H.R.5013 - (SAFER) Act of 2002
Congressional Testimony of Dan Stein, Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform
Submitted to THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS
This statement outlines FAIR’s views on H.R.5013, a bill to, ‘inter alia’ bar the admission, and facilitate the removal, of alien terrorists and their supporters and fundraisers, to secure our borders against terrorists, drug traffickers, and other illegal aliens, to facilitate the removal of illegal aliens and aliens who are criminals or human rights abusers, to reduce visa, document, employment, and voting fraud, to reform the legal immigration system.
FAIR welcomes the purpose of H.R.5013, the “Securing America’s Future through Enforcement Reform (SAFER) Act of 2002”. It is carefully designed to fill in remaining gaps in the nation’s defenses against international terrorism, to restore integrity to enforcement of our immigration law so that it responds to the will of the American public, and to honor the commitment of Congress to take up the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform for changes in our legal immigration system — a commitment that was laid aside in 1996 when Congress decided to focus exclusively on the Commission’s recommendations for reform provisions targetted on combatting illegal immigration.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present the views of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on your legislation, H.R. 5013, the SAFER Act of 2002. We view passage of this bill an essential milestone in closing a broad range of loopholes in our immigration law and in creating an immigration policy that will provide both greater national security in light of the threat to our homeland and an intake of immigrants that will be more in keeping with America’s ability to assimilate newcomers and to reduce the rampant population growth that immigration is presently causing. My name is Dan Stein, and I am FAIR’s executive director.
FAIR is a national, non-profit organization of concerned citizens nationwide promoting better immigration controls and an immigration time-out to insure that today’s policies serve the current and future best interests of the American people. Since its founding more than twenty years ago, FAIR has insisted on the need to improve America’s immigration system in the national interest. FAIR does not receive any federal grants, contracts or subcontracts.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought home to Americans the fact that we must have better control over our borders and the immigration process that determines who will be admitted to our country and under what conditions. Congress has taken steps to correct many of the lax border control procedures that facilitated the entry and prolongued stay of the terrorists in our country while they planned and executed the heinous attack on innocent people. We have applauded the enactment of the Patriot Act to improve intelligence sharing and the Border Security Act to restore controls over the entry and exit of foreigners and to finally implement control over long-term visitors who come to our country as students. Unfortunately those reforms were ones that were begun in 1996 and then subverted by those who placed a higher value on the unchecked flow of foreigners into our country than on national security. Hindsight tells us that Congress should have resisted those efforts to derail the improvements in our nation’s control over its borders.
Yet these reform measures do not deal with all of the weaknesses in our immigration system that were exposed on September 11. Part of the country’s weaknesses may be laid on the doorstep of the Immigration and Naturalization Service — a conclusion that has led to an effort to reorganize the immigration responsibilities in a way that will be more functional and accountable. FAIR is on record in support of H.R. 3231, that has been adopted by the House of Representatives to accomplish that purpose. We also are in record in support of the homeland security reorganization effort in which this body is now engaged. However, those measures already enacted and currently before the Congress do not constitute a comprehensive reform strategy. Mr. Chairman, we congratulate you for the vision you have shown in identifying the remaining loopholes in our defenses and the policy gaps that continue to erode effective control over our national sovereignty.
This bill, H.R.5013, when it becomes law, will launch a new era of immigration in the national interest. The national interest I refer to is the way that term is understood by the vast majority of the American public as consistently revealed in opinion polls. It is not the national interest that has been portrayed by open-borders advocates and cheap labor exploiters.
First, let me review with you what FAIR sees as the most important provisions of this legislation and why we believe they are essential reforms. Then I must briefly note our concern that this bill does not go far enough in putting on ice the enormous flow of immigrants that is debilitating the ability of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide the protections that we seek from continued attacks from international fanatics.
Analysis Of The Safer Act’s Provisions
Preventing Undesirable Aliens from Entering the United States
The primary failure in preventing the September 11 attack on our country was the failure to identify the terrorists as a threat and to deny them entry into the country. Although one or more probable participants were denied entry, the 19 who carried out the suicide mission all received visas, despite fragments of intelligence information that should have placed our consular and immigration screening officials on the alert.
While measures have already been enacted to improve intelligence sharing with the State Department and the INS, and new requirements have been established to deter identity theft and the use of counterfeit passports, loopholes remain.
Several of the terrorists obtained visas at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia without ever being seen by a U.S. consular officer in the so-called “Visa Express” program. The SAFER Act would put an end to that practice, that exists also in other countries, and require that visa applicants apply in person for their visas. The grounds of inadmissibility for links to international terrorism are very weak at present. The SAFER Act will expand the criteria to representatives of groups that endorse or espouse terrorist activities or encourage others to engage in terrorism. Similarly the ineligibility criteria for determining who knowingly has abetted international terrorism is clarified in the bill. Resources to investigate fraudulent operations used to illegally obtain U.S. visas are increased by mandating a visa fee that is earmarked for that purpose. Other loopholes that put the U.S. public at risk from foreign travelers are also closed at the same time.
A further measure that will close the door on the issuance of legitimate visas to travelers with illegitimate objectives is accompliched by shutting down the ability of fly-by-night operators of training establishments to issue the I-20 forms that pave the way for a fraudulent application for a student visa. Recent news accounts have established that thousands of entities are on the INS-approved list of institutions that are no longer in operation. Of greater concern are those that are in operation that serve as a conduit for persons whose real purpose is gain permanent residence in the United States, whether to serve their personal objectives or those of a conspiracy against our security. The SAFER Act accomplishes this objective by requiring that the institutions that are authorized to issue the I-20 forms be recognized as academic or training schools by the Department of Education.
Stopping Illegal Entry at U.S. Ports of Entry
Staffing of the INS inspection officer function has not kept pace with the rise in international travel to the United States. The result has been that inspectors have less and less time to determine the admissibility of each foreign traveler. This is corrected in the SAFER Act by a phased personnel increase through 2010. The INS was hamstrung from deliberate evaluation of incoming travelers by their limited personnel strength and the arbitrary limit on their inspections adopted by Congress at the behest of the travel industry to clear all incoming international flights within 45 minutes regardless of the number of passengers or how many other planes had landed at the same time.Detering Illegal Entry through Border Control.
The importance of border control is central to protecting the country against the threat of unwanted entry of people and goods. While it is true that the September 11 terrorists entered the United States with visas, if that avenue of entry had been denied to them, they would have had a fairly easy alternative in entering illegally across the Canadian border (as has been attempted by other international terrorists) or the Mexican border or by boat from the Caribbean.
Steps have already been taken to improve our ability to deny visas to potential terrorists. That increases the need to better secure our borders against illegal entry. The measures needed to acheive that objective include increasing the likelihood of apprehension and decreasing the ability for illegal aliens to obtain U.S. documents that allow them to work and to operate unhindered and undetected in the United States. The SAFER Act will increase the liklihood of apprehension by increasing the law-enforcement capability of the Border Patrol by over 60 percent, to over 16,000 officers, and by facilitating deployment of the U.S. military in support roles to assure that the Border Patrol is effectively targetted on the front lines. The likelihood of identifying and removing illegal aliens is enhanced as well, in the section of the Act dealing with interior enforcement.
The progress that has already been made in bringing the border with Mexico under better control over the past several years has shown that illegal immigration can be deterred. That may be seen in the fact that illegal entry across the Mexican border is increasingly under the control of smugglers. Those smugglers are responsible for countless deaths and are daily putting large numbers of illegal entrants in jeapordy as they attempt to use dangerous desert crossings to evade the U.S. Border Patrol. It is unconscionable that those predators are not being identified, prosecuted and imprisoned in their homeland. However, when the United States can apprehend those smugglers, it must exact harsh punishment. The SAFER Act does that by increasing the criminal penalties against them.
The nearly 4,000 miles of border with Canada and nearly 2,000 miles of border with Mexico are only sporadically fenced, and the about 10,000 member staff of the U.S. Border Patrol is spread thinly, with the lion’s share dedicated to the U.S.-Mexican border across which the vast majority of illegal crossers have come. The SAFER Act will continue the Border Patrol force build-up and bring it to 16,000 officers along the southern border and mandate a study to determine additional force requirements on the northern border. This is not a process that can be accomplished overnight. The build-up will continue to at least 2010. Yet the threat from international terrorism is now. To bridge the gap in adaquately staffing the Border Patrol, the only effective resource is the U.S. military. Having our armed forces assist the Border Patrol is not new, but it has been vehemently opposed by the advocates of open borders, and many politicians have heeded the the false message that it is not the responsibility of the U.S. military to defend our country’s borders against the invasion of illegal entrants. The SAFER Act clearly establishes the role of the U.S. Army and Air Force in support of the efforts of the Border Patrol when it is in the national interest, as it is today