Online Chat: Director Tom Ridge
MSNBC-Will Femia: Joining us from his office in the West Wing of the White House, Governor Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Welcome Governor.
Gov. Tom Ridge: Nice to join you.
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Question: How will the government stop the Arabs and Muslims terrorists who come in the United States from Canada border, because Canada is a heaven for Islamic terrorist because of its weak immigration policies?
Question: How tight is the security at America’s borders with Mexico and Canada and what is being done to make sure illegal aliens stay out of America?
Question: What percent of those who get visas overstay them?
MSNBC-Will Femia: Lots of questions on the list about tracking visitors, issuing visas (especially student visas) and general immigration/foreigner concerns. Can you address that topic for us? Is a major overhaul in the works?
Question: What steps are we going to take to protect Americans from foreign students that may NOT be here for an education?
MSNBC-Will Femia: There’s the student one I was looking for.
Gov. Tom Ridge: When you raise the question of immigration and borders, you raise one of the critical and fundamental pieces of the reorganization plan. We have about 5,000 miles of border with Canada, nearly 2,000 miles of border with Mexico and if you take a look at the border along the coast of the United States of American, there are probably 95,000 miles of border there.
The President, several months ago, gave this office the opportunity to begin the development of what we are calling smart 21st century border agreements with our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. The purpose of the smart border agreement is to not only enhance security but to do it in a way that recognizes the very important economic relationship that the three countries have especially after NAFTA - recognizing that there are thousands of jobs in a lot of communities that rely on the daily flow of people and goods across the borders. To that end, working with our counterparts in both Mexico and Canada, we have begun addressing in a very serious and substantive way, a variety of issues that deal with the infrastructure at the border, people at the border, and cargo crossing the border.
We’ve also, in that course of time as we develop a new approach to our borders, think in terms of not just security against terrorists but the work we do in law enforcement on either side of the border in customs and everybody else. We’re looking to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, to try to deal with the interdiction of drugs and contraband. So these are very aggressive, very substantial initiatives that have been undertaken by the President and by this administration to deal with the protection of borders.
One of the initiatives that the President has discussed, and I think most Americans embrace, is the notion we want to do everything we can to remain an open and welcoming country. Unfortunately it’s that welcoming nature coupled with a trusting nature historically that has created some problems for us.
So what the President has proposed and what Congress has embraced is the notion of an entry/exit system. So that as we develop not only the new department of homeland security but working with the right agencies, we need to come up with a system and will come up with a means by which not only do we track people who enter the United States but we also have a tracking system to make sure that when that permissive stay has been completed, unless there’s an exceptional reason and they’ve reapplied for an extension, that they leave as our guests and come back in at some other time, perhaps in another place for another reason.
But we do not do a good job, we haven’t done a good job of not only monitoring people who come in but perhaps more importantly, making sure that what they were doing while they were here was not contrary to the interest of this country. And just as important, we haven’t monitored their exit.
There are estimates in the hundreds of thousands of people who have stayed once their Visa’s expired. It has been estimated that 40% of the illegals, and that number could be anywhere from three million to five million in this country now, perhaps more, are men and women who gained access lawfully to this country and then stayed beyond their visa.
Clearly an entry/exit system we need not only to help us do a better job of monitoring our borders and identifying people who come into this country, but the system is also needed to monitor those who stayed longer than the invitation was extended.
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