Baltimore Sun, November 21, 2001
WASHINGTON - Immigration policy cannot prevent terrorism, but it is a key
ingredient of the effort to combat terrorism.
In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service received legislative authority to hold unauthorized
foreigners with links to terrorists for up to seven days. Congress is
considering more changes in immigration law and procedures to fight
The pressure to adopt restrictive measures on the admission of foreigners
will be strong, considering that the U.S. government gave most of the Sept.
11 hijackers permission to enter the country, although some of their visas
expired before that fateful date.
About 40 percent of the estimated 8 million unauthorized aliens in the
United States similarly entered with seemingly valid visas but did not abide
by their terms, either staying after expiration of their visas or working in
the country illegally. The remaining 60 percent entered the country
Already, commuter lanes along the border with Canada and Mexico have closed.
Proposals have been made to require all foreigners to obtain visas, even
those from European and other countries with low rates of visa abuse and
reciprocal policies that waive visa requirements for Americans. Foreign
student programs are under attack, and proposals for amnesty for Mexicans
working illegally in the United States are on hold.
Immigration restrictions will not enhance security and may, in some cases,
undermine the ability to identify and deter the entry of terrorists. The
behavior of the Sept. 11 hijackers exposed four problems in U.S. immigration
policy and procedures:
First, it appears that many of the hijackers received visas to enter the
United States as tourists or students. The computerized "lookout" systems
used in visa processing and inspections at airports did not flag them as
Second, some of the hijackers violated the terms of their visas but were
able to remain with impunity in the United States.
Third, even if they had been denied visas, the hijackers could have entered
the United States with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who cross the
Fourth, there was little cooperation between countries that might have
pointed immigration authorities to the looming terrorism.
Many of these problems can be addressed with targeted policy changes:
*Add well-trained and experienced visa and inspections staff and give them
computerized systems that screen applicants for admission against
intelligence data on terrorists. The National Automated Immigration Lookout
System (NAILS) should be capable of matching not only names, which can be
easily changed, but also such biometrics as facial characteristics.
*Improve the sharing of information about suspected terrorists. NAILS would
be more effective if it contained information from the FBI's National Crime
Information Center, the major U.S. criminal database.
*Deploy more effective and efficient electronic entry-exit control systems
that would track people admitted under temporary visas. Commuter lanes,
which use sophisticated technology to detect fraud, allow pre-screening of
frequent border crossers and allow enforcement resources to focus on unknown
applicants for admission.
The United States and Canada should harmonize visa and inspection policies
to jointly fight the movements of terrorists.
*Enhance the security of passports, visas, drivers' licenses and other
identifying documents. Since Sept. 11, there have been calls for a national
identification card. Other democracies have such cards, ranging from a
voluntary system in France to a compulsory card that must be carried in
Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain.
*Increase efforts to combat smuggling and trafficking operations that could
be used by terrorist organizations to move people secretly. If the United
States continues to tolerate large-scale unauthorized migration to supply
low-wage workers to American businesses, it will be hard to extirpate
Sept. 11 is likely to join Dec. 7 as a defining date in U.S. history. We
don't need to commit another one to memory.
Philip Martin, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of
California at Davis, was on the U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers from
1989 to 1993. Susan Martin, director of the Institute for the Study of
International Migration at Georgetown University, was executive director of
the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform from 1993 to 1998. They are not
Copyright (c) 2001, The Baltimore Sun