- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Congress is preparing for a flood of immigration legislation designed to solve problems that have been in the spotlight since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Proposals, which lawmakers are likely to take up early next year, include the creation of a centralized database of noncitizens' movements and the introduction of biometric technologies to aid in the identification of potential terrorists.

The legislation also aims to foster better coordination among the State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FBI and other federal agencies that work on counterterrorism policy but have carried on turf wars for years.

"One of the issues today is that the CIA does not share with the INS and the FBI," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee.

Efforts to reform immigration laws have been driven by the widespread belief that closer coordination between law-enforcement and immigration authorities could have prevented the attacks. Six of the 19 hijackers involved in the terrorist attacks had expired visas.

Mr. Kennedy yesterday introduced legislation with seven other senators and several House members. Additionally, Sens. John Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, plan to introduce similar legislation within the next few days, according to Mr. Kyl's spokesman.

On the House side, Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, is readying legislation to reorganize the INS.

"There is a certain angst out there among politicians that this issue could bite them in the behind in November," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that has favored tougher immigration laws.

A main thrust of the Senate legislation is to have intelligence agencies give information about potential terrorists to border authorities. For example, the bill requires the State Department, the INS and the CIA to set up a unified database for tracking foreign nationals, especially when they enter and exit the country.

"The war on terrorism is in large part a war of information," said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.

Mr. Kennedy said the cost of the bill has not been determined but added that some spending would be offset by higher fees for visa applicants.

It also directs the agencies to examine biometric technologies that identify a person through an unalterable body part, such as fingerprints or retinas.

The Senate bill also proposes a major investment in staff and technology, especially for the INS and the State Department, which issues visas through its overseas consulates. For starters, it waives the statutory limit on how many agents the INS can hire and raises their pay and benefits.

The legislation also would clamp down hard on visa applicants from countries that the State Department says support terrorism. That list currently includes Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan.

The bill also aims to slap more safeguards on the granting of student visas. The anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush already places restrictions on foreign students, but this bill would add a measure to track students once they are in the United States.

Mr. Gekas plans to focus his efforts on the INS, which has primary responsibility for processing visas and then tracking immigrants and visitors once they are in the United States. Those measures could include additional staffing, technology and tougher mandates to scrutinize visa applicants before they arrive in the United States, all steps that will require additional funding.

"No matter how we reorganize, it will cost additional money," Mr. Gekas said.

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