A Nation of Immigrants Faces the Challenge

By Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Sam Brownback
December 6, 2001

As the nation tries to strengthen its laws to keep terrorists out, we must never forget that it faces this challenge as a nation of immigrants.

Immigration is a central part of our heritage and history. It is essential to who we are. Continued immigration is part of our national well-being, our identity, and our strength. In defending the nation, we are also defending the fundamental values that have made America strong. Congress and the administration are working together to provide the means for law enforcement to identify, apprehend, and detain potential terrorists, without compromising either our values or our economy. We must defeat terrorism without letting terrorism defeat our way of life. Our action must strike a balance between the need for strong law enforcement and our abiding commitment to civil liberties.

"Fortress America," even if it could be achieved, is an inadequate and ineffective response to the terrorist threat. Immigration is not the problem; terrorism is.

It is clear that we must take firm, intelligent, and effective steps to protect our borders and keep out those who mean us harm. However, to combat terrorism, we need not obstruct the entry of the more than 31 million foreign nationals who legally enter the United States each year as visitors, students, and temporary workers; nor need we frustrate the millions of others who cross legally from Canada and Mexico daily to conduct business or visit their families. We can take decisive steps toward securing our borders through enhancing intelligence on who is entering and leaving.

There is much more that Congress and the administration can do to apprehend potential terrorists before they act. Accurate and timely intelligence is critical. Federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain lookout lists containing the names of foreign nationals who should not be admitted to the United States. To prevent the admission of persons who are security risks, intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the FBI, must share critical information with the Department of State and the INS.

These two agencies should have electronic access to all lookout lists maintained by other agencies. In the war on terrorism, we cannot afford to have agencies hoard information, nor can we afford to have antiquated technology guarding our borders. We should increase funding and data access for the Department of State and INS to help increase the layers of protection that stand between us and our adversaries.

US consulates must be strengthened as the first line of defense against terrorists seeking immigration visas. Most foreigners traveling to the United States must apply for visas from US consulates. Too often, consular officers who screen visa applicants are junior personnel with little experience, and their screening often concentrates on detecting persons likely to overstay their visas? not whether they present a security risk.

New technologies can improve security. The current lookout system is defective.

Potential terrorists often use aliases and produce false or stolen identification. New biometric technology can match names with unique identifying characteristics of individuals. One of these technologies is a recognition system that uses cameras to scan a person's face and compare the picture with a database containing photos of persons on a lookout list. This is effective, affordable, and critical to our security.

North American cooperation is essential. The United States needs to increase coordination with Canada and Mexico to enhance the security of all three countries and to create a North America-wide perimeter. Each country should evaluate and upgrade the ability of its current systems to protect all three nations while facilitating the movement of goods and persons. We need to adjust our visa requirements to take into account one another's security concerns. We also need to cooperate more closely with our European allies and other nations and share information that our respective intelligence services collect.

Individuals need to be screened before they arrive in the United States. Screening travelers at their point of departure moves our security perimeter farther away from our borders and increases the likelihood of thorough security checks. We should require all international flights to transmit the names of their passengers to be checked against the lookout list prior to arrival.

Foreign nationals can be monitored more closely in the United States. Upon arriving in the United States, noncitizens complete an entry form that they are supposed to return when they leave the country. A 1996 law mandated development of an automated system to record entry and departure of noncitizens, but implementation has been delayed several times because the technology is costly. Clearly, these efforts have new urgency.

We can enhance our security and remain true to our immigrant tradition and history. As a nation of immigrants, we have achieved freedom together. Side by side, we will protect it together.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 01121431.