- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday announced new immigration regulations that will "expand substantially" America's scrutiny of foreign visitors, requiring the photographing and fingerprinting of visitors suspected of posing a threat to national security, mostly Middle Eastern men.
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System is part of a "first crucial phase" that will track in the first year nearly 100,000 foreigners who visit the United States.
Under immigration rules adopted in 1998, only foreigners from Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan currently must register with federal authorities and submit to photographing and fingerprinting.
The new system requires that those from countries identified as having the highest risk for terrorism be subjected to the same scrutiny. None of the nations was identified yesterday, but Justice Department officials acknowledged that it will be applied to additional Middle Eastern countries.
"On September 11, the American definition of national security changed and changed forever. A band of men entered our country under false pretenses in order to plan and execute murderous acts of war," Mr. Ashcroft said.
"Some entered the country several years in advance; others entered several months in advance. Once inside the United States, they were easily able to avoid contact with authorities and to violate the terms of their visas with impunity."
He told reporters at a press conference that terrorists relied on evading recognition at the U.S. border and on escaping detection once inside the United States, and made clear the "vulnerabilities of our immigration system."
The new program requires fingerprinting and photographing at the border; the periodic registration of aliens who stay in the United States 30 days or more; and exit controls that will help the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) remove aliens who overstay their visas.
Eventually, Mr. Ashcroft said, the government will evaluate individual visitors to gauge the risk of their involvement in terrorist activity, and will impose similar requirements on visitors who fall into categories of elevated national security concern.
The INS and the State Department will work together to identify those individuals who could be deemed as potential terrorist threats before their entry into the United States.
The Ashcroft announcement was criticized by several civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which said that the plan to fingerprint, photograph and track visitors to this country was discriminatory and would be ineffective.
"The Bush administration is, step by step, isolating Muslim and Arab communities both in the eyes of the government and the American public," said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU legislative counsel. "This latest move needs to be seen in the larger context of all the actions targeted at people of Middle Eastern descent since September 11."
The ACLU also questioned whether the plan would increase national security. "It's pretty obvious this plan won't work at anything except allowing the government to essentially 'pick on' people who haven't done anything wrong but happen to come from the administration's idea of the wrong side of the global tracks," said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU immigrants' rights project.
"Selective enforcement of any law based on unchangeable characteristics like race, ethnicity or national origin is at its core un-American."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the plan, saying it indiscriminately targeted Muslim and Arab nationals. He said it was proposed without any consultation with Congress and did little to provide protection against terrorism.
"It will give U.S. government officials unfettered discretion to use secret criteria to decide who should be registered in a data base we usually reserve for terrorists and criminals," he said, and "further stigmatize innocent Arab and Muslim visitors, students, and workers who have committed no crimes and pose no danger to us."
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the plan a "reasonable first step" in regaining control over an immigration system he called "out of control."
"These actions are the first steps that the department is taking in connection with a comprehensive entry-exit program, mandated by Congress, which will enable the United States to record the entry of aliens into the United States and identify those aliens who have violated our laws by failing to depart our country."
Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, also lauded the plan, although he urged Mr. Ashcroft to require registration of foreign visitors to the United States overseas when they first apply for a visa. "Entrance into the United States is not a guaranteed right. We need to require all people who want to come to the United States from a country proven to sponsor terrorism to register before they even think of getting on a plane or boat." Mr. Foley has co-sponsored legislation dismantling the INS.
"All people, whether American or not, must realize that times have changed. It may not be pretty, and it may not be convenient, but we will defend Americans at any cost. We have to eradicate the cancer at the source, and that's in the terrorists' back yards."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there was "no question" that existing laws "allow the United States government to protect the American people." President Bush "knows we can take action to protect people that is fully in accordance with protecting civil rights and civil liberties."
Mr. Ashcroft said the fingerprinting of foreigners is essential to the new system, adding that terrorists and criminals often attempt to enter the country using assumed names or false documents and passports. He said fingerprints "don't lie," and instant checks will be made at the border.
The 19 hijackers who crashed three jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon entered the country legally, although three had overstayed their visas at the time of the attacks.
Dave Boyer and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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