9/11, we knew that there were some big problems. They were identified in various types of news conferences and news media investigations. And, as a result, the Judiciary Committee that I chaired over the next four or five years really put together a three-legged stool to help improve our border security. And the reason this was necessary is that we knew that a majority, if not all of the 9/11 hijackers, were either visa overstays or they entered on a visa that had expired or the purpose for which was not the – that they entered was not the purpose for which that the visa had actually been issued. And the three legs of the stool were the Patriot Act, the visa and border security act of 2002, and the REAL ID Act, which was enacted in 2005.
And there were a number of things immigration-related that were very important in these three areas. One is, is that the REAL ID Act made a requirement that if one was not legally present in the United States, one could not get a U.S. driver’s license. If one was legally present on a temporary non-immigrant visa that expired, then the driver’s license would expire as of the date of the expiration of the visa. There was a requirement that a chip with personal data be included, not only in U.S.-issued passports, but also in passports that were issued by visa waiver countries so that people could use those passports to enter the United States without a visa. And it imposed the visa requirement if the country’s visa waiver eligibility did not issue compliant passports after a date in the visa and border security act.
The states have been going toward compliance with REAL ID. And my feeling is, is that if someone cannot get a valid driver’s license, which is used by most of us for ID or as a (reader ?) document for other types of IDs, then we would go a long way toward identifying illegal immigrants. And, at least, if illegal immigrants who decided to drive without a license were pulled over at a traffic stop, if there were outstanding warrants against them or removal orders because they didn’t appear when had their immigration hearing, that would come up on the FBI’s computer which every squad car in the country has got access to.
The problem that we’ve had with these laws has been the implementation of them. Suffice it to say that with the exception of the Patriot Act, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have been less than eager to comply with the deadlines. As a matter of fact, with the visa and border security act setting the deadlines for compliant passports, after saying that the deadline ought to be complied with – both then-Homeland Security Secretary Ridge and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell – when President Bush came to visit my district for a commencement address at a college that is in my district, rather than driving up in my own car in the motorcade, I received a command subpoena to ride up with the president where he was lobbying me to give a further extension. And he wanted two years; I ended up giving him one year, and I told him that that was the last extension that they were going to get. And that finally got the State Department in motion on this.
But we’ve seen deadlines being pushed back on the REAL ID Act, both by Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Napolitano. She recently chose to delay a compliance deadline to January 15th of 2013, notwithstanding a letter that Chairman King, Chairman Smith and I sent her earlier this year stating that the compliance deadlines, which had already been extended on REAL ID, ought to be complied with. And we’re seeing attempts in the Senate to try to zero out the money that was appropriated as a part of – or authorized as a part of REAL ID to help the states come into compliance.
None of these pieces of legislation will make our country absolutely safe from a terrorist attack or deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But all of them in combination will help deal with the problem of illegal immigration. And I think that a lot of the reluctance on the part of this administration and its predecessors has been because they really don’t want to get a handle on illegal immigration.
Let me close by making two points: One is, is that approximately 40 percent of the visa – the illegal immigrants in this country are visa overstays because we don’t have a system of checking on whether people who have nonimmigrant visas with expiration dates leave the country before their visas expire. And, as a result, they become illegal; they become ineligible for any type of employment, even if they had a work-related visa when they entered this country, and a terrorist can go underground. We’ve made some improvements with the student visa tracking system which was originally passed in ’96 and not implemented prior to 9/11 by the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The second thing that we need to do is to come up with full compliance with the REAL ID Act. And the third thing we need to do is to have better security on the border because the other 60 percent of the illegal immigrants enter the United States illegally. And that, in and of itself, is an offense. It is a crime to illegally enter the United States. It is not a crime to be illegally present in the United States. And as a result, when a(n) immigration judge issues a removal order – and over 95 percent of the removal orders are default judgments – we need to start enforcing removal orders just as the law enforcement agencies enforce bench warrants of people who blow off traffic tickets, meaning they neither pay the fine or show up in court on the date of the summons that they are handed when they’re pulled over.
The other thing we need to do, in my opinion, is to finish the fence where the fence can be patrolled. A fence in an area that can’t be patrolled is worthless. So we need to go full speed ahead on high-tech to figure out who is crossing the border in those places. We have been very lackadaisical in getting that up to speed, even though both the Patriot Act and the visa and border security act as well as the Secure Fence Act required that.
So I’ve got time for about six or seven minutes of questions. Please state your name and affiliation before asking me a question so I’ve got an idea of who you are. Thanks for the invitation. And who wants to be first?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, Congressman, I’ll start if I could, while people are gathering their thoughts.
My question is, is there – what can Congress do to try to address this question of executive reluctance to enforce the law or what have you? For instance, Congressman Smith has introduced the HALT Act to lift discretion from the administration, at least till the end of this term. Is that advisable? Are there other things that Congress can do?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Well, I think the HALT Act, if it ever gets through the Senate – which, I think, has a zero chance – would be vetoed. And obviously, we wouldn’t have the votes to override the veto. But the mere fact of its introduction points out that the administration is not enforcing the law that’s on the books.
In terms of dealing with illegal immigration, I said all along, we need to do two things. One is to secure the border. And the second is to enforce the laws that are already on the books that make it an offense to hire an illegal immigrant. If we do that, then we turn off the magnet of illegal immigration that draws people into this country and running the risk of being arrested or killed going in the border and then living underground and probably being paid in cash so that they’re completely off the books.
I do favor mandatory e-verify and that’s being worked on now. The markup will start later on today, but not get very far because of our schedule, but will be brought up again next week. And the way to do e-verify is – number one – is to require it for new hires, and then, later on, hire it for – or require it for existing employees, because an illegal immigrant who is an existing employee ends up becoming an indentured servant to that employer who is violating the law because they’ll get caught if they change jobs.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Any questions? Somebody has to have a question. Over here. Oh, yes.
Q: Sure. Thank you very much, Representative Sensenbrenner. I’m Claire Bergeron from the Migration Policy Institute.
I was curious on your point on visa overstays, and I was wondering if you could expand a little on whether, you know, sort of policy-wise, you would see a tracking system being an expansion of US-VISIT and whether – you know, obviously, the problem with VISIT is always the lack of ability to track people as they exit – and whether you would sort of see that as – (off mic) – our government – (off mic).
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Well, it should be both.
We are the only major country in the world that do not check travelers upon exit from the country, particularly non-U.S. nationals. You know, if you go to Europe anywhere, even with the Schengen Agreement, when you leave the Schengen Area, your passport is checked and stamped. That does not happen in the United States.
I had hoped that the institution of US-VISIT would provide an electronic checking mechanism of people who leave the country. And I remember, for a while, there were kiosks at the international departure dates in the major airports that I go tramping through between here and Wisconsin on a weekly basis with DHS personnel around. And that ended up falling apart and was withdrawn during the Bush administration.
Picking up I-94 forms by the airlines is great, but it’s not computerized. You know, this is kind of the shoebox method of keeping track of people who are on nonimmigrant visas, all of which have an expiration date of sometime or another.
We have to have an exit system, number one, to track these overstays, but if Congress should pass some type of temporary worker program, the only way we make sure that it is a temporary worker program is checking people when they go home, when their work permission expires.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? (Off mic.)
ROY BECK: Congressman, we at Numbers USA mobilized our members to support your work with the state licenses on REAL ID. It’s a – since the passage of that, there’s been especially a lot of opposition from the right wing in this country claiming that the driver’s license provisions take away civil rights of citizens and threaten the –
REP. SENSENBRENNER: That’s a bunch of bunk.
MR. BECK: – and threaten their privacy. Yeah, what – you know, what’s your response?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: REAL ID is not a national ID. It does not establish a national database. What it requires is that an applicant for a driver’s license have that application checked against the databases of other states to make sure that that applicant does not have a valid driver’s license issued by another state. And we have used this program for about 20 years to make sure that people who get commercial driver’s licenses, meaning truck driver’s licenses, don’t run around with a pocket full of valid driver’s licenses, and when they get close to losing their license on points in one state, the next they’re pulled over, they whip out a license from another state.
The 9/11 Commission found that at least 15 of the 19 hijackers had multiple driver’s licenses issued by at least five states. And correct me if I’m wrong, but Mohamed Atta blew off a traffic ticket on his Florida license and had a bench warrant issued against him in Florida, and right before 9/11, he was pulled over in Maryland and he had a valid Maryland driver’s license, so the computer and the squad car would not be able to pick up the fact that he a bench warrant out against him, and that’s a requirement that he be taken into custody and returned to the court issuing that warrant. And that is what anybody in this room would have happen to them if they blew off a traffic ticket and only had one driver’s license.
So it’s a traffic safety issue as well as an antiterrorism issue because if you live in Virginia and you’re one point away from losing your license because you’re a bad driver and have a lot of tickets, without this type of check, you could come either into the District or go to Maryland and get a spanking clean license with no points against it and keep on driving and accumulating points against that license.
So I think that this argument that REAL ID is a national ID card is a canard. I guess what makes me upset is that the people who have attacked REAL ID were very silent when the stimulus bill of two years ago established a national database for our medical records and appropriated, I believe, a-billion-and-a-quarter dollars for that, and that is a national ID base that was created there. REAL ID did not create a national ID base; it just required one state to check against already existing databases of driver’s license in other states so that you wouldn’t have more than one.
And, you know, the two principal points of REAL ID is one driver’s license per person, period, and no driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? This is going to have to be the last question for the congressman. OK, yes, ma’am?
Q: Thank you very much for being here. We always love to hear your comments on these issues. I’m – (off mic) – with L-1 Identity Solutions. We do a lot of the driver’s licenses around the country so we – (off mic) – REAL ID.
One of the impressions that I’m getting – and I’m hoping you’re going to tell me that I’m wrong – is that our country is getting less and less concerned about security issues. And as we get farther away from 9/11 – you know, it’s just the anniversary – the sense I get when I talk to people – you know, there’s some provisions in the new TSA reauthorization language that will weaken the hazmat regulations for truck drivers – I mean, there’s just some things going on that – we need to believe that maybe we’re not as not focused on security anymore, and –
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Unfortunately, you are not wrong.
Q: I was afraid you were going to tell me that. (Laughs.)
REP. SENSENBRENNER: And even after – right after 9/11, you know, I heard a lot from folks back home as well. We live in the middle of the country and Wisconsin’s kind of an out-of-the-way place, and this is never going to happen here.
And I had a meeting with one suburban mayor saying, well, you know, why should we do all of this stuff with EMTs? You know, we’re just, you know, kind of a sleepy bedroom community and stuff like that.
And I said, well, if the U.S. Bank Tower, 39 floors, gets hit, you know you’re going to have to go into Milwaukee on mutual aid. And this woman’s face kind of turned white as a sheet. And I said, you know, wouldn’t it be nice to make sure that your first responders were trained to deal with something like that even though the tallest building in your community is five stories high?
And they have been trained that way. But, you know, it required a statement like that, which was seated in her office and not in a public meeting, you know, to have the training that was done so that those emergency first responders would be able to deal with a major disaster. And I think the same thing could be said about, you know, other places that thought that they would be safe like Richmond, and I think we know that one of the buildings there was targeted and we were able to find out about that and stop it before it happened.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Congressman. Thanks for coming – (off mic). (Applause.)
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Thanks again.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks again to the congressman for coming. I think that, sort of, shed some light on the discussion that is going to continue now, basically in the same vein. What has worked since 9/11 that we’ve done? What holes remain to be filled? And basically, what’s changed?
We have three speakers on this. Janice Kephart will go first. She has a paper we just released, which is in the folders that you can pick up there. She is director of national security studies here at the center and is a former counsel with the 9/11 Commission, one of the authors of the terrorist travel monograph that the 9/11 Commission staff released that went into a lot more detail on the immigration and border aspects of the attacks – stuff that wasn’t able to fit in the final 9/11 Commission report.
Our second speaker is Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the center, a former foreign service officer who’s dealt both with visa issues very extensively, but also more recently with local law enforcement. In fact, she’s on her way to a police training seminar out west.
And our final speaker will be Roy Beck, who is the executive director of Numbers USA. And what I wanted from his is to give us a little insight, as somebody who runs an advocacy-oriented group, how has the politics of immigration and border issues changed since 9/11? So with no further ado, Janice.
JANICE KEPHART: Hi, thanks to all of you for being here this morning. Let me just back up a little bit and give you a little background here. I am a former counsel to the September 11th commission. Before that I was in the Senate. I was on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in the terrorism subcommittee, so I was doing terrorism and immigration issues prior to 9/11.
What you will find over there on the table is a hard copy of the terrorist travel monograph. That is the official government document that me and my colleagues produced on the commission, book form. It’s a nice little reference if you’d like it. In the packet are a number of materials. One is my to-do list for the border going forward, and also a watch-listing report that I did a couple weeks ago – where we are on watch-listing since 9/11. And also REAL ID, where we are on REAL ID – that’s from January.
I want to actually do something a little unusual. I want to start with Claire’s question, and I want to answer it. And that is on visa overstays. I have a large section of the new report on where I think that exit should be, and what it should be doing to really, really hone in on security and to support aviation security as well as immigration.
But I wanted to mention that this is kind of a big announcement, because the secretary of homeland security, Secretary Napolitano, a year and a half ago said before the Senate that she considered exit of dubious value to American security. I got a call the other night saying that the secretary is going to do exit.
It’s going to be not what we want. It’s not going to be the mandates that are on the books. It’s going to be purely biographic. It’s going to be done at departure, once people are already on planes. But it will provide real-time, by-name, by-passport feedback to the immigration services in real time – who is exiting the country? That will give us visa overstay data for a visa waiver, as well as give our immigration services better data. It’s not a great solution and it’s not everything, but it’s certainly better than the, you know, “of dubious value” that we got a year and a half ago.
And with that, I’m probably going to be a little more negative for the rest of my discussion, although I’m going to try not to be.
OK, so where are we? I’m going to go macro here, pull back and then go forward: Where are we now, since 9/11, on our borders? We can’t really deny that we’re a whole lot more secure than we were 10 years ago. The reason, I think, being – behind that is that borders are now understood to be pivotal to keeping terrorists out. And our country is safer for that recognition. We did not have that recognition pre-9/11.
We have a lot of laws in place based on the 9/11 Commission recommendations that we put out, largely due to individuals like Congressman Sensenbrenner, and some key senators as well, like Lieberman and Collins. And they include a lot of policies and programs to curtail terrorist travel.
We have about 28 different programs that go after that one idea – that we stated in the 9/11 Commission recommendations, that is – that we need to, quote, unquote, assure that people are who they say they are and do not have derogatory information associated with them. And those include WHTI, requiring a passport for all persons entering the United States. Believe it or not, before 9/11 we did not have that. We have US-VISIT, which is probably one of our most important biometric hubs for data now. We take fingerprints and photos on entry.
We have things like the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center that is analyzing terrorist travel trends. We have REAL ID. We have some birth record advancements. We have the National Counterterrorism Center that is hubbing the watch list. We have passenger data from foreign counterparts we didn’t have before. We have trusted traveler programs. We have Secure Flight, finally, with the government, the airlines out of the business of dealing with the watch list.
And in many areas we have improved visa processing, although I got an unfortunate email late last night telling me – and I have to tell you all this – that the State Department has approached DHS. As many of you in this room know, Department of Homeland Security actually owns the visa issue and its authority, so the State Department now has to go to them.
The State Department has now asked them to go, basically, back to September 10 standards, where large swaths of visa categories are not going to have an interview with them anymore. We didn’t even have to tell the State Department after 9/11 to start doing interviews in the 9/11 Commission recommendations; it was so obvious. Now it looks like they want to go back to those pre-9/11 standards. Not good.
We are better off. We have stopped terrorists from coming into this country with a lot of the programs that we have in place and a lot of the technologies. However, we still have to deal with thousands of potential terrorists who were already here before 9/11, who stayed, and those who are still getting here because we don’t have the intelligence to stop them.
State sponsors of terror such as Iran that support both Hezbollah and al-Qaida cause special concern as al-Qaida continues to splinter and pick up support in the Saudi peninsula, Africa and Southeast Asia, and Hezbollah recruits and supports drug cartels south of our border. As we know from the terror threat from this past weekend, we really can’t afford, as Penny said, complacency. Nor can we assume that if a person is from a certain region in the world, it’s safe to have them here.
Terrorists, as we know, are self-radicalizing and are recruited from anywhere in the world today. To keep our nation safe from foreign-born terrorists, equal standards must apply equally to all U.S.-bound travelers regardless of origin. Equal standards must also apply to those who are seeking to work here and assimilate by acquiring driver’s licenses and IDs. Acquiring a standard of equal standards that apply to everyone across the board, for me, has to be our future paradigm in border security.
We also have to make sure that our laws are equally respected. Saying our borders are secure – or now the rubric is, secure enough – does not make it so, nor does mediocre effort – is that acceptable. So I have a series of recommendations that I think are the congressional to-do list. And I’m going to start with the Southwest border.
First, a couple days ago, on 9/10, the new assistant commissioner for CBP, Mark Borkowski, put out the new policy on control of the border. It is now “reasonable control of the border,” which sounds a lot like the politically incorrect version that they were tossing around internally that I blogged about a couple months ago, what was, quote, unquote, acceptable levels of illegal immigration.
I think instead we need to have an apprehension policy based on the rule of law, the goal to be the operational, not reasonable control of the border. And that needs to be a pretty high priority. There are definitions from 2005 that define operational control, and I think we need to go back to that.
Second, we need to revise our border land laws. One important reason that Arizona has such a horrible illegal entry problem is that most of the land on the border is federally owned. I know, it sounds weird, but that’s the case. And because it’s federally owned and because there are wilderness laws in place there, the Border Patrol has limited access because the antiquated wilderness laws don’t allow them the access they need.
Congress needs to change those laws to enable all federal law enforcement to have equal access to federal lands, to discourage illegal use and remove the punitive damages that the Border Patrol has in place because of an MOU with the Department of Interior. There’s a lot on this. I have a “hidden cameras on the Arizona border” series. It’s three parts. It’s up on YouTube. It’s had, I don’t know, 800,000 views or something between them. Take a look at those if you don’t believe me about the federal lands issue.
The next one is, we need to properly engage the National Guard. We need to go back to and look at Operation Jump Start, which was in the Yuma sector between 2006 and 2008. It took a 50-to-1 ratio of illegals to Border Patrol and turned that around where we had huge incursions. Lots of people were losing their lives. It was being completely run over by smugglers by 2006. By 2008, it was under operational control. Why? Because the National Guard was there in force. They were helping doing rescues, they were helping doing renditions, and they built a big darn fence. And it really, really helped. We need to go back to that idea.
We need to revisit and recognize the value of a common operating picture, which is something that got completely maligned by the administration. A lot of bad information was put out that, frankly, was not true in a lot of ways. We need to go back to that idea. We need the Border Patrol to have the ability to see an entire area and be more efficient in the way they operate, be more safe in the way they operate.
Because of the common operating picture that now exists in Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 – this is the Secure Border Initiative – we have seen rescues and renditions that would not have happened because those areas are in wilderness areas that are not patrolled right now – were not patrolled. We need to go back to that idea. Where you have gaps, geographically, you can employ that tactical – the tactical technologies that the administration has talked about. But you need that common operating picture if you want to grow efficiencies and safety into the Border Patrol operation.
Overseas, just a couple of issues. One I testified about back in May before House Judiciary was the Diversity Visa Program. This program is 100 percent, 99.9 percent fraud. It provides 50,000 visas a year to countries that include Iran, Yemen, Somalia and other harbors of terror. The Diversity Visa Program has no application standards. It’s burdened with high costs from fraud. It’s a huge national security vulnerability.
Twice Congress has passed laws to eliminate it, and twice it has gotten back in conference. Representative Goodlatte has a bill right now to eliminate it; it needs to happen.
We need to – the watch-listing I already discussed. Let me just mention REAL ID and birth certificate issues quickly. REAL ID, we should not be delaying compliance. One thing that Congress can do is make sure that they reauthorize the REAL ID funding. It is not authorized right now. And they need to fight back on the Coburn-DeMint Senate amendment to kill the funding.
The other one is birth certificate standards. This is a 9/11 Commission recommendation to standardize birth records throughout the nation. It’s been waiting on the books for five years. The regulations are written. They haven’t been published. It’s had no congressional oversight. And it will only take – we have 34 states that have digitized their records.
The DMVs have not hooked up to them, even though the Social Security Administration and Medicare around the country is using the digitized vital records. We need 100 million (dollars) to do it. My plan is to have E-Verify make that happen. I have it all in my report.
So anyway, that is really where we need to go. We see a slipping and sliding here right now, where we have the administration carving out terrorist travel and criminals and honing in on them, and letting the entire rest of the illegal population go. That is not where we’re going to get security in this country. It’s a slip-slide away from everything that the 9/11 Commission talked about, and it’s a forgetting of those findings of facts. And it’s disappointing.
But we can move forward. We’ve come a long way. That’s it, thanks.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Janice. Now, Jessica.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Good morning and thank you all for being here today. In my work at the center, I’ve been focused on the administrative and operational aspects of immigration policy, and specifically how the agencies such as the State Department and some of the DHS agencies actually do their work.
The three basic problems that existed at these agencies – even though some of those agencies didn’t exist on 9/11 – that allowed this attack to happen were, essentially, excessive workload at the agencies that prevented the officers from doing their job well, the lack of tools to do their job well, and most importantly, an institutional culture at those agencies of complacency.
This really prevented people there from preventing terrorists from entering the country. At the State Department, this was manifested in a culture that – really, a promotion and statement of its mission that they’re there to facilitate travel to the United States. At the INS, it really was manifested more in a lack of resources to do their job well, and sort of a culture of being beaten down and ignored as, you know, like the bad stepchild of the Department of Justice that prevented them from getting the resources and the staffing to do their job.
The problems of institutional culture were really – that’s another way of saying leadership failure. And so in my remarks, I’m going to focus on ways that Congress can help compensate for the leadership failures at these agencies by giving the officers a mandate to supplement the better tools and training that they have today as a result of some of the progress we’ve made since 9/11.
And I agree with Janice. I think we’ve made huge progress. The process of adjudicating non-immigrant and immigrant visas today in consulates overseas is vastly different from what it was like when I was doing that work. The officers have so much more information available at their fingertips. That’s been made possible through technology and through having the will, and understanding the rationale for implementing these tools.
When I was adjudicating visas, we had local staff doing background checks on microfiche documents that were sent to you every month from the State Department. It’s just worlds away. You know, we had no photographs that were attached to the visas, no fingerprints, and so on – no way of doing criminal background checks.
It’s just a completely different world. And the result is that we are safer today, and they are able to make better decisions as a result. But there are some pieces of unfinished business that I’m going to discuss – I’ll try to go through four, maybe five of them if I have time – the most glaring of which is the incomplete entry/exit system that we have.
I’m delighted to hear that the administration has changed its mind about the value of an exit system, but – and you know, that is an important step that we need to take. We right now have no way of knowing who is coming and going, or of evaluating the quality of the decisions that are being made on whether to issue someone a visa or whether to admit them to the country. US-VISIT really has been stalled since it was implemented in 2004.
Now, a lot of attention has been focused on getting the exit program up and running. But not enough attention has been focused on the fact that we don’t even have anything close to a complete entry screening system. Right now, all passengers who arrive by air and by sea have their identity authenticated and have a screening done on them.
But those air and sea passengers represent only about one-fourth of all the foreign visitors who are coming in through our ports of entry. Most people enter over the land borders. Three-quarters of the visitors are coming – are Canadian or Mexican, or claiming to be, and they come over the land borders. And we have no system in place to screen them properly, or most importantly, to authenticate their identity.
We issue border crossing cards, which I’ll discuss more about in a minute. But Congress has authorized, demanded, appropriated and complained about the lack of these systems, but it really needs to get more serious about looking for ways to get this job done. And it can be done. When you talk to people in the private sector and in the public sector, everyone is aware that the tools are there to get this program done efficiently. What is lacking is the will to get it done.
The Obama administration, of course, has announced its substitute for an exit-tracking system, and that’s great. You know, that’s going to be an improvement over what we have. But I would really like to see us move forward in implementing a complete entry-screening system. And I think Congress needs to condition any new visa programs or the reauthorization of new visa programs on DHS making progress in a comprehensive entry program, as well as implementing a real exit program.
Secondly, I think Congress needs to take a good, hard look at the Border Crossing Card system. The State Department issues between 700,000 and 900,000 Border Crossing Cards every year. That’s a huge number of people. We think that there could be up to 10 million Mexicans who are in possession of the Border Crossing Card, which is really just a different form of a visitor’s visa, a short-term visitor’s visa. These cards have a photograph on them. We fingerprint people when they apply for them.
But again, we don’t actually authenticate that information when someone enters the country, unless for some reason they’ve attracted suspicion for some other reason. And the result is that we have a huge problem with imposters. This was exactly the situation we were in with all non-immigrant visas prior to US-VISIT and machine-readable visas and biometric visas being installed. And yet the numbers are 10 times the number in the Border Crossing Card program as we have in the regular non-immigrant visa program.
So you know, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to wonder how these cards are being used if we’re not checking who’s using them. I mean, considering the state of security in Mexico today and the threat that exists from cross-border organized crime, alien smuggling, and just run-of-the-mill illegal immigration, it’s really hard to understand why we haven’t done more to address this vulnerability in our border system.
And the Border Crossing Cards are one area where the State Department has already moved to dispense with the interview requirement, OK – their largest non-immigrant visa category. And about two years ago they decided that it would simply be too much work for them to re-interview the nearly 1 million people a year who had a Border Crossing Card that was up for renewal.
This means if they’re not interviewing them they don’t know if the person’s still alive, they don’t know how the card is being used, they don’t know if the same person is using the card now that was issued the card; they don’t know if this person is even still living in Mexico, much less if the person is still qualified to have the card. So, you know, we’re essentially churning out and renewing hundreds of thousands of these cards every year without any – the one thing that they are doing is running the names through the NCIC for a basic, but incomplete, criminal history check.
And their rationale, or at least as it was expressed to me by a former chief of the section down in Juarez a couple years ago, because only a small number of them turned up with criminal history problems, therefore we decided that we could get away with dispensing with the interview requirement. I mean, this of course is asking for trouble. Congress has the authority to require these interviews, to require the State Department to come up with a plan before the programs are reauthorized.
Another issue – another thing they should look at is restoring the 72-hour authorized duration of stay on the visits. I mean, because what is happening, really, is as we give officers more and more tools to use and better tools to use, we have to guard against the tendency for these agencies to rely on technology and watch listing and background checking, by electronic means, to make the decision for them as to whether or not someone qualifies to come to this country. The absence of a criminal record, the absence of a known connection to terrorism is not enough to qualify for a visa under the law. Yet some people are starting to use that as sort of an automatic standard for allowing someone to come in, whether it’s through the visa waiver program or border crossing program.
Thirdly, we simply tolerate too much fraud in our immigration system and we need to have a focused campaign against visa and benefits fraud. We issue a million immigrant visas every year, and green cards, hundreds of thousands of long-term temporary visas. The – you know, our recent history is rife with examples of how these programs are used. Just in the marriage visa category we’re admitting 400,000 people a year. If you read through the immigration histories of the terrorists who have been caught over the years in some of our publications you’re going to find a large number of them have been able to get status through marriage fraud.
We have a fraud detection and national security unit that was set up at USCIS after 9/11. Basically they see their mandate to kind of study fraud, but they’re very much stovepiped from the rest of USCIS and from ICE so they’re pretty much just studying fraud, not doing much about it, and Congress should take a look at that.
Fourthly, as Mr. Sensenbrenner said, a number of the 9/11 hijackers had encounters with local law enforcement while they were getting ready to carry out their attacks. These law enforcement officers had no way of knowing of immigration violations in their background. It’s still too easy for noncitizens who are present in the country – legally or illegally – to escape the attention of ICE if they are arrested. And part of the reason is because the federal government hasn’t taken enough action to discourage the proliferation of sanctuary jurisdictions. And that affects all of us.
I’m not really holding my breath waiting for the Department of Justice to sue some of these agencies for violations of the federal law against sanctuaries, but Congress can do something about it. They can rewrite the rules for DHS funding programs so that sanctuary jurisdictions are not getting subsidized with federal Homeland Security funds like SCAP and other programs.
I mean, and that’s clearly something that would get the attention of these jurisdictions. And the way to define a sanctuary jurisdiction right now is someone who’s not participating in Secure Communities, which is the fingerprint sharing program, or not honoring ICE detainers, as certain jurisdictions have chosen to do.
And lastly, just to wrap up, I think it’s important not to focus too exclusively on national security and public safety considerations because we have a tendency to get far too surgical in our immigration law enforcement when we do that. If we achieve a state of routine and consistent enforcement of the immigration laws – a kind of broken-windows approach – the result will be not only will we do a better job of controlling illegal immigration but we will also prevent terrorists from – and anyone bent on doing Americans harm – from having access to our country.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jessica. Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, give us some thoughts about how the politics of this issue have changed, which underlies a lot of the policy discussions that we’ve been talking about. Roy?
MR. BECK: Well, first of all, I’m very thankful – (audio break) – oh. I see, I can’t tell what I did or not. I’m very thankful to the work that Janice and Jessica and the center do on security. It’s kind of depressing being around them a lot of times, but – (laughter) – it has to be done.
I say that partly because Numbers USA doesn’t really focus much on security issues so it’s kind of an interesting question to see how did the 9/11 event and reaction affect an advocacy group, such as ours, that is focused on – primarily on the environmental quality of life and economic fairness issues of immigration, specifically carrying out the immigration recommendations of the Barbara Jordan Bipartisan Commission in ’96 and the recommendations – the immigration recommendations of the President’s Council on Sustainability also in ’96.
So I was asked this question by the U.S. News and World Report recently – same question: how did this – how did 9/11 change the way that immigration was handled in Congress, the way that we dealt – did our work as advocacy, and I said I – I was very frustrated at first. I just said, I don’t think it changed much at all. I mean, I remember in the late ’90s Congress was so – had so little interest in dealing with the Jordan and President Clinton sustainability commission’s recommendations on immigration.
I remember people occasionally saying, you know, I – you know, what would it take to get Congress to ever pay attention to this? And some people would say, well, maybe a massive terrorist attack and 10-percent unemployment. Well – (chuckles) – you know, we still don’t have it. We still – despite all of that we still have – we’re still bringing in a million foreign workers a year, permanent, despite 10-percent unemployment. We still have basically a border that we don’t know who’s coming across after the terrorist attack. We still have 11 million illegal aliens in the country. So, you know, in many ways I say it didn’t make much difference. But then I – well, I should be a little more thoughtful about that. And I think it did change some things. So – otherwise I could just stop right there and say, well, thanks for inviting me for – (chuckles) – saying there’s no change.
Just three – really, kind of three things: On a negative side, I think that moving INS into the Department of Homeland Security has really been harmful for an advocacy group such as mine because it has created this thought among a lot of people in America that immigration is primarily a terrorism issue – a security issue. Therefore, if somebody has broken immigration laws, but isn’t a terrorist or organized crime or something like that, then what’s the really big deal? And we hear that kind of argument a lot. You’ll see newspaper stories constantly say this person’s not connected to terrorism, not a criminal, you know, not engaged in a criminal syndicate. Why can’t the person stay?
Well, see, that really moves it – when you think about, when immigration was in the Department of Labor, that – which I wasn’t alive at that point I don’t think – but when it was in Department of Labor, it was a labor issue. You wouldn’t say that. You’d say, well, illegal aliens are a problem in this country because they’re taking jobs and Americans are – don’t – are not getting those jobs – it’s driving down wages. So I think it’s really been a negative in that sense for moving immigration into homeland security and making it seem like it’s primarily a security issue.
The pro side – I guess, the upside of that is that I think that after 9/11 a lot of the rose-colored glasses came off for America. So Americans are very – they romanticize immigration to the point that they don’t think that immigrants are people. And I think 9/11 did cause a lot of people to realize, oh, immigrants can be really bad people just like Americans can be really bad people. And that’s probably been – that’s been helpful, I think, in terms of getting Americans to be a little more aware of the fact that immigration is a policy that needs to be dealt with like any other.
OK. Second aspect – everybody knows there was a first-time-ever – a first and last time ever – amnesty for illegal aliens in 1986 – it was advertised as last time ever. But most people don’t think about the fact that in the ’90s there were six amnesties. Between ’90 and 2000 there were six amnesties. They weren’t mass blanket amnesties. We did a Nicaraguan amnesty, Haitian amnesty, et cetera. But there were six. And, you know, this was just a regular thing – boom, boom, boom. Bush was ready to try to pass another amnesty – in fact, there was supposed to be a vote in the House on an amnesty the day that – of 9/11.
So there’ve been no amnesties since 9/11 – so six in the decade leading right up to 9/11, zero since. And I would – I think it might have to – although I think Numbers USA and our mobilized citizen groups are really important – I think I have to give 9/11 probably a little bit of credit for that in the sense of giving more people a reason to pay attention to immigration. I think it causes Congress – has caused Congress to be more careful.
It also – I think it definitely helped get through Sensenbrenner’s REAL ID. REAL ID is primarily about security, but for 20 years people on my side of the issue have said we – one of the ways we got to tackle illegal immigration is for driver’s licenses to be real. And so even though it’s put in there primarily for security reasons, it’s very helpful to us in our – in our advocacy efforts.
And then finally, another, I think, really bad thing that came out of – for advocacy that came out of 9/11 was it put so much focus on the border. You can see this in these GOP debates – these presidential debates. People asking about immigration, it’s like border, border, border. It’s like, what the border’s – it’s like the border is the only thing about immigration. Well, the border’s a tiny piece of immigration. I mean, when you talk to the border – I mean, when you talk to the Border Patrol people they say, well, the number one issue the jobs magnet. It’s not the border, it’s the jobs magnet when it comes to the number of illegal immigrants.
So it’s caused a lot of people to just focus so much on the border that they miss all these other issues about why should we have the lottery? Why should we have chain migration? What about the – what about the environmental consequences? What about legal immigration which is what – the Jordan Commission was primarily focused on legal immigration – getting legal immigration numbers down. So 9/11, I think, really diverted so much attention to the border that it got it off – got the attention off of legal immigration and got the attention off of most illegal immigration issues. That’s been bad.
The good part about it is it brought all kinds of new people into activism, into interest about this issue. And certainly we saw that. We were just a little group – Internet group with 3,000 members on 9/11. And over the next year we quadrupled to about 12,000. President Bush helped us out a lot in January of ’04 by announcing his blanket amnesty effort, and we grew from 12,000 to 60,000 that year. And, you know, as there are repeated efforts to pass amnesties we’ve – and I think with – in some extent to the – also to the reaction to the security issues and the border issues, we now have over a million members.
And a lot of our members come in concerned only about the border. And – but by getting them into our organization we then are able to educate them on the broader issues of Barbara Jordan and President Clinton’s Sustainability Council. So, you know, it’s like a lot of things, you have to deal with – I would rather not to have had 9/11 – like most Americans – rather not to have had it. And overall, I think it’s been a mixed thing about the immigration advocacy. But it has – it has changed some things.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Roy. We’ve got a few minutes for questions for any of the panelists. Somebody has to have provoked somebody, so please feel free, identify yourself. Yes, sir, you –
Q: Jessica – (inaudible) – where were you – with State or were you at DHS?
MS. VAUGHAN: No, I was a foreign service officer with the State Department.
Q: Department of State, oh, OK. And working in this area?
MS. VAUGHAN: Yes, among other areas, but –
Q: I have a question – (inaudible). You were talking about the standards, or maybe Janice was, going back to the – post – part of the 9/11 standards for visa interviews. And – (inaudible) – was doing that?
MS. VAUGHAN: At the time of 9/11 only about 20 percent of people who were being issued visas – non-immigrant visas were actually being interviewed by a consular officer to determine if they qualified for the visa. And again, the two basic things in the law that enable people to apply for – to be eligible for a visa are, number one, having a legitimate and credible reason for travel that’s covered by one of our visa categories; and also not having ineligibilities, of course, but also being able to demonstrate that you’re going to come home to your country when your authorized stay in the United States is expired.
And the interview is simply the best way to make that evaluation. It’s no different – you know, in the same way as a doctor needs to see you to diagnose what your illness is, a consular officer really needs to see an applicant in most cases to make a determination as to whether they are who they say they are, able – you know, credible in their application and, you know, whether – to try to get at some of the things that may render them ineligible.
And again it’s – you know, the hijackers who were not admitted to take part in the plot of 9/11, those two individuals were turned away because of good judgment by – one by a consular officer in Germany and the other by an immigration inspector in Orlando airport, I believe it was, who just didn’t find the applicants credible, and it turned out for good reason. There are things that you learn to discern in an interview – and consular officers are much better trained at this now – that they can discover in an interview that no background check, no ESTA check, no nothing is ever going to be able to tell us.
Now, those checks – those screening and our better watch-listing are really helpful because they give the officers more information, but the interview really still is key. I mean, the State Department also made a decision not too long ago to stop interviewing people who were renewing certain kinds of temporary work visas here.
And officers in Mexico were complaining because they had found through the interview process that they could see if people had gang tattoos, they could follow up on questions, they could make calls to local law enforcement agencies in the States to inquire about offenses that people admit to in person when they’re asked but are never going to show up in an NCIC check like misdemeanors, certain – drunk driving, things like that. And a lot of that stuff is not the NCIC. And they really value that human contact.
And it’s potentially a huge problem for the United States and the visa issuing process if we dispense with that.
Q: So they went from 20 percent to 100 and now back down to 20?
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, no. It’s hasn’t – now –
MS. KEPHART: It’s in negotiations right now, Penny (sp). I just got the email last night. This is really recent. I can show you the language that they’re batting around if you want.
MS. VAUGHAN: Right. And it’s – it was never 100 percent because certain people you’ll renew – people who are elderly. But the – one reason we could have the interview requirement was we also had the fingerprint requirement that was put into place as well, and people had to come in to do that too, so – but –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, well, you had your hand up first, sir, and then you.
Q: Yeah, I’m – (inaudible). And I just had a comment as you talk about the exit system. Senator Lieberman, as you know, is leading an authorization bill on – I believe, and I was pretty sure there is a provision that was calling for an exit system. I read through it briefly; I wouldn’t call it very strong – (inaudible) – in its condition on not slowing down the processing lines, but at least it’s in the middle and it’s on the table. So –
MS. KEPHART: Well, it’s good to know. We already have six laws on the books on exit anyway. So I don’t think we need more, we need an administration that’s actually going to take it and do it. We have – I talk about, in the report that I just released, at length about two pilots that were done a year and a half ago. One – then they were required by Congress who was so frustrated that nothing had been done.
They used biometric – it was the mandate, biometric exit. So they were checking passports and taking fingerprints. One was using customs and border inspection inspectors on the jetway. The other one – that was up in Detroit. The other one was down in Atlanta and that was using the TSA security line, doing the same thing there. They both worked really well. They were catching people off of watch lists. They were getting real-time data. There were no glitches. There was no slow-down in the lines – nothing.
And the administration – (chuckles) – the report was extensive – that US-VISIT did the work – the report was extensive, and the administration, like it has done many times, refused to let that report out the door. That reports tells everybody what they need to know about what we can do about exit right now.
I don’t think we need any more laws; we just need to get it done. And, you know, Jessica and I might have slightly different views on what to do and how to do it, but they’re – you know, we both agree it has to get done sooner rather than later.
And the key now is back in 2001, 2004 we didn’t have the technology to do it. We didn’t even have the technology to do it well in 2007. But by 2009 we do. And so there’s really no excuse anymore. And the sort of mealy – you know, biographic on departure is helpful to the overstay issue, it’s helpful to informing other immigration services once somebody’s departed that they have and having that for your consular officers, et cetera, if somebody applies for a visa – again, but it’s not going to do what was mandated by Congress and it’s not going to inform aviation security, which I think it really, really could. So – and I lay that all out in the report. So I’m glad Mr. Lieberman is on it, but I think we can do more.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Couple more questions, Laura?
Q: I’m Laura Riesert (ph) with the CSE (ph). Question for Jessica – what are your thoughts on sort of the – (inaudible) – interviews? It was pilot-tested in the U.K. after – (inaudible). Given that – when they cover the consulate in, you know, with bulletproof glass there, what are your thoughts on that versus – (inaudible)?
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, I think it does have – it’s not ideal. But I think it does have some advantages in – you know, it’s preferable to not having an interview at all. And a lot of the complaints about the interview requirement have to do with the fact that many people don’t live near a consulate and have to travel somewhere. State has sometimes been unwilling to send officers to remote locations because of the security of the officer is compromised – there may not be a secure location for that officer to be working.
So I think it’s – we really should look at video conferencing, I think it’s a good idea and something that could save our applicants money and time and make it – our process more efficient. As long as, you know, they’re still going to have to have the fingerprint and everything done, but I definitely think that it’s worth looking at.
MR. KRIKORIAN: We can take one more question if anybody’s got anything – OK. Well, thanks all of you to coming. We’re going to have a video and transcript of this up probably next week. And hope to see you at our next event. It’s going to be on our site, CIS.org; that’s where Janice’s new report, the to-do list of what we need to do, and all the other work that we do – so thanks a lot. (Applause.)