- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

If the intelligence reform bill has any chance of passage when Congress returns to the Capitol this week, it must meet all the goals outlined by the September 11 commission’s comprehensive report, not just the few selected by the Senate. Specifically, it will have to address illegal immigration as a national security threat.

“The challenge for national security in an age of terrorism is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering or remaining in the United States undetected,” the September 11 commissioners wrote.

The September 11 Recommendations Implementation Act as passed by the House of Representatives on Oct. 8 would have gone a long way toward meeting that challenge. The House-Senate compromise would not. That’s why a solid majority of Republican House members refused to support it the week before Thanksgiving, forcing leadership to pull it from consideration. This is Congress’ best opportunity to reform our laws to make the nation safer. It’s critical Congress do it right.

Prior to September 11, 2001, the nation lacked the will to stop terrorists from coming to the United States through our ports of entries — our airports, docks and border crossings. Prior to September 11, the nation lacked the will to apprehend terrorists trying to cross our borders undetected or who, once inside, masqueraded as students, truck drivers or tourists.

While the compromise bill would have enhanced our ability to stop terrorists from entering through our ports, senators refused to increase our ability to stop terrorists from sneaking across our borders amid the throngs of illegal immigrants looking for work, refused to make it harder for terrorists to obtain U.S. identification, and continued hamstringing our efforts to detect and remove terrorists from the United States.

For example, the September 11 commission cited gaping loopholes in our nation’s documentation system that enable terrorists to live, rent safe houses, open bank accounts, rent cars, board airplanes, and otherwise live clandestinely in the United States. It is critical to the country’s security that we institute reforms to ensure only secure identifications confer access to our banking, transportation, and other critical infrastructure.

At least two provisions in the House bill that were dropped by House-Senate conferees specifically addressed that concern. One would have banned federal agencies from accepting identification issued by foreign governments, except for passports. That language was watered down to only restrict the types of identification acceptable to board domestic flights. The changed language would not stop terrorists from using easily forged foreign IDs to open bank accounts to finance their schemes or launder money, nor would it ban them from entering federal buildings or nuclear sites.

The other provision would have barred states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. As House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner noted, the 19 September 11 hijackers had 63 different driver’s licenses, which allowed them total access to American society.

Other provisions stripped from the bill would have made it more difficult for foreigners to obtain asylum in the United States and would have allowed detention of dangerous foreigners who are not deportable. Provisions that expedited removing illegal immigrants, increased interior enforcement of our immigration laws and restricted the excessive judicial review of the deportation of criminal immigrants were also gutted.

As the September 11 commission realized, searching for a small group of terrorists among the millions of other illegal immigrants in our country is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. The smaller we make the haystack, the easier it will be to find the needle — or a dirty bomb al Qaeda may try to sneak across our border.

The intelligence reform bill has numerous valuable provisions, including many I wrote dealing with preventing terrorist travel. However, passage of the “compromise” would still leave gaping and unacceptable holes in our security net.

Pulling the bill from consideration should serve as a wake-up call to those who wish to weaken our immigration laws while we are under the threat of terrorist attack. The overwhelming majority of House Republicans sent a clear message: The GOP is still the party of law and order. Failure to crack down on lawlessness has never made us safer.

That is the message we will continue sending this week.

Elton Gallegly, California Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, chairman of the International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights subcommittee and a member of the Permanent Select Intelligence Committee.

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