- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Is it worth having the federal government spend $16.8 million (President Bush's request for this year) to fund a federal border security program that has kept hundreds of criminals and terrorists from entering this country in the past four-and-a-half months? Given that the atrocities of September 11 were perpetrated by 19 foreigners who had little difficulty entering the United States and roaming the country at will, it makes sense to continue funding such a program as an insurance policy against future terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, Sens. Edward Kennedy and Russ Feingold believe such a program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), violates the civil liberties of immigrants, and have been working to kill it. And, thus far, they have been sneakingly successful in getting the Senate to agree.
Under NSEERS, which began operations on Sept. 11, 2002, male immigrants from North Korea and 24 majority-Muslim countries (among them Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia) must register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and be fingerprinted.
As columnist Michelle Malkin wrote in The Washington Times on Friday, the program has resulted in the capture of 330 known foreign criminals who attempted to enter the United States. At least six suspected terrorists have been detained as a result of the program, including two suspected al Qaeda operatives whose fingerprints matched ones from papers found in caves in Afghanistan by U.S. military forces. Also, NSEERS helped U.S. law-enforcement officials capture 21 illegal aliens already in this country who were wanted for committing felonies. Those captured through NSEERS included a Tunisian convicted of multiple drug-trafficking offenses, an Iranian convicted of child molestation and another Iranian who had been found guilty of narcotics possession.
But Messrs. Kennedy and Feingold, joined by such Arab organizations as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has a long history of support for the terrorist group Hamas, are determined to get rid of NSEERS. So, late on the evening of Jan. 23, Mr. Kennedy slipped an amendment, which passed by voice vote, into a $390 billion appropriations bill striking all money for the program. The Senate then voted 69-29 to pass its version of the massive appropriations bill.
Some Republican senators were unaware that the legislation they were voting on included the Kennedy amendment. Still others reluctantly voted for the bill because it contained funds for other homeland security initiatives, and they believe the Kennedy amendment will be eliminated in conference with the House, which does not have anti-NSEERS language in its version of the bill. The conference on the bill, which could begin later this week, could last several weeks. On the Senate side, Jon Kyl is expected to fight hard to have the Kennedy language stricken from the bill.
However, the Bush administration is sending mixed messages. While the administration supports NSEERS, it is unclear whether Mr. Kyl's efforts will receive unwavering support from the administration. The Justice Department which remains the parent agency of INS until March 1, when the latter moves into the new Department of Homeland Security has made virtually no public effort to lobby the Senate to kill the Kennedy language. This could be because Attorney General John Ashcroft may not want to publicize NSEERS for fear that terrorists would be tipped off. But, given the fact that Mr. Kennedy and groups like CAIR are making a determined effort to kill NSEERS, the program's existence is already public knowledge.
It's time for the Bush administration to demand that the Kennedy amendment be stripped from the appropriations bill, and work to ensure that the senators from Massachusetts and Wisconsin don't find another legislative vehicle to work their mischief.

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