December 20, 2001Seizing on immigration breaches that contributed to the September terrorist attacks, members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus on Thursday touted new legislation crafted to consolidate the management and enforcement of U.S. border security. Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, chairman of the caucus, unveiled the draft measure Wednesday. It seeks to consolidate the duties of several departments--including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the State Department and the Customs Service--under one new federal agency dedicated to securing the nation's borders. Flanked by fellow caucus members, Virgil Goode, I-Va., and Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., Tancredo described how three different agencies hold responsibility for border security. "It's ridiculous," he said. "This overlapping of agencies has caused enormous problems." Tancredo said the measure also would create an "entry-exit" system for international visitors that would record their personal identifiers, such as fingerprints or biometric information. The bill also calls for a national system for electronically verifying work documents that are mandatory for immigrant employment in the United States. The lawmakers noted that several terrorists responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center had obtained legal entry to the United States but later were never monitored. "There needs to be more of a rationale in how we manage immigration," said Gutknecht. "Better technology" and better management of current INS resources will lead to a more effective system of immigration and border security. " If we employ the right technologies," he said, "we can easily keep track of people here on visas." On Wednesday, the House passed a bill, H.R. 3525, that would create new restrictions on visa holders and mandate reforms in immigration agencies. The bill would authorize $150 million to improve INS technology, and bolster security and screening procedures at borders and U.S. ports. It also would mandate new requirements for tracking foreign students and creating identification systems, and it would require law enforcement and intelligence agencies to make their data systems interoperable. Tancredo called the House measure and its Senate companion bill, S. 1749, a good "first step." But he argued that they lack a fundamental key to effective immigration reform: They would not combine the enforcement responsibility for the borders. "That is the basic problem here," Tancredo said, adding that jurisdictional conflicts prevented more of his bill's proposals from being included in other immigration measures. He also expressed opposition to the Justice Department's INS reform plans. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hailed H.R. 3525 as a "reasonable and balanced approach" to security because it recognizes "the need for continuation of the trade and commerce that flows across our borders daily."
December 20, 2001