Bush likely to ask for stricter rules on immigration

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

For educational purposes only

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/09/20/MN137611.DTL Bush likely to ask for stricter rules on immigration Congress may tighten veritable open-door policy

Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer Thursday, September 20, 2001


As federal investigators searched yesterday for anyone connected to last week's terrorist attacks, all signs point to a tightening of U.S. immigration policies.

The Bush administration is expected to ask Congress for broad measures to restrict those coming into the country -- and to detain those already here.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said immigration reform, including keeping better track of who is allowed to enter the country, is among the most critical steps toward combatting terrorism.

"Despite everything we have done to secure borders against illegal immigrants, our borders are still sieves," the California Democrat said.

But the flurry of proposals, experts say, is a clear case of slamming the door after the terrorists have easily walked through.

For many years, U.S. immigration policy has been something of an open portal, allowing people from all over the world to get visas from local U.S. embassies and then join the flood of legal immigrants landing daily at U.S. airports and then disappearing into the nation.

Only when the INS has received concrete advance information about possible troublemakers do federal agents step in and detain someone. And in the case of the 19 hijackers, who apparently did nothing to attract attention in the United States for the past several years, most entered the nation legally on tourist, business or student visas.

"Most of the people targeted by these investigations are not U.S. citizens, but they are here legally and they have the same privileges as U.S. citizens," said William Kinane, vice president of the international security company, Guardsmark, and former FBI counterterrorism chief for Northern California.

Those privileges, Kinane said, extend to easy and comfortable processing of visas by U.S. officials abroad for those coming to America. The visas have traditionally been fairly easy to get because U.S. companies and schools hunger for foreign workers with specialized skills or students willing to pay for an American education.

For years, Kinane said, with an eye toward the suspected terrorists who came to the United States for aviation training, "everyone has been putting pressure (on the United States) to loosen up the visa requirements, and all those schools want these students who come and pay $50,000 to learn how to fly. "

And no national system exists for monitoring immigrants who overstay a student visa or fail to enroll in classes.

Such was the case with suspected hijacker Hani Hanjour, who obtained a visa to study English but never showed up at the Oakland school where he enrolled.

Policies also allow for vague answers about whereabouts.

When asked where they were going to live in the United States, some of the suspects simply put on their visa applications addresses like "Marriott Hotel, New York," Kinane said, showing how easy it is to disappear in the U.S. once you have landed.

Such loose procedures may soon be a thing of the past.

Earlier this week, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Immigration and Naturalization Service has expanded its immigrant detention rules, allowing federal agents to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours without charging them with a crime. In cases of emergency, the INS can hold people for what appears to be an indefinite "reasonable period."

Ashcroft's proposals could also allow immigration officials to "certify" that a foreigner considered likely to commit terrorist acts be detained indefinitely -- or deported without evidence.

Immigration lawyers, however, say that many of the safeguards to keep terrorists out of the country are already available to government agents and have been used in the past.

"We have all the laws on the books right now to deal with any threat of terrorist activity," said Mark Van Der Hout, a San Francisco immigration attorney. "All the tools are available -- INS can prevent them from coming in and they can deport them under alien terrorist removal provisions, if they have evidence someone is involved in terrorist activity."

Robert Rubin, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, said he worries that "if there's indefinite detention (of immigrants) without charges, we are granting the government an awesome power not contemplated by the Constitution. This is the type of thinking that underlay the Japanese Americans' internment in World War II."

Chronicle staff writers Carla Marinucci and Marc Sandalow contributed to this report. / E-mail Michael Taylor at mtaylor@sfchronicle.com.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), September 20, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ