- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. immigration agencies say counterterrorism is their primary mission, but they sought to deport only 12 persons on terrorism-related charges from 2004 to 2006, according to a private research study released yesterday.

That group of 12 represents an infinitesmal fraction of the 814,073 persons the government tried to remove from the country during those three years.

The study’s authors acknowledge the figure understates the counterterrorism effort by the Homeland Security Department’s immigration agencies. In addition, because no one knows how many terrorists are in the United States or tried to get in, there is no way to say whether the figure of 12 is too low, too high or about right.

“The right number is unknowable,” co-author David Burnham said in an interview. “But the budget and powers of this agency are influenced by all their talk and rhetoric about terrorism and criminals, and if that isn’t what they are doing, it should be considered by Congress and the public.”

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the study failed to appreciate record-setting enforcement totals.

“They seem not to grasp that immigration laws are a powerful authority in preventing security risks from setting foot on our soil,” Mr. Knocke said. “The vast majority of immigration violations are either going to be criminals or economic migrants who arrive illegally. But we’re tough for that off-chance one presents a national-security concern.”

Terrorists have been barred, Mr. Knocke said, and new tools to help are going into place. That includes getting data on travelers well before they arrive and improving security of travel documents.

Mr. Burnham is co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). The private research group at Syracuse University analyzed the work of two Homeland Security agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

TRAC analyzed records of the more than 200 immigration court judges employed by the Justice Department back through 1992 and the department’s records of criminal cases brought in U.S. district courts. The records were acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.

TRAC also found that a separate, broader category of national-security charges were brought to try to deport an additional 114 persons during the three years. Criminal charges such as human trafficking, drug dealing and other traditional crimes were used against 106,878, or 13 percent of those the government tried to deport.

The overwhelming majority of deportation cases — 86.5 percent — were based on traditional immigration violations, such as sneaking past border inspections, not having a valid visa or overstaying a student visa, TRAC said.

TRAC found that Homeland Security agencies were credited during the period with producing or assisting on only 31 of 620 criminal prosecutions in district courts against defendants whom prosecutors labeled international terrorists, domestic terrorists or terrorism financiers.

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