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Testimony
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
The War Against Terrorism: Working Together to Protect America.
March 4, 2003


The Honorable John Ashcroft
Attorney General , United States Department of Justice


[ ... ]

Mr. Chairman, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the need for an increased protective presence on and beyond our nationís borders has also become clear. In recognition of this need, the Justice Department quickly implemented the Patriot Actís new immigration-related tools and developed new initiatives to secure our borders and keep track of those who would come to our nation bent on doing harm. Many of these tools have just been turned over to the new Homeland Security Department that will headed up by Secretary Ridge. Let me take a moment to summarize some of our efforts in this area.

∙ Prior to its incorporation on March 1, 2003, into the Department of Homeland Security, the INS had already begun implementing the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System that Congress authorized in 1996. NSEERS requires that foreign visitors who are identified as presenting elevated national security concerns be fingerprinted using state-of-the-art digital technology. Those fingerprints are run against a database of known terrorists, wanted criminals, and convicted felons. NSEERS registrants are also required to report to an immigration office after 30 days to verify they are doing what they said they would do and staying where they said they would stay. And finally, they are required to confirm their departure when they leave the country. As such, NSEERS is the crucial first step in fulfilling the Congressional mandate to develop a comprehensive entry-exit system 2005.

The NSEERS program has already yielded impressive success in the war against terrorism and in the enforcement of our immigration laws. Thus far, NSEERS has allowed immigration officials to track the entry, exit, location, and activities of more than 81,000 foreign visitors from 149 different countries. To date, NSEERS has led to the apprehension of 8 suspected terrorists and over 500 other aliens at the border who presented law enforcement threats. This includes aliens who have committed serious felonies in the United States in the past and are inadmissible, aliens with fraudulent documents, and individuals who had previously been deported.

∙ The FBI for a long time had been sharing information in its NCIC files with immigration officials and the State Department so that those agencies can determine whether a visa applicant has a criminal history record. Consistent with the Patriot Act, the FBI is now providing such information to the agencies in extract form, which immigration officials and the State Department can download into their databases. In addition, I have directed that all of the Departmentís investigative components include in the NCIC database the names, photographs, and other identifying data of all known or suspected terrorists.

∙ Pursuant to section 416 of the Patriot Act, we have implemented and expanded the foreign student visa monitoring program known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. SEVIS enables schools to electronically transmit student data to immigration offices and the State Department so that immigration officials will be able to take appropriate action when a student visa holder falls out of active student status. SEVIS became fully operation in January of this year.

∙ Finally, immigration officials have given effect to the Patriot Actís mandate by quickly working to install the Integrated Intelligence Surveillance System at 55 northern border sites. When this computer-aided detection system is completed ISIS will provide 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week, border coverage through ground-based sensors, fixed cameras, and other technology.

Recognizing that many terrorists use false immigration and identification documents, the Justice Department has cracked down on document fraud across the nation. In Maryland, for example, Rasmi Subhi Saleh Al Shannaq, former roommate of two of the September 11 hijackers, was arrested by INS and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents. This apprehension led to 45 arrests in a visa fraud scheme. In Virginia, Luis Martinez-Flores and Herbert Villalobos pled guilty to fraud for helping hijackers obtain identification documents. And approximately 1200 airport workers have been charged with falsifying documents and violating immigration laws as the result of investigations conducted at more than 45 airports nationwide.

Mr. Chairman, as you can see, the Justice Department has taken every possible step, used every tool at its disposal, and employed every authority under the law to prevent acts of terrorism and to protect innocent American lives. I assure you that we will continue to fulfill our duty with enthusiasm, and with a profound respect for this countryís tradition of civil rights and liberties.

Before closing, I want to thank FBI Director Mueller and the men and women of the FBI and the Department of Justice for their tireless work to defeat terrorism and defend freedom. I also want to thank Director Tenet and Secretary Ridge for their teamwork and dedication to the American people. And finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you very much for your unwavering leadership on these important issues. I know I speak for my fellow panelists in saying that this hearing affords us a valuable opportunity to assure the American public that its public servants are doing everything in our power to protect our nation.

I would be pleased to respond to your questions.



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