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Dear Editor:
Today the Attorney General announced the creation of a National Security Entry-Exit Registration System that is aimed at keeping tabs on non-immigrant visa holders in the United States. The plan was announced as a proposed regulation with a thirty-day comment period. However, Attorney General Ashcroft's demeanor in announcing its creation communicated his intention to steamroll forward, despite what will be formidable and heated opposition.

The following groups would be affected:

All nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria who are here on non-immigrant visas;
Certain non-immigrant visa-holders from other countries that are determined to pose an "elevated national security risk" by the State Department and the INS; and
Certain foreign national non-immigrant visa-holders whom the Justice Department wants closer tabs on pursuant to yet-undetermined criteria.

This plan involves three components:

Additional screening at the border/port of entry for certain individuals. Fingerprints and photos will be taken from these individuals, along with other personal data, when they present themselves for admission to the U.S. The fingerprints will be run through intelligence and criminal records databases to identify people who are wanted criminals or suspected terrorists and keep them from entering the country.

"Registration" with the INS and period monitoring of these individuals. After 30 days in the United States and then on an annual basis, certain non-immigrant aliens will be required to present themselves at an INS office. The INS will conduct a review of the alien to ensure that he is complying with the terms of his visa and residing where he said he would reside upon entry into the U.S. Additionally, these aliens will be required to report address changes to the INS within ten days of moving. Registration will also be mandatory for non-immigrant aliens currently in the U.S. that are classified in one of the above-mentioned groups. A subset of these "registered aliens" will also be required to report their exit from the U.S. to the INS.

Mechanisms to catch and punish those who do not comply with this system. For those aliens who are required to register and do not do so, the plan contains severe consequences for non-compliance. Their names, along with fingerprints and photos (as available), will be entered into the National Crime Information Center database of wanted individuals. Any law enforcement officer who subsequently comes into contact with this individual and runs his information through NCIC will see that the alien is wanted by the INS and will hold this individual until the INS can take custody of him. At this point, likely consequences will be incarceration and deportation, punishments more appropriately reserved for true criminals. Those registrants that are required, but fail to, report their exit from the U.S. will be deemed ineligible to return to this country.

This new DOJ plan dovetails with an earlier proposal that was being floated in the Department, based on an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that apparently finds "inherent authority" for state and local police to enforce civil immigration law. In his announcement today on the Registration System, Attorney General Ashcroft said that for this "narrow mission" it is within the inherent authority of state and local police to enforce criminal and civil immigration laws, but that the "DOJ is not planning to seek additional support beyond this narrow mission."

The Attorney General is attempting to sell this plan by stating that it is similar to procedures in place in European countries, and was mandated by Congress in calling for the full implementation of an entry-exit control system. These assertions, however, are insulting and erroneous once you peel away the mask. The Europe Community is currently battling a revival of anti-immigrant sentiment and many of its countries also require citizens to carry national ID cards, hardly making Europe the example the United States-as a nation of immigrants and a nation that respects individual privacy rights-should aspire to emulate. Moreover, the entry-exit system mandated by Congress is significantly different than that being proposed by the Attorney General today. The system called for by Congress is merely a database containing arrival and departure data from machine-readable visas, passports, and arrival-departure records-not fingerprints and photos-and is not limited to certain foreign nationals or individuals from certain countries as the Ashcroft plan proposes in such a discriminatory fashion.

Members of Congress and immigrant advocates have responded with disgust and outrage to the Attorney General's latest proposal, one that undermines the very values this nation is supposedly fighting to preserve. Attached you will find statements from Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Representative John Conyers (D-MI), and the National Immigration Forum, attacking this plan for what it is: a smoke screen to make the American public feel safer but with no tangible national security benefit.

As Frank Sharry says in the Forum's press statement: "These heavy-handed tactics seem more like the old Soviet Union and South Africa, or the present day Iraq and China, not the land of the free and home of the brave. Instead of wasting law enforcement resources on innocent people, the Department of Justice should focus on tracking known and suspected terrorists more effectively. Indeed, the timing of this announcement is suspicious, given the recent focus on FBI and intelligence agency failures."

National Immigration Forum