- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Suspected terrorists are not kicked out of the United States after their visas are revoked, even though Congress last year asked the Department of Homeland Security to fix a legal loophole that has allowed more than 100 people with links to terrorism to skip deportation, according to a key lawmaker.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge that he is frustrated and concerned that “simple changes” have not been made since House and Senate hearings were held last July.

“It is amazing to me that such a simple and straightforward solution to such a dangerous and well-known problem continues to languish in the slow-moving bureaucracy,” Mr. Grassley said in a letter Tuesday.

The changes requested by Congress would allow government officials to question, detain or deport foreigners whose visas have been revoked for reasons linked to terrorism.

“Promises were made, but the promises have not been kept. As a result, we continue to be at risk,” Mr. Grassley said.

Officials in the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department and State Department are examining laws and regulations already on the books to address the problem. Under current law, visitors cannot be automatically detained if they are “in status” with their admittance.

For example, if a visitor on a three-month visa has been in the country for six months, he or she is “out of status” and can be deported. However, if the visitor has only been in the United States one month, he or she is obeying the rules and is “in status.”

The State Department originally had authority over the issuance and revocation of visas, but in an agreement reached last September, the responsibility of visa policy was transferred to Homeland Security (DHS).

“Once DHS learns of a visa revocation, it immediately authorizes an investigation of the individual whose visa has been revoked. Such investigations are a high priority for DHS,” said spokesman Bill Strassberger.

“We have to assess the risks involved and take action if it’s appropriate,” Mr. Strassberger said.

“The bottom line is, we are trying to do what we can within constraints, but we are working with other departments and looking at the possible legal and regulatory avenues available,” he said.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, has scheduled a July 6 hearing to review how the government is addressing the issue.

“Visa revocations remain a bureaucratic, disjointed process,” Mr. Shays said. “As a result, one available screen against potentially violent invaders remains dangerously porous, leaving Americans avoidably vulnerable to terrorists in our midst.”

Mr. Grassley said he expected a simple administrative fix by rewriting revocation rules, which was recommended by the General Accounting Office.

The June 2003 GAO report said 100 visitors were granted visas that were later revoked because of evidence the persons had links to terrorists.

“Some of us in Congress expected the government to fix this problem immediately, especially after GAO brought it to the attention of your department and other agencies,” Mr. Grassley told Mr. Ridge.

“Perhaps this expectation was naive,” he said.

Mr. Grassley suggested that if the agencies cannot find a way to solve the problem, Congress would take legislative action.

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