- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Bush administration, charged with making swift improvements in immigration security, has missed the mark on 13 of its deadlines, according to a report released yesterday.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president in 2002, mandated 22 benchmarks to improve the nation’s tracking of aliens.

The administration met nine of the deadlines but 13 were either not met on time or have yet to be implemented, says the report by the Center for Immigration Studies and Numbers USA Education and Research Foundation.

“The government still is not checking the names of all aliens from ‘visa waiver’ countries against terrorist watch lists at ports of entry, though it was required to do so immediately upon enactment of the visa tracking law,” the report said.

Checking the names of immigrants coming from the 27 countries with visa waivers against the watch list is a critical aspect of internal homeland security, said Steven A. Camarota of the center, “because two suspected terrorists who have been apprehended — Zacharias Moussoui and Richard C. Reid — came by way of France and England, two of the countries on the [visa-waiver] list.”

Both men were registered citizens of the two countries. In addition to every member of the European Union, also on the waiver list are Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Slovenia, and Brunei, a country under the rule of an Islamic monarchy.

Mr. Camarota said many of the failures can be attributed to the Bush administration’s refusal to spend money on new programs.

“The White House has insisted on implementing a massive government reorganization without providing the resources to finance it,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. “The president made a commitment to the American people when he signed the visa-tracking bill into law. He should live up to his commitment by investing the funds necessary to fully implement it.”

The report also said the administration failed to report any progress on the development of an integrated biometric database called “chimera.” And it has not established the nine-member commission required by law to oversee the development of the database.

“They simply haven’t cared enough to establish the commission and that wouldn’t have cost them a dime,” Mr. Camarota said. “It seems the administration has devoted the money to the war on terrorism, and are playing offense in that war, but on the other side regarding homeland security they are playing very little defense.”

The Department of Homeland Security disputed some of the study’s findings regarding its checks of aliens coming from the visa-waivered nations.

“Everyone is checked against the terrorist-watch databases,” said Bill Strassberger, spokesperson for Homeland Security. “What [the report] may be referring to is that the machine-readable-passport requirement for the visa-waiver countries was pushed back until next October.”

In addition to its criticisms, the report also highlights Homeland Security’s success in implementing the foreign exchange student-visa-tracking system.

“That was very important because we can now track when students arrive if they showed up and we can send our investigators out to pick that person up and we have done that,” Mr. Strassberger said.

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