- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The United States has not yet tightened the asylum system and eliminated the ability of terrorists to obtain key documents such as driver’s licenses, the September 11 commission’s expert on terrorist travel is expected to tell Congress today.

“Weaknesses in the U.S. border still exist,” Janice L. Kephart, counsel to the commission, will tell two Senate subcommittees today, according to prepared testimony obtained by The Washington Times.

“Terrorists will continue to successfully enter the United States, because we still lack adequate technologies; integrated information systems that house biometric travel histories of visitors and immigrants; and specialized training in terrorist travel tactics.”

Although she doesn’t endorse a specific bill, her strong endorsement of further action on driver’s licenses and asylum comes as House Republicans are putting pressure on the Senate to pass the Real ID Act, which includes provisions both to restrict asylum claims and to set national standards for identification that would be used for federal purposes such as boarding an aircraft.

Ms. Kephart says that terrorists know how important it is to obtain government-issued identification such as driver’s licenses. This was a clear part of the September 11 hijackers’ strategy.

“If our issuing regime had been tighter in other ways, such as demanding more secure documentation before the identification could be issued, or limiting the issuance of a driver’s license to more permanent U.S. residents, more of the 9/11 terrorists would have had difficulty obtaining a driver’s license or other state identification,” she says. “This, in turn, would have made it more difficult for them to travel, plan, meet, case, finance and carry out the attacks.”

They might have had to show screeners their Saudi or Lebanese passports, for example, which could have triggered greater scrutiny under which their box cutters and pepper spray could have been detected.

Ms. Kephart will testify before the immigration and terrorism subcommittees of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which are holding a joint hearing presided over by subcommittee Chairmen John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Immigration and border security continue to be contentious issues, particularly since the Senate and President Bush forced House Republicans to drop immigration and border security provisions from the intelligence overhaul bill that passed last year. Senators argued that the bill was to implement the September 11 commission’s recommendations for the intelligence community, not the immigration and border security measures.

Though Ms. Kephart says she isn’t testifying on behalf of the commission, as its expert on border security and terrorist travel, her remarks will inevitably help House Republicans’ maneuvers for immediate action on the driver’s license and asylum provisions, which the House passed again as part of the Real ID Act last month. The House is sending those provisions over as part of the war on terror emergency spending bill, and Republican leaders said they will insist that the Senate pass them as part of the final compromise bill.

Opponents of the legislation say it could become, in effect, a national ID card and will discourage immigrants’ cooperating with law enforcement officers. Many lawmakers say any action on document and border security should come as part of a broader debate over how and whether to legalize the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States.

Ms. Kephart is now at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, where she has conducted a study of 118 persons indicted on or convicted of charges related to terrorism.

She says of those, 23 who “lacked proper travel documents or sought to avoid deportation” turned to claims of political asylum — including some who only made their asylum claim after deportation proceedings were initiated against them.

She blames abuses of the asylum process on decisions by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which she says handles one-third of annual asylum cases. That court’s precedents have made it easier to win a claim.

The court’s case law specifically says a plaintiff can claim persecution in his home country based on that country’s thinking he is a terrorist. Ms. Kephart found 25 attempts at “sham marriages,” including 18 that were successful in winning legal permanent residence or naturalization.

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