- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

House and Senate Republicans last week succeeded in restoring funding for a critical national security program that had been targeted for elimination by Sens. Edward Kennedy and Russ Feingold, who last month managed to slip into a $390 billion appropriations bill an amendment deleting funds for the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). However, don't be surprised if critics file a lawsuit in an effort to kill the program entirely.
Prior to NSEERS, rigorous registration and fingerprinting requirements were limited to people from four nations listed by the State Department as state supporters of terrorism: Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan. Since NSEERS began operations last fall, people from North Korea and 24 majority-Muslim countries (including Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, as well Syria and Lebanon) are required to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and be fingerprinted. The program has resulted in the capture of at least 330 foreign criminals and six suspected terrorists, including several al Qaeda members who attempted to enter the United States. Also, NSEERS helped U.S. law-enforcement officials capture 21 illegal aliens already in this country. Those captured include a Tunisian convicted of multiple drug-trafficking offenses, an Iranian convicted of child molestation and two suspected al Qaeda operatives whose fingerprints matched ones found in caves in Afghanistan by U.S. military forces.
The NSEERS program, which President Bush requested $16.8 million for this year, won approval in the House by a wide margin. But, late on the evening of Jan. 23, Mr. Kennedy slipped an amendment into the Senate version of the fiscal 2003 appropriations bill that would have cut off funds for NSEERS.
The Kennedy amendment was the culmination of an intense campaign against NSEERS by such groups as the ACLU, United Methodist Committee on Relief, National Council of La Raza and the Council on American Islamic Relations (a longtime support group for the terrorist organization Hamas), which complained that the program somehow violated the civil liberties of Muslims and other immigrants. Mr. Kennedy's amendment passed the Senate by a lopsided 69-29 margin because he craftily attached it to an amendment introduced by Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, Arizona Republicans, adding money for a larger U.S.-Mexico border security program.
When it became clear what Mr. Kennedy had done, Mr. Kyl with the support of the Bush administration and Republican House and Senate conferees successfully lobbied to restore funding for the NSEERS program, which was included in the final version of the bill signed into law by Mr. Bush. In restoring the NSEERS funding, Republicans added language requiring the attorney general and the new Homeland Security Department to provide more detailed information on NSEERS operations and how the data obtained from the program will be shared with other agencies.
Don't expect this, or any reasonable effort to fine-tune NSEERS, to be enough for Messrs. Kennedy and Feingold or the ACLU. Look for this issue to be coming to a federal district court near you sometime soon.


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