Jewish World Review May 1, 2002 / 19 Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | At long last the House and the Senate are considering legislation to reform of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). But the central proposal of the proposed reform - the creation of a separate agency charged with enforcement functions - will only give us a new agency with a new set of initials to blame and will do little to address the porous process by which dangerous people enter the United States easily.
The fault lies not just in the bureaucracy but in the legal framework which governs it and the lack of emphasis on enforcing what laws now exist. The fundamental defect starts with the astonishing fact that the word "deportation" is a fiction. 300,000 people, ordered deported, still live in the United States. Far from fugitives, they usually live quite openly with little fear of the system that ordered them to leave. Often they simply walked out of the courtroom after the order was issued, laughing under their breath.
The links between terrorism and the INS are clear for all to see. According to the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies 115,000 people from Middle Eastern countries live in the United States illegally. In October and November of 2001, as bodies were being dragged from the World Trade Center wreckage, 7,000 new visas were issued to men from nations in which Al-Qaeda is active.
Saudi Arabians who want to travel to the US can get visas without having even to be interviewed by the State Department and can get documents that permit their entry at "drop boxes" near the U.S. Consulates or from their travel agents. 15 of the 19 hijackers got visas in Saudi Arabia. When the visas expire, its no big deal. 350,000 people have overstayed their visas and continue to live here illegally.
The other gaping hole in our border protections is the student visa program. With over 600,000 students now studying in the United States, it represents an easy way to get here and stay illegally. The INS routinely takes six months to respond to notifications from university registrars that foreign students are not attending classes. The essential changes in the law and enforcement we need are quite clear:
1. Congress must massively increase the resources devoted to deportation. Out must mean out. We need more jails, more judges, more attorneys, and more administrators. We also need more investigators to round up those who have already been ordered to leave and are still here.
2. Congress should ban all student visas for those who come from nations where Al-Qaeda is active. Universities will object that they need the tuition money. Others will say that we need the chance to expose people from these nations to the Western way of life. But we need to protect our people first.
3. The most common interface between the average citizen and the law is through the operation of motor vehicles. It should be illegal for any state to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants (four do: Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and federal law should require that licenses expire when visas do.
4. Department of Motor Vehicles computers in the fifty states should be required to interface with INS and FBI computers to permit traffic enforcement officers to determine if a person without a valid drivers license is here illegally, is subject to an outstanding deportation order, or is on a terror watch list. As a practical matter, if the INS is our first line of defense - porous as it is - the traffic cop is our back up.
Remember that we had four shots at Mohammed Atta before he flew a plane into the Trade Center. He was in INS custody because he tried to enter the U.S. on an improper visa but we let him go. He was arrested by a traffic cop for driving without a valid license but we let him go. He failed to show up in court to answer the charges of driving without a license, but we didn't go out and look for him. Then he landed a plane illegally at the Miami airport but we let him go again. If FBI and Motor Vehicle and INS computers interfaced, we would know that we were dealing with a potential terrorist and would have held onto him.
To do better next time. We need Congress to act now.
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid