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Statement of Chairman Henry J. Hyde

House Committee on International Relations

Hearing on

H.R. 5005, the "Homeland Security Act of 2002"

June 26, 2002

Today's hearing will examine the functions and activities of the State Department that bear most directly on the domestic security of the United States.

H.R. 5005, the "Homeland Security Act of 2002," will make important changes in the way in which these functions and activities are carried out. As introduced, this legislation would transfer to the new Department of Homeland Security authority over the process by which visas for admission to the United States are granted and denied.

Yet the legislation would also preserve the role of the State Department, at least for the time being, as the institution whose employees do most of the work on the front lines. It is hard to know in advance how any new arrangement will work, and this is particularly true of an arrangement in which responsibilities will be divided between an established institution and one that has not yet come into existence.

But this Committee has a responsibility to report the sections of H.R. 5005 that are within our jurisdiction in the form most likely to achieve the goals of the legislation. The evidence we hear today will enable the Committee to fulfill this responsibility.

The proposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security has often been described as a response to the failure of existing institutions. However painful it may be to look back to the days and weeks before September 11th and wonder what we might have done differently, we must recognize that virtually all of the agencies charged with protecting our national security and public safety could have done better --- and, by doing better, might conceivably have averted the tragedy.

But we simply cannot allow an enterprise of this magnitude to be about assigning bureaucratic blame --- or, even worse, about inflicting bureaucratic punishment. On the contrary, the Homeland Security Act must be about providing for the future.

Before we build and empower new institutions, before we demolish or weaken old ones, let us learn as much as is humanly possible about exactly what needs to be done, so that we can be sure the new structure will be one that works.

In the case of visa processing, the first thing to understand is that the United States currently issues approximately six million visas every year. The overwhelming majority of these are non-immigrant visas, mostly for tourists and business travelers. Even if we were prepared to cut this number in half --- at great sacrifice to the U.S. economy ---

we would need an institution or institutions capable of adjudicating millions of visa applications. These institutions would need to subject any application that presents even a hint of a threat to national security or public safety to the strictest possible scrutiny. At the same time, these institutions would be required to address fairly and efficiently all the other questions that go into determining whether each of those millions of applications should be granted or denied.

The sheer magnitude of these tasks strongly suggests that the Administration's proposal is a wise one. In order to protect our borders from terrorists and other evildoers,

the Department of Homeland Security must have a role in the visa adjudication process. However, if the Secretary of Homeland Security were forced to build a new structure from scratch to adjudicate those millions of visa applications --- or to cobble one together from bits and pieces of other agencies --- it is hard to know how he would find time to perform any of the other essential functions which this legislation confers upon him

So we need the Department of Homeland Security in this process, but we need the State Department as well.

The question to consider is whether or not the legislation can be fine-tuned to ensure that each institution will have responsibility for what it does best.

I hope our witnesses today will be able to provide some estimate of the number of visas, out of those millions of applications, which present security issues. Even if the number is in the tens of thousands --- or even if it is in the hundreds of thousands --- this would leave millions of applications in which the questions to be adjudicated are traditional consular issues, such as whether the applicant is likely to overstay his visa or to become a public charge. Can a structure be devised that will ensure that Homeland Security officers get a close look at every application that may present security concerns, and that consular officers continue to adjudicate all other applications, so that the Department of Homeland Security will be able to focus its time and energy primarily on homeland security?

I know the Administration must be devoting considerable thought to this question, and I hope our witnesses will be able to share some of these thoughts with us today. Their testimony will enable the Committee to report legislation that will appreciably enhance the safety, and therefore the freedom, of all Americans.

I now yield to the Ranking Democratic Member of the Committee, Representative Tom Lantos, for any opening remarks he would like to make at this time.

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