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Doors left open to terror threat

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Doors left open to terror threat

U.S. still lacks a system to track entry and departure of foreign visitors

By STEWART M. POWELL

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

June 13, 2011, 5:22AM

WASHINGTON — Nearly a decade after five suicide hijackers with expired U.S. visas helped 14 comrades carry out the Sept. 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security and Congress have yet to come up with a fail-safe way to check foreign visitors in and out of the U.S., leaving an unknown number unaccounted for inside the country.

A 14-month inquiry by Congress' investigative Government Accountability Office concluded the absence of a state-of-the-art system to track visitors' departures with fraud-proof biometrics such as digital fingerprints is leaving the nation exposed to potential attack by individuals who legally enter through 327 airports and other ports of entry - and then stay beyond expiration of the routine six-month visitor visa.

As many as 5.5 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States may be individuals who have overstayed legal visas, according to estimates cited by the GAO. During the six years from 2005 through 2010, immigration authorities checked in 134 million visitors - 36 million from countries requiring U.S. visas and 98 million from 36 countries in the visa wavier program, such as France, the Czech Republic, Japan and Australia.

"A critical element of national security in this global age is keeping track of visitors to our country," declared Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican. "Our law enforcement officials must have every tool at their command to locate these individuals who no longer have the legal right to be in the U.S. Anything less brings complacency and the very real danger that terrorists find new ways to attack our nation."

Once inside the country, visitors face little scrutiny. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, devotes barely 3 percent of its investigative time to overstay investigations. Authorities conducted 34,700 overstay investigations during the past seven years, leading to 8,100 arrests, congressional investigators found.

Challenging task

Penalties for overstaying range from a three-year ban on returning to the U.S. for those who overstayed less than six months to a 10-year ban for those who exceeded a year.

"Identifying overstays is challenging, particularly given that in the absence of biometric departure data, DHS must rely on biographic information" provided on paper departure forms, congressional investigators said in a 71-page report.

Terrorism convictions by the Justice Department since the 9/11 attacks underscore the potential threat.

Of 399 individuals convicted of terror-related charges over the past nine years, 68 were foreigners illegally in the U.S., including 36 who entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas.

Last week's Internet video call to arms by a U.S.-born Muslim convert based in Pakistan illustrates the potential challenge. Adam Yahiye Gadahn. 32, a native of Orange County, Calif., now on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists, urged Muslims in the United States to obtain firearms to wage a "jihad against America."

"America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms," Gadahn said. "So what are you waiting for?"

'A gaping hole'

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's oversight panel, called visa overstays "a gaping hole in national security," adding: "Considering this is a commonly used method for terrorists to remain in the United States untracked to plot attacks from inside our borders, this administration needs a much greater sense of urgency to put a system in place."

Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee panel with jurisdiction over homeland security, said authorities must have "a verifiable way of identifying and locating anyone who overstays their visa so we're not vulnerable to attacks from within."

Federal law enforcement agents are devoting hard-pressed resources targeting illegal immigrants and visitors with expired visas who are national security threats, convicted criminals or other threats to public safety rather than every person who overstays, says Matt Chandler, spokesman for DHS.

The GAO findings appear to suggest the nation faces a greater threat of terrorists infiltrating through airports than across the Southwest border. Security along the Southwest border has been at the core of political posturing over immigration reform, particularly in Texas.

"There is a big emphasis on the border," says Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's panel on border security. "But we cannot put all the barriers on the border and then have those people come in the legal way and overstay."

Chandler says DHS continues to have trouble developing a cost-effective way to quickly match the digital records of arriving visitors with the paper records of departing visitors. A series of studies and pilot projects since 2003 demonstrates that technology exists but costs are high - up to $13 billion over 20 years.

10 years later

After revelations that the 19 suicide hijackers had entered the United States legally with foreign passports and U.S. visas 33 times at 10 airports, the independent 9/11 commission called for immediate installation of a biometric entry-exit screening system to unmask false identities that prospective terrorists might use to evade law enforcement watch lists at airports.

"It is unacceptable that nearly 10 years after 9/11 we still have no way of knowing with any certainty who is in our country," said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. He cited the case of Jordanian Hosam Smadi who overstayed his visa "and nearly succeeding in blowing up" a 60-story Dallas skyscraper in 2009 before being arrested, pleading guilty and being sentenced to 24 years in prison.

IS AMERICA SECURE?

A federal report says the U.S. does not have a fail-safe way to track foreigners who overstay their visas.

11 million: Estimated undocumented foreigners in the U.S.

5.5 million: Estimated number of those who have overstayed visas.

134 million: Visitors who entered the U.S. from fiscal years 2005 through 2010.

68: Foreigners convicted of terror-related crimes, including 36 with expired visas.

U.S. General Accounting Office

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/7607655.html


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Ecuador
Timeline
The article has a lot of misinformation.
Si, man; same thing struck me as I read the print edition this morn.

Would we (and, if so, why would we) insult a dead fish by wrapping it in the Houston Chronicle?


06-04-2007 = TSC stamps postal return-receipt for I-129f.

06-11-2007 = NOA1 date (unknown to me).

07-20-2007 = Phoned Immigration Officer; got WAC#; where's NOA1?

09-25-2007 = Touch (first-ever).

09-28-2007 = NOA1, 23 days after their 45-day promise to send it (grrrr).

10-20 & 11-14-2007 = Phoned ImmOffs; "still pending."

12-11-2007 = 180 days; file is "between workstations, may be early Jan."; touches 12/11 & 12/12.

12-18-2007 = Call; file is with Division 9 ofcr. (bckgrnd check); e-prompt to shake it; touch.

12-19-2007 = NOA2 by e-mail & web, dated 12-18-07 (187 days; 201 per VJ); in mail 12/24/07.

01-09-2008 = File from USCIS to NVC, 1-4-08; NVC creates file, 1/15/08; to consulate 1/16/08.

01-23-2008 = Consulate gets file; outdated Packet 4 mailed to fiancee 1/27/08; rec'd 3/3/08.

04-29-2008 = Fiancee's 4-min. consular interview, 8:30 a.m.; much evidence brought but not allowed to be presented (consul: "More proof! Second interview! Bring your fiance!").

05-05-2008 = Infuriating $12 call to non-English-speaking consulate appointment-setter.

05-06-2008 = Better $12 call to English-speaker; "joint" interview date 6/30/08 (my selection).

06-30-2008 = Stokes Interrogations w/Ecuadorian (not USC); "wait 2 weeks; we'll mail her."

07-2008 = Daily calls to DOS: "currently processing"; 8/05 = Phoned consulate, got Section Chief; wrote him.

08-07-08 = E-mail from consulate, promising to issue visa "as soon as we get her passport" (on 8/12, per DHL).

08-27-08 = Phoned consulate (they "couldn't find" our file); visa DHL'd 8/28; in hand 9/1; through POE on 10/9 with NO hassles(!).

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The stats came from the GAO. It doesn't get much more official than that. Is that the misinformation you're talking about?


Русский форум член.

Ensure your beneficiary makes and brings with them to the States a copy of the DS-3025 (vaccination form)

If the government is going to force me to exercise my "right" to health care, then they better start requiring people to exercise their Right to Bear Arms. - "Where's my public option rifle?"

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Filed: Timeline

The stats came from the GAO. It doesn't get much more official than that. Is that the misinformation you're talking about?

No. The policy information. Eg: "routine six-month visitor visa"; and "three-year ban on returning to the U.S. for those who overstayed less than six months".


iagree.gif

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