Tags: Tougher | Immigration | Policies | Expected

Tougher Immigration Policies Expected

Monday, 24 September 2001 12:00 AM

Immigration reforms needed to ensure the nation’s security have assumed a new urgency in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Analysts cited in the Monday, Sept. 24 issue of The New York Times say that the country’s immigration policy likely will change in subtle but lasting ways.

Tougher immigration laws could reduce the number of visas for the millions who come to the United States each year to study, work or visit, and increase government monitoring of foreigners' movements once they arrive.

The Bush administration has already proposed broader government powers to detain and deport non-citizens based on their political associations or activities. The attacks also appear to have indefinitely delayed the debate about whether to legalize the estimated eight million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Groups that oppose allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents have long argued that ineffective border controls and tracking systems had allowed illegal immigrants from Mexico to overrun the nation. These organizations point to the nearly 4.2 million foreigners that were granted visas for tourism or business last year and the additional 284,000 students that received visas to attend American universities.

The attacks provided a compelling new argument for stricter immigration controls: to defend against terrorism. Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has stated, "The nation's defense against terrorism has been seriously eroded by the efforts of open-borders advocates, and the innocent victims of today's terrorist attacks have paid the price."

In addition to laws to expand intelligence gathering, the Times report cites a variety of other potential measures, including better automated border and port systems, improved intelligence cooperation and increased monitoring of foreigners. Some of these ideas have been discussed before and modified or dropped as too expensive or too damaging to trade.

But many analysts say the best response may be to improve existing systems for screening people trying to enter the country.

"The question is, how complete is the information that's in the database?" Doris M. Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Clinton administration, told the Times. "The lookout database has literally millions of names in it. But with terrorists, if you don't know who they are, their names are not going to be in there."

The last significant revision of laws affecting immigrants and refugees occurred in 1996. The legislation mandated an increase in Border Patrol officers to 10,000 by 2001, but this has not been achieved.

Improvements were made, however, in checking the identities of immigrants against watch lists of suspects in crimes and terrorism, according to Meissner. For most international flights, she said, airlines electronically transmit the passenger manifests to a data system in the United States to be checked against a lookout list while the planes are in the air. And asylum seekers are more likely to be held in detention centers while their cases are decided, Meissner claims.

Others believe that an increase in Border Patrol and immigration agents at land crossings, seaports and airports is not a cost-effective use of resources.

"If we decide we're going to tighten the border between the U.S. and Canada, that means a lot more agents and inspectors and resources on the border," Paul Cellucci, the United States ambassador to Canada, told the Times. "It would be better to put those resources into law enforcement and intelligence. To expect that we are going to catch someone at the border is a needle-in-the-haystack situation."

Some of the most far-reaching changes called for in the 1996 laws were never enacted, but they may now be revived because they focus on the least regulated area of non-immigrant visas. More than 100 people wanted for questioning in the Sept. 11 attacks have been arrested on immigration charges, including staying longer in the country than their visas allowed.

A plan for a computerized system to catalog each entry and exit at the nation's borders was reduced last year after it was declared cumbersome and harmful to commerce.

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Immigration reforms needed to ensure the nation's security have assumed a new urgency in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Analysts cited in the Monday, Sept. 24 issue of The New York Times say that the country's immigration policy likely will change in subtle but lasting...
Monday, 24 September 2001 12:00 AM
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