- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The U.S. government needs to do more to ensure that immigration officials can weed out potential terrorists trying to get into the country, say the nation’s top terror hunters.

The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center yesterday issued the unclassified version of its “National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel,” outlining key interagency policy initiatives designed to stop terror suspects from getting into the United States and to make it more difficult for them to travel internationally.

The report recommends increased information sharing about potential or suspected terrorists within the government — and with foreign allies.

“Building on current efforts,” the report recommends, the government “should … grant the appropriate security clearances to consular, Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers, and establish the required technical infrastructure to support the sharing of classified information on travelers with potential ties to terrorism.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection employs the inspectors who check foreigners’ papers at U.S. borders, ports and airports; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ staff grant benefits — such as the right to work or to settle — to foreigners who are in the country.

In recent months, lawmakers have peppered officials from the Department of Homeland Security, which houses both agencies, with increasingly urgent questions about whether officials making key decisions about which aliens to admit into the country or to grant immigration benefits to have enough access to classified terror watch-list information.

The symbol of justice is blindfolded, Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, said at a House hearing last month. “But imagine 40 percent of your [immigration] adjudicators actually wearing a blindfold instead of looking … to determine whether people are listed in the criminal and national-security information database.”

William Strassberger, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said he could not respond directly to the report because he had not had a chance to review it. But he said the agency checked all applications against the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list.

“There is always room for improvement, and we are always working to improve the access our people have to the information they need,” he said.

The question has become more urgent because the agency would be responsible for verifying the identities of undocumented workers under any plan to regularize their status. Several of the immigration reform proposals being considered in the Senate contain such plans.

The National Counterterrorism Center also makes a series of recommendations aimed at boosting U.S. cooperation with foreign allies — including Canada — in the war against terrorism.

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