INS agents: Ashcroft’s
visa-check plan flawed

By Paul Sperry

WASHINGTON – Immigration inspectors at the nation’s international airports are not pleased with the way Attorney General John Ashcroft is implementing his much-anticipated plan to monitor Middle Eastern visitors to ensure they don’t overstay their visas like three of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

They complain, for one, that he’s stationing inspectors far away from gates, making it hard for them to conduct what’s known as “controlled departures” of absconders.

Three of the 19 hijackers overstayed their one-year visas issued by the State Department. Ringleader Mohamed Atta even re-entered the U.S., at Miami International Airport, despite over-staying his previous visa.

“They want to have aliens from high-risk countries check in before they leave, but they want us to check them in nowhere near their gates,” said one Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector.

For example, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago – the nation’s busiest – the exit-control station is being set up next to a bar on the bottom level of the international terminal, WorldNetDaily has learned.

“Let’s say a Sudanese man is scheduled to fly out on the upper floor. Well, we’ll check him on the bottom floor before he goes upstairs and actually leaves,” said an INS inspector at O’Hare.

“That doesn’t make any sense to us,” he said. “How do we know he actually left?”

Sudan is among the five Mideast nations that Ashcroft, whose Justice Department oversees the INS, has designated as high risk. The others are Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Still missing, INS agents complain, are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Visitors from those countries will continue to go unmonitored under new rules.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, inspectors note. And many of the financiers and planners of the Sept. 11 attacks have been traced back to Pakistan.

The exit-control system – part of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, mandated by the Patriot Act – is set to go online Sept. 11 at major international airports around the country, although computer snags at the new exit-control stations may delay plans. Ashcroft wants all ports of entry – air, land and sea – to have the new system in place by Oct. 1.

Under the new system, INS inspectors, using digital scanners, will start fingerprinting all men between the ages of 18 and 45 entering the U.S. from the five high-risk Mideast nations. The data will be matched against the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System database of wanted felons and known terrorists.

The system is intended to help guard against terrorists traveling under false identities.

In addition to fingerprinting high-risk visiting aliens, the NSEERS program will require the same visitors to check in with the INS monthly to confirm where they are living and what they are doing in the U.S.

But inspectors see another flaw there.

“As if the bad guys are going to check in. As if they care!” said one officer. “I mean, give me a break.”

“So, yeah, it sounds good, but it’s close to ineffectual,” he added.

Asked about it, a Justice official, who requested anonymity, told WorldNetDaily that Arab nationals who fail to report to INS offices “will be immediately deported.”

That is, if they are picked up. Several thousand illegal aliens from the Mideast are still at large in the U.S., an INS official here told WorldNetDaily.

Arab nationals under new rules also are supposed to confirm their exit from the U.S. with INS agents.

But inspectors say Washington hasn’t provided enforcement authority for that rule, either – not even if they catch a departing high-risk Arab visitor on an expired visa.

“Hopefully we’ll do what’s called a controlled departure and make sure they get on that plane and get out of here, and ban them from re-entering,” the agent said. “But Washington is not telling us to do that.”

However, those caught overstaying their visas will be flagged in the law-enforcement database used by the INS and U.S. Customs Service, so at least a record of visa violators will be kept now.

Still, inspectors point out, it’s incumbent upon the State Department and its embassies in the Mideast to stop reissuing visas to absconders like Atta.

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