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[Congressional Record: March 18, 2002 (Senate)]
[Page S1987-S1988]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

  Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, last week, CNN broke the news that, six 
months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 
the Immigration and Naturalization Service finally provided a 
confirmation notice to a Florida flight school that two of the suicide 
hijackers who died on September 11 had been approved for student visas.
  The American people must have been be shaking their heads in dismay. 
Certainly many politicians viewed the incident with incredulity and 
anger. Our President said he was ``plenty hot.'' The Attorney General 
promised an investigation. Legislators and pundits have called for the 
restructuring--and even for the abolishment--of the INS.
  I find it hard to understand the apparent shock. That this incident 
occurred should come as no surprise to anyone who has read anything in 
recent months about the inept manner in which our immigration system is 
apparently operating. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the 
American people heard repeatedly about the lapses in our immigration 
laws that allowed these terrorists to enter our country. Three of the 
terrorists were in the country on expired visas and should have been 
deported. Countless federal reports and investigations have concluded 
that INS is plagued by backlogs and delays. The agency has little sense 
of who is crossing our borders, and can't track individuals once they 
are inside the country.
  As if to try to provide some logic for its bumbling, the INS said in 
a statement last week that it had no information at the time that it 
approved these student visas that either man was tied to terrorist 
groups. I hardly find any comfort in that. It doesn't explain why 
Mohammed Atta's visa extension kept winding its way through the 
bureaucratic process for months after he became recognized 
internationally as a brutal terrorist.
  Since September 11th, the Administration has sought to reassure the 
American people that this government was taking steps to reinforce that 
invisible barrier that ostensibly protects our citizens from foreign 
threats. The American people were told that this government is doing 
all that it can to strengthen our borders and make Americans safe.
  But then this CNN report is unveiled, reinforcing the negative 
impression that most Americans have of our Nation's border security.
  If the American people went to bed last Tuesday night in dismay over 
this latest INS debacle, they must have been absolutely dumbfounded 
when they awoke Wednesday morning to learn that the House of 
Representatives had passed, at the request of the President, what 
amounts to an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, many 
of whom have not undergone any--any--background or security check.
  Supporters of the House-passed extension of the so-called Section 
245(i) provision were quick to claim that it is not an amnesty. The 
issue, they argue, is where you fill out your paper work--here or 
abroad. That is nonsense--
N-O-N-S-E-N-S-E, nonsense. Section 245(i)--amnesty is amnesty--pure and 
  The section 245(i) provision, which expired last April, allows 
undocumented immigrants to seek permanent residency without leaving the 
United States, if--if--they pay a $1,000 fee and have a close relative 
or employer sponsor them. Without the provision, these immigrants would 
be forced to leave the country, and under tougher illegal immigration 
reforms passed in 1996, be barred from reentering for up to 10 years.
  If waiving tougher penalties for illegal aliens is not a form of 
amnesty, then I don't know what is.
  Those who support reviving the 245(i) provision impress upon us that 
there are many, many individuals who came to this country legally, but 
became lost in the huge backlog of paperwork at the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service. Thus their visas expired while they were 
awaiting the processing of paperwork and they continued to live in the 
United States illegally and undetected.
  I don't doubt that many of these individuals are well-meaning and 
have attempted to follow the law. I recognize that many of these 
individuals, if not for some type of legal exemption, will have to 
leave the country and be separated from their families. But we must not 
forget that three of the September 11 terrorists were living in the 
United States on expired visas. An additional two terrorists--Mohammad 
Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi tried to change their visa status while they 
were in the United States, and, thus, were allowed to begin their 
flight training at a Florida school. And as we learned in these last 
few days, not only did the Immigration and Naturalization Service never 
catch them, but months after September 11, the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service was still issuing paperwork clearing the way for 
these two terrorists to enter the stream of American society.

[[Page S1988]]

  These terrorists weren't hiding from the system, they were exploiting 
the flaws in the system. Reviving the 245(i) provision reopens another 
crack in the system through which a potential terrorist can crawl. What 
the CNN story says to me is not that we should be more lenient with 
visa applicants, but that we should be much tougher, with visa 
  The section 245(i) provision poses a dangerous risk to our border 
security by compromising the all-important State Department background 
checks being conducted on potential immigrants in their home countries. 
By allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to apply for 
permanent residency in our country, section 245(i) allows them to 
sidestep face-to-face interviews at U.S. consulates in their own 
countries. U.S. consular officers abroad offer unmatched expertise in 
their host country's social conditions. They are knowledgeable of 
police records. They are knowledgeable of fraudulent document 
operations. They are knowledgeable of political extremist groups. Under 
section 245(i), U.S. consulate officers would not fully exercise this 
expertise in screening immigrants for permanent residency.
  Supporters of the 245(i) provision will tell us that we can rely on a 
thorough INS background check. Ha-ha. Don't forget that if the visa 
applicants fail the INS security check, they are already inside the 
country. If they fail that check, they are already inside this country. 
And because of the ineptitude of the INS, they may have been living in 
this country for months and, who knows, perhaps years. We cannot afford 
to have a weaker visa screening standard for illegal aliens who are 
given the opportunity to permanently reside in our country.
  Moreover, an extension of the 245(i) provision would contribute 
significantly to the INS' dangerously overloaded processing backlog. 
The Immigration and Naturalization Service currently faces a backlog of 
roughly 4 million cases, and we can expect an additional half a million 
visa application filings if section 245(i) is revived. The fact that 
the INS is notifying a Florida flight school of Mohammed Atta's student 
visa approval 6 months after the September 11 attacks clearly suggests 
that the Immigration and Naturalization Service cannot handle further 
increases in its workload. What's more, it does not make a whit of 
sense to place these new obligations on an agency that both the 
administration and Members of Congress are suggesting will undergo 
dramatic reforms in the coming months.
  All of that is to say nothing about the message that we send abroad 
to potential immigrants who are waiting patiently to legally enter this 
country. Section 245(i) acts as an incentive, a lure, for illegal 
immigration by suggesting that it is quicker and more convenient to 
enter the country illegally than to wait outside the United States to 
complete the visa application process.
  These are serious concerns that the Senate will need to address 
before it acts on this issue. The American people and the Congress 
should know the answers to these questions. In fact, there are a number 
of questions that ought to be raised as we consider changes to our 
immigration system, but I am becoming increasingly doubtful that the 
administration really wants to provide the answers.
  The administration has been very quiet about its reasons for asking 
the Congress to renew the 245(i) provision. The White House issued only 
a three-paragraph statement last week in supporting the House-passed 
extension of 245(i), which states in the first paragraph:

       The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 
     1885 . . . This legislation reflects the Administration's 
     philosophy that government policies should recognize the 
     importance of families and help to strengthen them.

  Mr. President, I support recognizing the importance of families. I am 
sure that every Senator here is all for families. In fact, I have yet 
to meet an anti-family politician.
  But this Government's first obligation, especially in light of what 
happened on September 11, ought to be that of protection of American 
families, and the 245(i) provision does not meet that test in the wake 
of September 11.
  Last week, the Homeland Security Director unveiled a color-coded 
system to alert Americans of varying levels of terrorism threats. 
Governor Ridge warned that the United States remains on an elevated 
threat level and that the corresponding yellow light signifies that 
there is still a ``significant threat'' of a terrorist attack. 
Certainly, the administration would want to explain to the American 
people, as well as to the Congress, why an amnesty that streamlines and 
shortcuts background checks for illegal aliens is not a threat to our 
domestic security.
  The suggestion has been raised in the media that the House passed 
this amnesty, at the President's request, so that Mr. Bush would have a 
legislative achievement to tout at his meeting with Mexican President 
Vicente Fox this week. The broader amnesty for 3 million illegal 
Mexican immigrants that the President proposed prior to the September 
11 attacks has been indefinitely shelved, and it has been suggested 
that an extension of the section 245(i) provision is a substitute for 
that proposal. Last week the Washington Times quoted the majority whip 
in the other body as saying, ``The president says he needs it, and 
we're going to do it.'' The paper also quoted a Republican aide saying, 
``That's the only reason we're doing it. What the president wants, the 
president gets.''
  I hope that is not the case. I hope that party politics is not the 
sole consideration in a matter as grave as this.
  The suggestion has also been raised that the House passed an 
extension of Section 245(i), and included it as part of a so-called 
border security bill, to pressure the Senate into quickly passing 
similar border security legislation that is pending before it. Well, 
this Senator from, West Virginia will not be pressured into passing 
legislation. The Senate is a deliberative body. Senators have a 
responsibility to consider and to throughly debate legislation that 
comes before this body, especially legislation that raises as many 
concerns as section 245(i). I raise these concerns and I shall continue 
to raise them. The administration chose not to address these concerns 
last week when the House acted on the 245(i) provision.
  Mr. President, the American people and the Congress cannot be 
expected to have confidence in our efforts to secure our borders, if 
they see the administration advocating legislation that seems to fly in 
the face of tighter border security. The administration must explain 
why, on the same day that the Homeland Security Director would issue an 
elevated state of alert, the White House would push through the House 
an amnesty for illegal aliens that would weaken our visa screening 
processes. Doesn't make much sense, does it? The right hand seems not 
to know what the left hand is doing.
  It is lunacy--sheer lunacy--that the President would request, and the 
House would pass, such an amnesty at this time. That point seems 
obvious to the American people, if not to the administration.
  I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.