- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

A Republican congressman wants travelers to and from the Caribbean to carry passports, citing lax travel rules that allowed a Washington-area sniper suspect to smuggle dozens of illegal aliens into this country.

Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said he has begun the “educational process” that he hopes will persuade Congress to close what he called an immigration loophole.

“The seriousness of this problem cannot be understated,” Mr. Hostettler said. “As this subcommittee has learned from its investigations since September 11, alien terrorists are adept at identifying and taking advantage of the weakness in our immigration system.”

One of those weaknesses, Mr. Hostettler said, is an exemption for international travel in portions of the Western Hemisphere. The United States does not require a passport for travel from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

In late 2002, agents from the Office of Special Investigations, a division of the General Accounting Office, forged driver’s licenses and birth certificates and used them to gain entry to and from Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico and Canada.

“[Customs agents] never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and our agents encountered no difficulty entering the country using them,” said Robert J. Cramer, managing director of the OSI.

The fake documents were produced on home computers, he said, using software widely available.

In December, the government of Antigua released a two-month investigation into the history of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad’s activity there and discovered he was shuttling illegal aliens from the island to the United States from as early as April 2000 to March 2001.

Two of the persons he brought to the United States illegally were his suspected partner in the shootings, Lee Boyd Malvo, and Mr. Malvo’s mother.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, now 18, face capital murder charges for the string of sniper attacks in the Washington area that killed 10 persons.

“Not withstanding the fact that Muhammad seems to have been barely literate, he systematically engaged in the production and sale of U.S. driver’s licenses with photographs and corresponding birth certificates,” said John E. Fuller, a lawyer with dual Antiguan and American citizenship who testified to the committee on behalf of the government of Antigua.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, said she was concerned that requiring passports for Caribbean travel might be an overreaction to both the sniper case and the threat of terrorism.

Mrs. Jackson-Lee said she was worried that a passport requirement was a “sledgehammer approach” that would adversely affect the tourism industry in both the United States and the Caribbean.

“Americans have enjoyed the flexibility of a getaway,” Mrs. Jackson-Lee said. “You can decide to go on noon on a Friday and be there that evening.”

Mr. Hostettler, however, said the travel rules are “something that terrorists can exploit.”

“A reasonable step would be to require a passport,” Mr. Hostettler said.

He declined to gauge the chances of a bill requiring passports reaching the House floor this year, calling yesterday’s hearing just the beginning of his effort.


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