Falling Behind on Security
Panel Discussion Transcript
December 18, 2003
The National Press Club
Read the Report
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration
Rosemary Jenks, Director of Government
Steven Camarota, Director of Research,
Center for Immigration Studies
Jan Ting, Professor of Law, Temple
University; former Assistant Commissioner, INS
KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. Iím
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, ďour country is a
battlefield in the first war of the 21st century.Ē Unquote. This is why
the talk of ďhome frontĒ 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 Ė smaller instances Ė before that that we didnít
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
weíre going talk about today, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa
Entry Reform Act. Unfortunately, it doesnít 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 weíre releasing today Ė itís published jointly with the NumbersUSA
Education and Research Foundation Ė 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 Ė 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 donít 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 itís Ė
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 Ė 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 Ė 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 Ė 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 Ė substantive
immigration provisions Ė 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 Ė in other words, non-immigrant visas Ė to enter the United
States leave when theyíre supposed to and that the government will know
if they fail to leave and will be better able to track them. Thatís 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 governmentís 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 Ė the date of enactment Ė 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 itís 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 lawís 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, itís to praise
the administration for the actions it has taken thus far to meet the
lawís 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
administrationís 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 thatís at the end of the backgrounder that you all have, so Iím
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
studentsí 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 DHSís 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 Ė they are vetted by the State
The administrationís 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. Itís 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
Finally, DHSís 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 lawís
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 theyíre looking at the 9/11 attacks and the lessons that we
learned from that in order to proceed in their mission. So theyíre
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
So this partially explains why the administration has failed to do some
of the Ė failed to implement some of the provisions it was supposed to.
Itís sort of a combination of this priority Ė almost exclusive focus on
terrorism and the will of the administration to gain control of the
entire system, but itís 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 Ė why some of the things were included
in the visa-tracking bill and why theyíre 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 nationís 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 nationís 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
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 donít 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 donít have to
have a system thatís completely foolproof, and thatís something you can
expect from your immigration system.
Now, in a report that we issued last year Ė we were handing them out
before Ė called ďThe Open Door,Ē 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
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 theyíre here. And as I indicated, the vast
majority didnít 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 didnít 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 Ė and of the 42, an additional three Ė 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
Qaedaís 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 wasnít sufficiently updated.
Now, problems with the student visa system and the tracking of studentsí
visas of course is shown by a number of cases. Let me point to two. Hani
Hanjour, who was one of the Ė 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 didnít 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
Let me point to the problem of information sharing within federal
agencies as well. The case of Rahman is important because he doesnít
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 heís also on the watch list. But apparently the INS didnít 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 thatís 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 theyíre on a
watch list, if thatís based on photos and fingerprints, youíre much more
likely to prevent a situation like that from occurring.
Let me also point out why itís 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. Theyíre 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 thatís 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 donít check the names
of people at ports of entry for visa waiver aliens, the watch list of
course isnít meaningful if itís 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 doesnít
re-enter the United States until July of 2001. Now, it is true Ė and
this isnít a problem of information sharing Ė the CIA didnít inform the
immigration service, but the catch here is that had they informed them,
itís not clear he would have been caught at the port of entry because
not everyoneís 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 doesnít necessarily directly relate to terrorism, but the
idea that, say, Middle Eastern terrorists could slip through Mexico may
seem remote, but itís 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 elseís 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 Ė thereís 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 Statesí 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 donít get their visa but our borders remain wide
open, again, itís sort of locking the front door, leaving your windows
and the back door open. Thereís no reason to think that they wouldnít
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 hereís why. Think about it this
way: if youíre an immigration inspector at Miami International Airport
and you have got Mohammed Atta in front of you, and yes it looks like
heís pretty clear. He overstayed his visa. First off, he applied for a
student visa, which he probably wasnít supposed to do on a tourist visa
immediately after arrival, but you might overlook that. And then you
might Ė but then itís 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 Ė 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 personís
position. Why in the hell would you do your job and keep him out of the
I will give you another example. Subsequent analysis of at least 16 of
the 19 hijackers, of their visa applications, showed that they didnít
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 Ė the specific
provisions are creating a national security threat, but the general
sense of, you know, we donít really take this stuff seriously, we will
do some of it but not all of it Ė 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 Ė you know, in many ways we will really have only
ourselves to blame.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Jan?
JAN TING: Well, thank you. Itís 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 Iím going to start paying attention to
NumbersUSA also. I think we all need to pay more attention to these
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 donít 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
You know, Zacharias Moussaoui came in on his own French passport. He
didnít 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 didnít 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 Ė certainly I thought Ė 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 Ė I
believe it was in February 2002 Ė 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 weíre
looking at was in part a response to that testimony.
And Congress said Ė in response to this testimony from the travel
industry and the airlines that said donít 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 donít 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 thatís 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 Ė 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 donít 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 theyíre training immigration officers to be sky marshals.
Their giving them air marshal training suggests that thereís 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 itís
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: Iím 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. Itís 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, thatís 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. Thatís
all it is.
Itís not a matter of, you know, weíre 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 thatís requested of them, and
then they get their visa, and we expect them to go home when their
period of authorized admission expires. Thatís all. If they do that,
they can come back as many times as they want to. There will be no
penalties. Thereís no problem. Yes, there are additional steps that they
have to take under this law, but thatís all. Thatís 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 Iím
wondering Ė of course itís a privilege, but for the United States, too,
one would assume itís an interest of the United States to have business
MS. JENKS: Yes. Youíre 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 thatís Ė Congress still has not done its job because we
donít have the resources in place to adequately process these people.
Youíre 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 Byrdís comments about the report speak specifically to that
issue. If you implement a new procedure, obviously there is a transition
problem, but if thereís a problem beyond that, maybe itís because we
only have 900 consular officers. Maybe itís 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 Ė if terrorists
again successfully penetrate our immigration system, the harm to U.S.
business and to the travel industry is going to be enormous. Itís not
clear how the airline industry would recover from another hijacking.
And so, in many ways the industry shouldnít 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
administrationís feet to the fire. Thatís 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 Ė 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. Thatís an issue that
Congress and the president have already decided, and so itís Ė this is Ė
itís 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 Ė are just administrative attempts to obstruct the
enforcement of the law.
Q: Actually Ė
MR. KRIKORIAN: If you could identify
Q: Greta Wodele with National
Journalís 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 Ė
itís not so much the extra steps that people have to take Ė tourists and
businesspeople Ė to get here, itís the costs of those extra steps, the
increased cost in getting a visa, the cost of traveling to the
consularís 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 Ė
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 Ė itís 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 donít have the
resources to put a consular office in every major city in every country
abroad. Itís 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, thatís going to be a cost
that they will have to bear, but thereís 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 thatís
kind of troubling, we found, is that even things that donít cost money,
like appointing the commission to oversee Chimera, hasnít even been
done. Thatís deeply troubling because that wouldnít have cost anything.
So why didnít 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 weíre doing on
it. The fact that they havenít even done that is deeply troubling.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you want to follow
Q: Yeah. On that point, have you Ė
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 didnít 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 havenít gone beyond that.
I have to give them credit, though. They are Ė you know, theyíre trying
to do the best that they can do with the resources they have. They
obviously have to prioritize. Itís 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 theyíre in that process yet.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir?
Q: Yeah. Dan Rodriguez, GAO. Your
report doesnít say much about exit controls. Thereís obviously no
effective tracking without exit controls. Thereís 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 youíre driving you see is Ė what you encounter are the
Mexican officials Ė (inaudible). And God knows how you do that without
backing up traffic to L.A. or something. Iím wondering why you donít
comment on that and if you could.
MS. JENKS: Well, I will tell you
that the reason that we didnít 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.
Youíre absolutely on target on this. The US-VISIT system Ė 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 Ė Iím 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 itís going to miss the
deadline, but allegedly not by much. But itís only going to have the
entry part in place. Itís not Ė (audio break, tape change) Ė 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 Ė I mean, thereís Ė it makes a little bit of sense
because there will be a pretty serious incentive to check out through
the system once itís fully implemented after 2005 because if you donít
check out and youíre not a terrorist or a mass murderer Ė if you donít
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, itís going to be on your record that you didnít
leave when you were supposed to last time, so maybe you wonít 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 itís going to enforce the entry part, let alone the exit part at the
So I mean, there are technological ways that I think this can be done,
and perhaps Iím just overly optimistic. But I mean, if you think about
like EZ Pass systems on highways. You know, the traffic isnít 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 youíre absolutely right: we have no idea how this is going
to go, we donít 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). Iím a freelance
journalist. Two questions. I suppose weíre not even close to getting Ė
tracking people who are overstaying Ė 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 Ė
does that signify to you maybe a turning point, that at least itís not
politically incorrect to talk about illegal aliens? And are you hopeful
that that might help persuade even Congress that there is
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, CNNís 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, thereís Ė that kind of disconnect exists on many
policy issues, but the research that has been done seems to indicate
that itís 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 Ė 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 Ė
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,
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 Ė what has been their
reaction to this legislation? And third, overtures are being made to the
Canadian government to kind of Ė (inaudible) Ė or control Ė (inaudible)?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Who wants to deal
MS. JENKS: Well, I can do some. Iím
not sure that there really is an apathy among DHS officials or
immigration officials in general. I mean, I think theyíre Ė you know,
theyíre doing the best they can do with what they have and what theyíre
being told to do. Keep in mind that the Bush administration is not an
immigration enforcementóoriented administration, and the Bush
administration controls every department in the administration. So you
know, theyíre getting mixed messages from the very, very top on this
issue. I do think, you know Ė I mean, under the leadership of Asa
Hutchinson and Michael Garcia Ė 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 donít think that they have got either the resources or the
manpower to do their jobs effectively, and I donít think theyíre being
given free reign to do their jobs.
As far as the response among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I mean,
thatís 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 Ė
(chuckles) Ė 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, theyíre still getting jobs. Theyíre
still being hired by employers who are not supposed to be hiring them. I
donít think there has been a whole lot of impact. There could be with
some other legislation thatís 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 driverís license. The first step that was
taken is that Canadian Ė that the Canadian government is now issuing
more secure identification cards to landed immigrants in Canada,
essentially are legal permanent residents.
We know that thereís a large terrorist population in Canada. We know
that they can enter the United States with impunity once they get a
Canadian driverís license if theyíre Canadian citizens. Now, if theyíre
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 driverís 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 Ė 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 havenít done either, unfortunately.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Could I touch on just
a couple of other points you raised as well? As far as Ė 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 Ė
immigration law enforcement Ė we probably did get a suggestion of what
peopleís 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 Ė
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 weíre placing on Canada for immigration control of all varieties
really highlight the fact that, you know, Canada is not the 51st state.
I mean, itís a different country, it has a very different political
culture, and itís little by little going to have Ė itís coming to
realize, I think, that the northern border is not Ė is going to start
being taken seriously in a way that it never has, and they still havenít
politically reconciled that internally in Canada yet. They donít know
what to do about it, so thatís an ongoing story.
No, thereís somebody behind you who raised his hand first. You will go
next. Yes, sir?
Q: Hi. Chris Strum (ph) with
Governing Ė (inaudible) Ė Magazine. You said in the course of this
discussion that there has been a misplacement of priorities as well as a
lack of resources. Iím wondering if your research found one of those
more Ė 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, Iím not sure we
actually said a mishandling of priorities. I think itís understandable
that DHS has prioritized an almost exclusive focus on terrorism. Itís
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 Ė I think your question boils down to really itís 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 donít 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, Iím 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 youíre going to
enforce the immigration laws, youíre going to do it well, and youíre
going to do it consistently, I think they would do it at least to the
best of their resource capability. I donít think they have been told
that. I donít think theyíre likely to be told that in the near future.
So thatís my view.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir?
Q: Rod Fuller (sp) from the Center
for American Progress. I just wanted to get your thoughts Ė 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. Itís 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 Ė 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 Ė I think it made sense that
NSEERS started requiring Ė 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 Ė
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 Ė every non-citizen in the United States Ė
would have to register as theyíre supposed to do under the law. I mean,
youíre supposed to notify the INS of changes in address and so on. We
donít enforce that, so we have no idea who is in the United States. I
think NSEERS was a first step at getting control Ė 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?
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. Itís kind of like
Rosemary said: you have to start somewhere. I mean, itís a matter of
triage. You canít do everything all at once, so you know, as the Ė as an
increasingly effective immigration control system is rolled out,
assuming thatís whatís going to happen, it would eventually apply to
everybody. But you know, there are more male terrorists than females, so
you have to Ė I mean, you do have Ė itís essentially profiling, but
thatís the only way law enforcement can work. So eventually yes, but
they donít have the resources or abilities to do that right now.
Q: Yes. My name is Erin Ė
(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 Ė itís a
good question. We donít seem Ė this administration Ė 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 Statesí 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 Ė not just one, but several Ė
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 thatís out there that we
hear repeatedly, which is that these people do jobs that Americans donít
want. I just Ė it makes me angry when I hear that because the truth is,
and I tell my students this all the time, Americans donít 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, letís make that
the last word. Jan is available for Ė (laughter, inaudible) Ė 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.