A California Republican has introduced a new visa reform bill that would require the federal government to employ the latest technology to better categorize and track foreign visitors, including “machine-readable visas containing biometric information.”
According to a summary of the Visa Entry Reform Act, which was introduced Nov. 6 by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., if passed it would require the Homeland Security Office, in conjunction with other federal agencies, “to establish and supervise a single computerized database (lookout database) to screen and identify inadmissible or deportable aliens. …”
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.
The bill would also mandate that such information be made available to Immigration officials, the Customs Service, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
Among other provisions, the secretary of state would be required to establish a “Terrorist Lookout Committee” at each U.S. embassy, as well as develop – in conjunction with the attorney general’s office – a “SmartVisa” system that includes “machine-readable visas containing biometric information.”
Also, the bill would require that all U.S. passports be issued with “standard” biometric identifiers and that “air, land, or sea carriers arriving from a foreign country … provide the United States with specified crew and passenger manifest information prior to departure” to the U.S.
Foreign students from countries listed by the State Department as terrorist sponsors would be denied visas under the new law. And there are provisions calling for the government to expand the foreign student monitoring program.
The bill has 17 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims Nov. 27.
Immigration reform advocates and lawmakers seeking to strengthen U.S. domestic security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have applauded the measure.
“Our visa system is in shambles,” says Eagle Forum chairwoman and syndicated columnist Phyllis Schlafly.
All 19 Sept. 11 hijackers “entered the United States legally with tourist, business or student visas. This makes it clear that we have an even bigger problem with legal entry into our country than we do with illegal aliens,” she said.
Eagle Forum said the State Department grants over a half-million student visas each year, “even though student visas are known to be a tremendous source of fraud.” And in the past 10 years alone, the group said, “U.S. universities have enrolled 16,000 students from states that sponsor terrorism.”
Gallegly has been a longtime critic of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. On Monday, he demanded that Congress investigate whether the INS “dropped the ball” in allowing airport security companies to hire illegal immigrants as passenger screeners.
After a Sept. 20 hearing, Gallegly asked INS Commissioner James Ziglar for more specific figures about illegal immigrants working as screeners and what the agency was doing about it.
“They still cannot tell us to date after four months – four months – whether there’s been any effort made to find out how many individuals doing screening at [Washington, D.C's] Dulles [International Airport] were not American citizens,” the lawmaker told the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper Monday.
“And was there a criminal background check on the people screening? To me, these are legitimate questions,” he said.
In December, Gallegly asked his colleagues to vote against a measure “that would continue a huge loophole in the efforts to identify and remove terrorists from the United States.”
The legislation, popularly known on the Hill as Section 245(i), could be tacked onto the Visa Reform bill, Gallegly said. It would allow illegal aliens to obtain a green card without first returning to their native lands for a thorough criminal background check – which is contradictory to the main provisions of Gallegly’s bill.
“On the one hand, the legislation will dictate that immigrants to this country must undergo a strenuous background check in their homeland before getting a visa to enter the United States. On the other hand, it says those who already broke the law and are here illegally don’t have to undergo the same scrutiny,” he said Dec. 18 in a statement.
“Attorney General John Ashcroft and other administration officials have repeatedly warned that sleeper terrorist cells remain in this country,” he continued. “This is not the time to give terrorists and other criminals loopholes to infiltrate and attack our society.”
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., introduced legislation Nov. 2 that would help close foreign student visa loopholes, but Feinstein – bowing to pressure from lobbyists employed by universities and colleges, according to Schlafly – has since backed away from it.
“Sen. Feinstein’s proposal for a time-out was eminently reasonable, but the universities had enough clout to get her to abandon it and substitute requiring development of an electronic database by Oct. 26, 2003,” Schlafly said.
“Each year, there are 300 million border crossings in the United States. For the most part, these individuals are legitimate visitors to the nation, but the country lacks the ability to track all these visitors,” said a Nov. 2 statement issued by Feinstein.