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Statement of
Department of State
Under Secretary for Management
Grant Green
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on
Immigration, Border Security and Claims
June 27, 2002

Testimony of Grant Green on the Proposal to Establish a Department of Homeland Security: the Visa Function

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased and grateful to you for inviting my comments on what is certainly the most far reaching and comprehensive US government re-organization proposal since the Second World War. The horrific events of September 11, 2001 have brought a vigorous, determined, and effective response from the people and government of the United States, but also the knowledge that we must do better. This proposal is a significant down payment on the absolute obligation we have to do everything in our power to protect our country and its people from terrorism. The Department of State has and will play a vital role in this effort, and we fully support the President’s proposal.

Although INS has always had the final decision who actually enters the US, the authority to make the crucial visa decision has long been legally vested in consular officers of the Foreign Service of the United States, reporting to the Secretary of State. The Secretary’s legal authority to supervise this function is established in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which requires State to coordinate with the Attorney General and those agencies of the Department of Justice – principally the INS and the FBI – that work for him. The proposal you have before you would transfer to the new Homeland Security Secretary both the current authority of the Attorney General and the authority of the Secretary to establish regulations relating to the granting and refusal of visas by consular officers and to administer and enforce the laws regarding the issuance and denial of visas by consular officers. The new Secretary of Homeland Security will exercise this authority over consular officers through the Secretary of State. Because visa decisions abroad are important to carrying out our foreign policy, the President’s proposal ensures that the Secretary will retain the authority to deny visas on foreign policy grounds.

While it is intuitively obvious to us all that visa policy is integral to the protection of the United States from terrorists, I think it important to say very explicitly why this is so. The nineteen terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11 traveled to the United States on legally issued visas and proceeded on to their deadly mission undeterred by US authorities. Why did we not recognize who they were and what they planned to do and refuse those visas or subsequent entry when they arrived? There was no way, without prior identification of these people as terrorists through either law enforcement or intelligence channels and the conveyance of that knowledge to consular officers abroad, that we could have known their intention. This disciplined terrorist organization made use of people with few known prior terrorist associations, clean records, and evidence of economic solvency that they knew would be needed to pass review by visa or port of entry immigration officers.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that identification by intelligence and law enforcement and the sharing of that data with consular officers abroad is a critical component of fighting terrorism through visa policies. We believe we have come a long way in a short time towards the comprehensive data sharing we must have to prevail in this area of the war against terrorism. Executive orders and The USA Patriot Act require and reinforce such sharing, and our files on potential terrorists are far better now than they have ever been in the past. We believe a new Department of Homeland Security empowered to provide to consular officers abroad all the information that the US Government knows from whatever source is the most essential element in assuring the denial of visas to those who would harm us. The Secretary of State fully supports the creation of this Department with this authority to ensure full data sharing. It will empower officers of the Foreign Service to protect our country using the tools and systems we have long worked to develop.

As I said, knowing who a potential terrorist is will do us little good if we don’t have a reliable system to pass that knowledge to consular officers wherever they might be approached by a terrorist for a visa. Here our progress has been exponential since the first attempt on the World Trade Center in 1993. Our Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) provides consular officers anywhere in the world access to the best information on people we do not want in the US. We have invested and will continue to invest heavily in improving its speed and comprehensiveness. It uses the most advanced foreign language algorithms to ensure that transliteration and common names are not overlooked, and it prevents any visa from being printed until our name-check system – including any required interagency consultations – has been cleared. The specialized skills and training of the Foreign Service will work hand in glove with the new Department of Homeland Security to deny visas to potential terrorists.

In creating the new Department it is also important to recognize that visa policy plays a vital role in important foreign policy concerns of the United States which in many ways also support our Homeland Security. Our visa policies advance our economic interests, protect the public health, promote human rights and democratic values. Someone seeking a US visa will find that our laws promote religious freedom, oppose forced abortion and sterilization, enforce the reciprocal treatment of diplomats, insist upon the fair treatment of American property, and punish the enemies of democracy around the world.

Finally, the war against terrorism is a world war that cannot succeed without cooperation by our friends and allies who are also threatened by the same terrorists. We have seen the success that a determined United States can have in forging a coalition and in obtaining diplomatic, military, law enforcement, and intelligence cooperation from abroad. We must be mindful of the need to strengthen these partnerships and to win not only the overt war against terrorists, but the equally important hidden war for freedom and democracy that rages between fanatics who would employ terror to crush these ideals and the large majority of humanity that seeks the same freedoms as their own. Demonstrating that the United States remains open to our friends and partners in the war on terrorism and welcoming society is a crucial element in winning and maintaining the support from abroad that we need to prevail.

In summary, there is no antagonism between the goals of identifying and denying admission to the US to terrorists and welcoming our friends to join us at home and abroad in this fight.