[Congressional Record: November 1, 2001 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Kyl, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Hatch,
Mr. Thurmond, Mr. Bond, and Mr. Kohl):
S. 1627. A bill to enhance the security of the international borders
of the United States; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise to join with the distinguished
Senator from Arizona, who is my ranking member on the Technology and
Terrorism Subcommittee of Judiciary, to introduce a piece of
On October 12, the committee held a hearing on what could be done to
technologically improve our visa entry system. It has become very
clear, now that we know all 19 of the terrorists essentially had, at
some time, valid visas, that our system is such that it really cannot
countermand or alert our Government to any possible terrorist entering
this country legally through our visa system.
We have about 7 million nonimmigrants entering the U.S. a year. About
4 million of them disappear and are unaccounted for. We have 23 million
people coming in on visa waivers from 29 different countries. We have
an unregulated student visa program. And we also have about 300 million
people coming across borders back and forth. We have about 5 million
containers a year that come in through the ports of entry, fewer than 2
percent of them searched.
The ranking member, the distinguished Senator from Arizona, and I
have been very concerned about this. As a product of the hearing, we
believed that the most important thing we could do was create a
centralized data base, using cutting-edge technology, and also enabling
that data base to interface between our intelligence agencies, our law
enforcement agencies, and our State Department, to create a kind of
lookout data base so that the situation that happened--whereby in Saudi
Arabia 15 terrorists came in to the State Department consul's office
and got visas, and we were told there was no intelligence to alert the
system--would not, in fact, happen in the future. This legislation
would create that kind of centralized, integrated data base.
Additionally, we provide for a biometric visa smart card. We provide
that all Federal identity permit and license documents be fraud-
resistant and tamper-resistant. We provide for passenger manifests of
all commercial transportation vehicles to go into that data base,
again, so that it can alert the proper authorities about who is about
to come into the U.S. Law enforcement information, intelligence
information all combine to send certain signals.
We also provide regulation and school responsibility for the student
visa program. I am very pleased to indicate that Senator Kyl and I are
joined by Senators Kohl, Snowe, Hatch, Thurmond, and Bond.
I would like to now defer to my colleague from Arizona, the ranking
member of our Technology and Terrorism Subcommittee.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona.
Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I thank Senator Feinstein, the chairman of
the Technology and Terrorism Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee,
for her leadership both in the holding of the hearing that she
mentioned, as well as putting together the legislation we introduce
Something happened on September 11 that, with one exception, really
had not happened since the War of 1812 when British soldiers came into
the United States and literally attacked Americans on our own soil.
Except for the first attack on the World Trade Center, that did not
happen again until September 11, when over 6,000 people were killed by
foreigners who were here and attacked Americans in our country.
At that point, we began to realize that we had to begin to close the
loopholes in our immigration system that, frankly, were allowing just
about anybody and everybody to come into this country and, as we have
learned, to do some very bad things to Americans here in our own
So this legislation would do a variety of things, as Senator
Feinstein has said, beginning with the creation of a data base that
would enable us to know what the FBI knows, what the CIA knows, what
the INS knows, what the State Department knows.
Today, these different computers do not talk to each other, so that
when a consular officer is asked to grant a visa to someone, he may
have no information indicating this person should be denied the visa,
yet it is quite possible that person is not someone we would want to
have come into the United States.
In our hearing, the representative from the State Department said the
State Department personnel who granted visas to these 19 terrorists
She said it is like when a person hits the little kid who runs out
from between the parked cars. It obviously is not the driver's fault,
but you feel horrible about it. It is obviously not the fault of the
people in the State Department who granted these visas, but they felt
horrible about it because they didn't have the information to tell them
that those visas should have been denied.
This bill will enable us to put all of that information into one
simple database so that our consular offices will know to whom to grant
the visas and who should not receive them. It will make a lot of other
changes, as Senator Feinstein said, all of which are designed to gain
better for the process of admitting people into the country, for
knowing when they exit the country, for ensuring that people who come
here to study in fact come here and study and don't come on a pretext,
as at least one of these terrorists did, and a variety of other things
that take advantage of the technology we have today.
The great thing about this bill, as verified by the hearing and some
other very hard work Senator Feinstein has done on her own, is to
determine that the technology is here. We can apply technology to this
problem. The other piece of good news is that it doesn't cost that
much, relatively speaking. In fact, we are going to have to employ
technology to save money. We can't possibly hire enough people or take
all of the time it would take to do this if we don't employ technology.
We are very excited about the prospect of applying technology to a
new challenge here in America to close the loopholes in our immigration
law, to ensure or at least be a lot more sure that we are not letting
terrorists come into this country or stay in this country when they
shouldn't be here. I am proud to join my colleague Senator Feinstein in
the introduction of this legislation. I hope we can find a way very
early on to see that it gets considered in the proper fora so that the
full Senate will have an opportunity to support the legislation and
support the President, who has called for exactly this kind of
Mr. President, today, Senators Feinstein and I, joined by Senators
Snowe, Hatch, Thurmond, Bond, and Kohl, introduce the Visa Entry Reform
Act, legislation that will strengthen our U.S. visa system, and allow
better tracking and monitoring of foreign nationals in the United
States who present national security risks to our country.
Last week the President signed into law anti-terrorism legislation
that will provide many of the tools necessary to keep terrorists out of
the United States, and to detain those terrorists who have entered our
country. That law provides new, better definitions of what a terrorist
organization is, and provides the Attorney General greater authority to
detain members of such organizations. It clarifies that individuals who
have contributed to such organizations, even if such support went to
nonterrorist activities of the organizations, are inadmissible and
deportable. The new law also authorizes the tripling of Border Patrol,
Customs inspectors, and INS inspectors at the northern border, a
minimal addition, given the expected high rates of attrition for these
agencies over the next
five years, and the continued and growing need for personnel along the
Yesterday, the President announced three initiatives in our fight to
track down terrorists: a task force, headed by the deputy assistant
director of the FBI for intelligence, to work toward greater
coordination of intelligence and law enforcement information on
terrorists; a comprehensive study of our never-implemented foreign
student tracking system; and an initiative to provide much-needed
coordination among Customs and INS officials in the United States,
Canada, and Mexico.
These are all important tools, and will be instrumental in our
overall efforts to track down terrorists. The legislation that we
introduce today will complement our recent efforts. Under the Visa
Entry Reform Act of 2001, law enforcement, the Departments of
Transportation and State, and all of our intelligence agencies will be
connected by a comprehensive database, headed by the Director of
Homeland Defense, with necessary shared law enforcement and
intelligence information to thwart attempts to enter the country and to
find terrorists who have made their way into the United States.
Under our bill, terrorists will be deprived of the ability to present
fake or altered international documents in order to gain entrance, or
stay here. Foreign nationals will be provided with a new fraud-proof
``SmartVisa'' card, using new technology that would include a person's
fingerprints or other forms of ``biometric'' identification. These
cards would be used by visitors upon exit and entry into the United
States, and would alert authorities immediately if a visa has expired
or a red flag is raised by a Federal agency. Our bill would also
strengthen other Federal identification documents such as pilots'
licenses, visas, immigration work authorization cards, and others by
requiring that they be fraud- and tamper-resistant, contain biometric
data, and, if applicable, include the visa's expiration date.
Another provision of the bill would require that the 29 nations that
participate in the government's visa waiver program be required, after
1 year, to issue tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports. In
addition, our bill would require that, after 2 years, all countries
that participate include biometric data on their passports. INS
inspectors would have to check passport numbers and, where available,
biometric information with the new, centralized information database.
Countries that participate in the program would be required to report
stolen passport numbers to the State Department in order to continue to
participate in the program.
Another section of our bill will make a significant difference in our
efforts to stop terrorists from ever entering our country. Section six
of the bill will require that passenger manifests on all flights
scheduled to come to the United States be forwarded in real-time, and
then cleared, by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. All cruise
and cargo lines and cross-border bus lines would also have to submit
such lists to the INS. Our bill also removes a current U.S. requirement
that all passengers on flights to the United States be cleared by the
INS within 45 minutes of arrival. Clearly, in some circumstances, the
INS will need more time to clear all prospective entrants to the United
States. These simple steps would give law enforcement advance notice of
foreigners coming into the country, particularly visitors or immigrants
who pose security threats to the United States.
The Visa Entry Reform Act will also provide much needed reforms and
requirements in our U.S. foreign student visa program, which has
allowed numerous foreigners to enter the country without ever attending
classes and with lax oversight by the Federal Government. The system is
rife with abuse, with numerous examples of fraud and bribery by persons
seeking student visas.
Just as alarming, in the past decade, more than 16,000 people have
entered the United States on student visas from states included on the
government's list of terrorist sponsors. Notwithstanding that Syria is
one of the countries on the list, the State Department recently issued
visas to 14 Syrian nationals so that they could attend flight schools
in Fort Worth, TX.
Our legislation would prevent most persons from obtaining student
visas if they come from terrorist-supporting states such as Iran, Iraq,
Sudan, Libya, and Syria, with the authority of the Secretary of State
to waive the bar. Additionally, our bill would require the INS to
conduct background checks before the State Department issues the visas.
U.S. educational institutions would also be required to immediately
notify the INS when a foreign student violates the term of the visa by
failing to show up for class or leaving school early.
For the first time since the War of 1812, the United States has faced
a massive attack from foreigners on our own soil. Every one of the
terrorists who committed the September 11 atrocities were foreign
nationals who had entered the United States legally through our visa
system. None of them should have been allowed entry due to their ties
to terrorist organizations, and yet even those whose visas had expired
were not expelled.
Mohamed Atta, for example, the suspected ringleader of the attacks,
was allowed into the United States on a tourist visa, even though he
made clear his intentions to go to flight school while in the United
States. Clearly, at the very least, he should have been queried about
why he was using his tourist visa to attend flight school.
We also know that two of the terrorists were on watch lists that
should have been provided to the State Department and the INS, in order
to prevent their entry to the United States.
Another hijacker, Hani Hanjour, was here on a student visa that had
expired as of September 11. Hani Hanjour never attended class. In
addition, at least two other visitor visa-holders overstayed their
visa. In testimony before my own Senate subcommittee, U.S. officials
have told us that they possess little information about foreigners who
come into this country, how many there are, and even whether they leave
when required by their visas. America is a nation that welcomes
international visitors--and should remain so. But terrorists have taken
advantage of our system and its openness. Now that we face new threats
to our homeland, it is time we restore some balance to our immigration
As former chairman and now ranking Republican of the Judiciary
Committee's Terrorism Subcommittee, I have long suggested, and strongly
supported, many of the anti-terrorism and immigration initiatives now
being advocated by Republicans and Democrats alike. In my sadness about
the overwhelming and tragic events that took thousands of precious
lives, I am resolved to push forward on all fronts to fight against
terrorism. That means delivering justice to those who are responsible
for the lives lost on September 11, and reorganizing the institutions
of government so that the law-abiding can continue to live their lives
in freedom. I hope that we will soon pass, the Congress will pass, the
Visa Entry Reform Act. It will make a difference.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from California.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I thank my distinguished colleague
from Arizona for those comments. He is very hard working, and it has
been a great pleasure for me to be able to work with him. He and I hope
to sit down with Senators Kennedy and Brownback next week. I think all
four of us believe that if it is possible to have one bill, we would
like to have one bill. We have taken on the technology aspect of our
bill. But bottom line, the Senator from Arizona is correct, our Nation
has essentially been laid back when it comes to matters of really
scrupulously trying to set up a system that can provide a measure of
protection for our national security.
It has become very clear now, post September 11, that we must take
steps to do so. Otherwise, we are derelict in our duty to protect
American citizens. This bill does it.
Because the student visa part of it has been somewhat controversial,
this morning I was visited by the chancellor of the California State
University system. This is the largest system in the United States,
with about 380,000 students. He came in to indicate his support for our
bill, for the acknowledgment that he knows that schools across America
also have to assume more responsibility to see that there is a system
where there is some regulation.
Right now, a student can apply to a number of schools, get accepted to
a number, and show up at none. And there is no reporting.
We would change this. The university association will be supportive
of these changes.
I am very optimistic that we have an opportunity, in meeting with
Senators Kennedy and Brownback, to put together one bill that could
provide some reform to a porous visa entry system.
As I said, I sit as the chair of the Judiciary Committee's
Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. Last
month, we held a hearing into the need for new technologies to assist
our government agencies in keeping terrorists out of the United States.
The testimony at that hearing was very illuminating. We were given a
picture of an immigration system in chaos, and a border control system
that acts like a sieve. Agencies don't communicate with each other.
Computers are incompatible. And even in instances where technological
leaps have been made--like the issuance of more than 4.5 million
``smart'' border crossing cards with biometric data--the technology is
not even used.
Let me give some specific examples of the testimony we heard before
There are 29 countries that now participate in a ``visa waiver''
program that invites 23 million visitors a year to our country.
Travelers from these countries do not have to get a visa before
entering the United States, so nobody knows when they arrive, and
nobody knows whether they leave. Passports don't have to be machine-
readable or tamper-proof, and the result is millions of people coming
and going with no accountability, and no way to find them if they
choose to stay and do mischief.
We also heard in our subcommittee that the student visa program is
unregulated and subject to abuse and fraud. Schools don't keep track of
students, the INS does not find out when the students leave or whether
they even show up for classes, and many students overstay their visas
by years. Furthermore, students who apply to many schools can receive
multiple documents--called ``I-20'' forms--giving them the right to
entry. Because they only need one of these forms, the possibility for
fraud is enormous. Additional forms are sold, and many enter the
country with no real plans to go to school here at all.
In our hearing, Mary Ryan, the Assistant Secretary of State for
Consular Affairs, said that the lack of information sharing is a
``colossal intelligence failure'' and that the State Department ``had
no information on the terrorists from law enforcement.'' Personally, I
am amazed that a person can apply for a visa, be granted a visa, and
that there is no mechanism by which the FBI or CIA can enter a code
into the system to raise a red flag on individuals known to have links
to terrorist groups and pose a national threat. In the wake of
September 11th, it is hard for me to fathom how a terrorist might be
permitted to enter the U.S. because our government agencies aren't
This was one, sobering hearing. It made it clear to all who were
present that our borders act only as a sieve, essentially allowing easy
access to all who would do us harm. Something must be done, and
something must be done now.
When I arrived in the Senate in 1992, I brought with me the concerns
of millions of Californians about the porous nature of the Southwest
border. When I tried to address the problems there, I met with the same
response over and over again--``nothing can be done.''
But something was done, and our Southwest border is now far more
difficult to transit.
Here, too, I am now told that ``nothing can be done'' to keep
terrorists from entering the country on student visas, or through the
visa waiver program, or through some other program. I am told that
commerce and trade are too important. Or that the technology simply
does not exist. Or that the agencies involved are incapable of
cooperating in a way that would keep our country safe from those who
try to enter.
Well, I did not accept those arguments then, and I do not accept them
now. There are things we can do to solve some of these problems, and
this issue is too important to wait.
Let me talk about how this legislation would address these problems.
First, the most important piece of this solution is the creation of
one, central database containing all the information our government has
about foreign nationals who cross the border into the United States.
Private industry can help in this effort--in fact, I recently met with
Larry Ellison, Chairman of Oracle, who wrote me a letter offering the
services of his company, free of charge, in the creation of the
Right now, our government agencies use different systems, with
different information, in different formats. And they often refuse to
share that information with other agencies within our own government.
This is not acceptable.
When a terrorist presents himself at a consular office asking for a
visa, or at a border crossing with a passport, we need to make sure
that his name and identifying information is checked against an
accurate, up-to-date, and comprehensive database. Period.
My legislation will require the creation of this central database,
and will require the cooperation of all U.S. government agencies in
providing accurate and compatible information to that system.
Incidentally, this legislation also contains strict privacy
provisions, limiting access to this database to authorized federal
officials. And the bill contains severe penalties for wrongful access
or misuse of information contained in the database.
Second, the legislation I will introduce will include concrete steps
to restore the integrity to the immigration and visa process, including
First, the legislation requires all foreign nationals to be
fingerprinted, and, when appropriate, submit other biometric data, to
the State Department when applying for a visa. This provision should
help eliminate fraud, as well as identify potential threats to the
country before they gain access.
Second, we include reforms of the visa waiver program, so that any
country wishing to participate in that program must quickly provide its
citizens with tamper-proof, machine-readable passports, eventually with
biometric data to help verify identity at ports of entry.
Third, we establish a robust ``SmartVisa'' program. Newly issued
visas must contain biometric data and other identifying information--
like more than 4 million already do on the Southwest border--and, just
as importantly, our own officials at the border and other ports of
entry must have the equipment necessary to read those new smart cards.
Next, we worked closely with the university community in crafting
new, strict requirements for the student visa program, to crack down on
fraud, make sure that students really are attending classes, and give
the government the ability to track any foreign national who arrives on
a student visa but fails to enroll in school.
The legislation prohibits the issuance of a student visa to any
citizen of a country identified by the State Department as a terrorist-
supporting nation. There is a waiver provision to this prohibition,
however, allowing the State Department to allow students even from
these countries after review and evaluation.
We require that airlines, cruiselines, buslines, and other
transportation services provide passenger and crew manifests to law
enforcement before arrival, so that any potential terrorists or other
wrongdoers can be singled out before they arrive in this country and
disappear into the general populace.
The bill contains a number of other related provisions as well, but
the gist of this legislation is this:
Where we can provide law enforcement more information about
potentially dangerous foreign nationals, we do so;
Where we can reform our border-crossing system to weed out or deter
terrorists or others who would do us harm, we do so;
And where we can update technology to meet the demands of the modern
war against terror, we do that as well.
As we prepare to modify our immigration system, we must be sure to
enact changes that are realistic and
feasible. We must also provide the necessary tools to implement them.
Our Nation will be no more secure tomorrow if we create new top of
the line databases and no not see to it that government agencies share
We will be no safer tomorrow if we do not create a workable entry-
exit tracking system to ensure that terrorists do not enter the U.S.
and blend into our communities without detection.
And we will be no safer if we simply authorize new programs and
information sharing, but do not provide the resources necessary to put
the new technology at the border, train agents appropriately, and
require our various government agencies to cooperate in this effort.
We have a lot to do and I am confident that we will move swiftly and
with great care to address these important issues. The legislation I
introduce today is an important, and strong, first step. But this is
only the beginning of a long, difficult process.
I urge my colleagues to support us on this legislation. I yield the
Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, I'm pleased to join with Senators Feinstein
and Kyl in introducing the Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001.
Both of these leaders have worked feverishly to bring this bipartisan
bill to fruition and I have very much appreciated the opportunity to
work with them in assembling a strong and meaningful package to help
secure our homeland.
The bottom line is, at this extraordinary time, in the wake of
horrific attacks from without against innocent lives within our
borders, we must take every conceivable step with regard to those
variables we can control in securing our Nation. How can we do anything
less when it has become so abundantly and tragically apparent that
admittance into this country cannot and must not be the ``X-Factor'' in
protecting our homeland?
Entry into this country is a privilege, not a right, and it's a
privilege that's clearly been violated by evildoers who were well aware
of inherent weaknesses in the system. Just look at the story of Mohamed
Atta, coming into Miami, he told the INS that he was returning to the
U.S. to continue flight training, despite the fact that he presented
them with a tourist visa, not the student required visa for his
purposes, and they let him in. INS has since said that Atta had filed
months earlier to change his status from tourist to student so they let
him in, despite long-standing policy that once you leave the country,
you're considered to have abandoned your change of status request.
What this bill is about is stopping dangerous aliens from entering
our country at their point-of-origin and their point of entry by giving
those Federal agencies charged with that responsibility the tools
necessary to do the job. Now, some say the tools we need are better
technologies, some say better information, some say better
coordination. The beauty of this bill is that it stands on all three
legs, because I can tell you if there's one thing I learned from my
experience in working on these issues on the House Foreign Affairs
International Operations Subcommittee it's that we're only going to get
to the root of the problem with a comprehensive approach.
This was clear from the aftermath of our investigation of the comings
and goings of the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,
the radical Egyptian cleric Sheikh Rahman. We found that the Sheikh had
entered and exited the country five times totally unimpeded, even after
the State Department formally revoked his visa and even after the INS
granted him permanent resident status. In fact, in March of 1992, the
INS rescinded that status which was granted in Newark, New Jersey about
a year before.
But then, unbelievably, the Sheikh requested asylum in a hearing
before an immigration judge in the very same city, got a second
hearing, and continued to remain in the country even after the bombing,
with the Justice Department rejecting holding Rahman in custody pending
the outcome of deportation proceedings and the asylum application,
stating that ``in the absence of concrete evidence that Rahman is
participating in or involved in planning acts of terrorism, the
assumption of that burden, upon the U.S. Government, is considered
To address the trail of errors, I introduced legislation to modernize
the State Department's antiquated microfiche lookout system, but as
we've painfully learned in the interim, such a system is only as good
as the information they can access. That's why we fought tooth and nail
to require information sharing between the FBI and the State
Department, but even then it was only a watered-down provision that
eventually passed into law in 1994, with even that sunsetting in 1997
with a brief extension lapsing in 1998.
So I'm pleased that the terrorism bill we just passed does require
information sharing between the State Department and the FBI, but we
can and must do more, we must also require information sharing among
all agencies like the CIA, DEA, INS, and Customs.
And that's what this bill does, along with my measure that's included
to establish ``Terrorist Lookout Committees'' at every embassy, which
are required to meet on a monthly basis and report on their knowledge
or lack of knowledge of anyone who should be excluded from the U.S.
Ultimately, each Deputy Chief of Mission would be responsible for this
information, because to paraphrase Admiral Rickover, unless you can
identify the person who's responsible when something goes wrong, then
you have never had anyone really responsible.
We should also know who and what is in our waters and be pro-active
in preventing potential threats from reaching our shores. As I
mentioned at a recent Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee hearing, a
terrorist act involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear
weapons at one of our seaports could result in the extensive loss of
lives. In that light, I'm pleased this bill also includes a measure I
developed that requires incoming vessels to submit to the Coast Guard
crew and passenger manifests as background on the vessel 96 hours
And finally, we ought to ensure that the person standing in front of
the INS agent at the border is the same person who applied for that
visa. It does no good to do every background check in the world
overseas, only to have someone else actually show up at our doorstep.
The fact is, we have the so-called ``biometric technology'' available
to close this gap, and I'm pleased that my measure requiring
fingerprinting for visa applicants both abroad and at the border has
As the President said just the other day, ``We're going to start
asking a lot of questions that heretofore have not been asked.'' By
giving the Director of Homeland Security the responsibility of
developing a centralized ``lookout'' database for all of this
information, along with instituting tighter application and screening
procedures and increased oversight for student visas, we will close the
loopholes and help bring all our Nation's resources to bear in securing
This is a crucial bill in our war on terrorism and I urge my
colleagues to support this bill.
Share this page
Bookmark this page
The leading immigration law publisher - over 50000 pages of free information!
© Copyright 1995- American Immigration LLC, ILW.COM