- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Congress has scrapped the creation of a system to track the comings and goings of the 29 million foreigners who enter the United States each year on temporary visas, more than 11 million of whom never go home.

The House and Senate last week passed legislation repealing a section of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act that required the government to develop an automated system for recording when every alien arrives and leaves the United States.

In its place, Congress is demanding that the attorney general use information the INS already collects to build an on-line, searchable database of information about aliens.

The database must be accessible at all air, sea and ground ports of entry and is to be shared with U.S. consular offices and federal and state law enforcement agencies.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders, the Canadian and Mexican governments and various U.S. officials cheered the lawmakers for halting development of the system that they said would ruin international trade and would have been costly and difficult to implement.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, an associate director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said her group is "thrilled" the section was repealed.

"Our association was one of the first to recognize its potential [adverse] impact on trade and tourism. The INS never had the resources to create the required system. Creating the system and the process it would have required was ludicrous."

Congress enacted the measure despite earlier lamentations that foreigners regard U.S. temporary visa regulations as a joke and despite Immigration and Naturalization Service reports that more than 40 percent of visitors to this country never go home.

Various members of Congress have protested that the nation is unduly exposed to the undetected incursions of spies, of terrorists like those who bombed the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, and of killers like Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, the "Railway Killer."

Resendez-Ramirez, who had been deported three times, recently was convicted of numerous murders during illegal visits to the United States from Mexico.

Eileen Schmidt, an INS spokeswoman, says the availability of a database won't solve the problem of tracking "visa overstayers."

The new measure also requires creation of a task force of public and private representatives to evaluate and report how the United States can "improve the flow of traffic" at entry points.

President Clinton has indicated he will sign the legislation.

Members of the national and international business communities are relieved because they considered the original legislation Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act a huge nuisance. They predicted it would delay border crossings and raise the cost of doing business.

Dick Blouse, head of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce told the Associated Press, Section 110 would have created "economic chaos."

"There are 13,500 trucks a day that go back and forth between Detroit and Windsor [Ontario]. They estimate those trucks would have been backed up 17 hours" if Section 110 were enforced, Mr. Blouse said.

The INS has not come close to creating an effective tracking system, and in talking about it, INS officials were pessimistic that they could devise one. By all accounts, the situation now is just as it was three months ago.

At that time, Robert L. Ashbaugh, the Justice Department's acting inspector general, told the House committee with oversight over immigration: "The INS cannot identify individuals who have overstayed their visas nor can it adequately describe … the overstay population residing in the United States, such as countries of origin, occupations, and work sites where overstays are employed."

He added: "This has significantly hindered the INS' effort to develop an overstay enforcement plan. It also hampers Congress' ability to make informed immigration policy."

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