- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The State Department will remain in charge of issuing visas to foreigners wanting to come to the United States, under an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, it was announced yesterday.

“Consular officers, who work for the department, will continue to be the ones who actually issue visas at the embassies and consulates,” a State Department official told UPI on the condition of anonymity. “The secretary of homeland security will take the lead on visa policy.”

The agreement is outlined in a memorandum of understanding signed Friday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, but released late yesterday afternoon after President Bush approved it.

Mr. Ridge took responsibility for drafting regulations and policy in last year’s Homeland Security Act, which set up the department, after criticism was leveled at the State Department for issuing visas to the 19 suicide hijackers who killed more than 3,000 people on September 11.

The policy will come under congressional scrutiny today. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee subcommittee on immigration, said yesterday that the memo will be added to an already-scheduled hearing on visa issuance.

“There are areas that need questioning to make sure visa issuance is about homeland security,” spokeswoman Angie Lundberg told the Associated Press.

The State Department’s critics said that the deal would change little, as most of the functions now assumed by the Homeland Security Department already had been the province of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, one of the 22 agencies folded into the new department.

“Just like possession is nine-tenths of the law, so is enforcement,” said conservative commentator and columnist Joel Mowbray. “Visa policy doesn’t mean anything if the State Department is still in charge of issuing them.”

The memorandum’s other major change is that Homeland Security officers will be posted at some embassies to provide guidance to consular officials and will be able to review “particular visa applicants who raise homeland-security concerns.”

A spokesman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection — the relevant part of the Department of Homeland Security — did not return phone calls last night.

A handful of officers from the Homeland Security Department have already been sent to Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers came from, said Stuart Patt, a spokesman for the State Department’s consular-affairs bureau.

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