Saturday, October 16, 2004

The House bill to enact many of the September 11 Commission’s recommendations, H.R. 10, is a more complete, appropriate package than its Senate counterpart.

It may be important to establish a “NID,” or national intelligence director, promote information-sharing and reconfigure various budget and policy authorities within the executive branch. But the Senate bill ignores a major part of the September 11 commission’s findings and recommendations relating to immigration.

Without addressing the still-vulnerable immigration loopholes, the Senate will have “done something” before the election. But it could amount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and appointing a new captain.

The commission’s staff report, “September 11 and Terrorist Travel,” illustrates the critical importance of the immigration component: “It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country.” As the Senate legislation shows far too well, “border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy,” the staff report said.

The commission recommendations included creating comprehensive, biometric-based, automated screening for all border crossings and airport entries. The commission also called for better border security standards for travel and entry at borders. This means US VISIT on steroids.

H.R. 10 makes it harder for aliens to cross the border with fake documents. House provisions will ensure the holder of valid documents is who he claims to be. Secure, legitimate identification will be required even for Mexicans and Canadians.

It’s crucial that all friendly nations cooperate: Al Qaeda and other terrorists are making concerted efforts to recruit non-Middle Eastern operatives and bring terrorists of many stripes across our borders. And terrorists are increasingly in league with gangs and other criminal organizations.

The House also squarely addresses the commission’s recommendation for securing identification documents. So-called “breeder documents,” particularly driver’s licenses, birth certificates and Social Security cards, aid and abet aliens in fabricating identities. The commission noted a “fundamental problem” is the lack of standards for those IDs.

H.R. 10 sets federal standards that state-issued ID documents must meet for federal agencies to accept them. This will certainly cramp the style of terrorists, who rely on bogus IDs. These common-sense measures will also help prevent identity theft, and benefits fraud and abuse.

The commission report proved how immigration system flaws and easy ID scams helped facilitate the terrorists’ jobs: “Three hijackers carried passports with indicators of Islamic extremism linked to al Qaeda; two others carried passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner. It is likely that several more hijackers carried passports with similar fraudulent manipulation. Two hijackers lied on their visa applications. Once in the United States, two hijackers violated the terms of their visas. One overstayed his visa. And all but one obtained some form of state identification. We know that six of the hijackers used these state-issued identifications to check in for their flights on September 11. Three of them were fraudulently obtained.”

Indeed, the September 11 Families for a Secure America has endorsed the House and not the Senate version precisely because of H.R. 10’s immigration-related and ID provisions. That these measures are central to fixing the problem is indisputable. The report said, “[A]buse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were working together to support terrorist activity.”

The House bill would plug gaping holes to stop asylum scams, more quickly remove illegal aliens from the country — a vastly underused tool, the commission said — and bulk up the US VISIT screening system. Terrorists would face much higher hurdles under H.R. 10.

However, neither bill adresses the commission’s call for increased cooperation between state, local and federal law enforcement. H.R. 2671, the CLEAR Act, and S. 1906, the Homeland Security Enhancement Act, would perfectly complement H.R. 10.

CLEAR and HSEA clarify the legal authority of local officers, enhance information-sharing up and down the line to the cop on the beat. And they provide federal support to local law enforcement. Including these measures in H.R. 10 would go far toward carrying out this critical commission recommendation.

Congress must not be satisfied with half-measures. The House bill should be enacted, immigration sections and all.


Coauthor of “The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform,” and adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute.

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