- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A federal loophole is blocking the deportation of terrorism suspects once the State Department has revoked their visas.

Under current rules, a visa revocation does not require the person to leave the United States, nor does it constitute a reason for deportation.

Homeland Security officials have complained to congressional panels that they don’t have the authority to deport aliens holding revoked visas. The General Accounting Office said “30 individuals whose visas were revoked on terrorism grounds entered the United States either before or after the revocation and may still remain in the country.”

Key lawmakers have asked Bush administration officials to fix the problem immediately, by bureaucratic means or by suggesting actions Congress could take.

The State Department has authority over the issuance and revocation of visas. Catherine Barry, managing director of the office of visa services, told the Senate Judiciary immigration, border security and citizenship subcommittee in a July 15 hearing that officials are studying the problem.

The House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations had held a hearing on the same matter June 18.

“We are reviewing our revocation policy again, consistent with Ms. Barry’s commitment at the hearing,” said Paul V. Kelly, State Department assistant secretary of legislative affairs, in a July 17 letter to congressional leaders.

Not satisfied with the administration’s response, Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who is chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on July 22, urging immediate action.

“In all honesty, members left both hearings with their questions unanswered and frustrated that officials are not getting the job done,” the lawmakers said.

“The visa-revocation certificate the State Department forwards to Homeland Security does not give any legal grounds to remove the revoked visa-holder. The language on the current certificate is a legal anachronism, a nicety of a simpler age. It must be addressed,” the letter said.

The letter offered Mr. Ridge and Mr. Powell several options.

If a memorandum of understanding between the departments was needed, the lawmakers asked the departments to complete it. If a legal opinion was necessary, the departments were asked to provide it. Or, if a statutory change was needed, the departments should provide legislative language.

“Suspected terrorists could be sitting right under our noses. The Department of Homeland Security has assured me this will be addressed, but the State Department keeps putting up red tape,” Mr. Grassley said yesterday in a written statement to The Washington Times.

“When it comes to the security of the United States, there should be no excuse to wait any longer to fix this loophole … terrorists and their sympathizers still want to cause harm to the United States.”

Mr. Shays called the revocation process a “trifurcated bureaucratic shuffle with little imperative for corrective action.”

“The Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice bring disparate practices, informal customs and clashing cultures to what should be a seamless process. As a result, one available screen against potentially violent invaders remains dangerously porous, leaving Americans avoidably vulnerable to terrorists in our midst,” Mr. Shays said during the June 18 House hearing.

Mr. Chambliss said the State and Homeland Security departments, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, still are not sharing information on who is in the country.

“We have to do a better job of doing that, and we’ve got to do it in a hurry,” he said. “Information-sharing between various agencies, particularly intelligence information on suspected terrorists, is key to preventing and thwarting future terrorist attacks.”

Tom Costa, a member of the Government Reform subcommittee staff, said it will take “careful language crafting” to fix the problem.

Even though a revoked visa does not create grounds for deportation, visitors still have the option of dragging out the legal process through multiple appeals.

“The question is how to change the law so the revocation of the visa will allow for removal of aliens without denying them their rights,” Mr. Costa said. “It has to be fixed; it’s how we get there and make sure that we do it properly so we don’t open up other problems.”

The lawmakers said they hope to have answers from the departments by the end of this week.

“We’re expecting to hear good news Friday,” Mr. Costa said. “We don’t expect answers, but at least some motions, and not just bureaucratic motions.”

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