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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

STATEMENT



OF



MICHAEL T. DOUGHERTY

 DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS

FOR

BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY




REGARDING A HEARING ON




"THE WAR ON TERRORISM:

 IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT SINCE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001"




BEFORE THE





HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION, BORDER SECURITY, AND CLAIMS

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY





MAY 8, 2003

2 P.M.

2237 Room Rayburn House Office Building


 

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE, thank you for the opportunity today to update you on the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (BICE) efforts to combat terrorism. No mission of the U.S. government is more important than protecting the Nation and the American people against future terrorist attacks, and that is the paramount responsibility of the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The work of BICE is an indispensable part of fulfilling this responsibility. As you know, BICE has only recently been formed and I am especially pleased to be able to provide you with an update on initiatives begun under the now legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and how these operations will be managed by their new custodian, BICE.


We as a nation are proud of our globally celebrated-and unmatched-commitment to embracing those who come here legally to join us in building up America, and rightfully so. It is what makes our country great.


However, as the tragic events of September 11, 2001 made clear, those intent on tearing us down will try to take advantage of our generosity and openness by exploiting any mechanism that allows them access to the United States. The nineteen hijackers used our immigration system to gain access to the country in order to carry out the deadly attacks of September 11. While the horrific events of that date reinforced the vulnerabilities in our immigration system, operatives in prior terrorism cases have used fraudulent identities, visas, and travel documents to gain access to our country and further their operations. In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, operatives arrived in the U.S. on student visas but never attended school here. What is also clear from this history is the incredibly powerful tool that immigration enforcement provides in addressing the vulnerabilities in our system that have been exploited by terrorists and other violent criminals.


BICE's mission is to use its enforcement tools to prevent exploitation of the immigration system. To fulfill this mission, BICE targets terrorist and criminal organizations that threaten the country's security and strategically focuses our resources to address these threats. In addition to working on specific cases that raise national security concerns, we identify and mitigate the vulnerabilities in our immigration system that could be exploited by terrorist and criminal organizations.


OVERVIEW


The Homeland Security Act of 2002 abolished the INS and the President's Reorganization Plan under the Act established BICE. BICE combines the investigative functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service with the Federal Protective Service (FPS). In addition, the President's Plan merged the Air and Marine Interdiction Unit and the legacy INS Detention and Removal Program into BICE. The new agency brings together approximately 14,000 employees, including some 5,500 special agents. This makes it the second largest investigative team in Federal law enforcement. Only the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is larger.


BICE enforces immigration and customs laws, giving it one of the most complex and far-reaching missions within DHS. BICE investigates immigration violations, migrant and contraband smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, trade fraud, and export violations. BICE also manages the investigation of document, identity, visa and immigration fraud. Controlling the flow of goods and people within our country, verifying the authenticity of identity and travel documents, and monitoring the legal transfer of funds are critical to reducing our vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Meeting BICE's critical responsibilities requires a robust intelligence capability, an air and marine interdiction capability, and an ability to apprehend, detain, prosecute, and remove illegal aliens. Finally, BICE is charged with protecting more than 8,000 Federal facilities nationwide against terrorism, a responsibility carried out by a component part of the Agency, the FPS.


The investigation following the events of September 11, 2001, demonstrates how immigration authority and intelligence are critical to national security investigations. Immigration authority provided for the arrest and detention of Zacarias Moussaoui, the individual charged with complicity in the September 11th attacks, while the terrorism investigation was ongoing. Criminal immigration provisions allowed for the prosecution of associates of the September 11th hijackers who used fraudulent visas or documents or who applied for immigration benefits through fraud. The intelligence community relied on data produced by immigration databases and analyzed by the Intelligence Division to help track the hijackers and locate all their known places of residence and known associates in the U.S. and abroad. The Intelligence Division also provided data and analysis on travel patterns and document use by the hijackers. Finally, INS used its authorities to detain and remove aliens who came to the attention of law enforcement through leads related to the September 11th investigation, including known associates of the hijackers. Clearly immigration expertise and authority play a major role in such national security matters.


Although I am here today to speak about immigration enforcement and its role in counter-terrorism, that plan will incorporate the authorities that formerly fell within the U.S. Customs Service that now reside in BICE. For example, our alien smuggling initiatives, initiatives that have direct national security implications in some cases, will now benefit from the financial crimes expertise developed by Customs agents. In sum, BICE employs the powerful tools of civil and criminal immigration authority to protect the nation and now adds U.S. Customs Service authority to its arsenal in the war on terrorism.


COUNTER-TERRORISM IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT


The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 signaled the beginning of a new phase in the global fight against terror: for the first time, a terrorist attack was brought to American soil by foreign terrorists. In the year before the bombing, INS agents joined the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) in New York and Newark. Immigration JTTF agents were integral to the successful investigation and prosecution of key defendants in the New York "TRADEBOM" case. In fact, one of the lead defendants in that case was charged with, and convicted of, immigration fraud as all enforcement authorities were brought to bear on the perpetrators of this crime.


In the years following, Congress enhanced our mission in combating international terrorism. Through the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Immigration Reform Act, Congress provided substantial new enforcement weapons to be used against aliens engaged in, or supporting, international terrorism. In the same timeframe, the former INS was authorized to effectively coordinate with other law enforcement and security agencies in combating alien terrorists and foreign terrorist organizations. By 1996, 24 immigration special agents served on 14 different JTTFs.


The focus on using immigration authorities to deter terrorism continued with the establishment of INS's National Security Unit (NSU) in 1998. This unit was established to act as the central liaison and oversight mechanism for all terrorism and national security matters as well as to oversee the national INS JTTF program.


Today, BICE fields over 150 immigration agents, 45 customs agents, and 14 FPS agents assigned to the JTTFs. Further increases are a priority as is cross training of all BICE/JTTF agents so that each agent on the task force brings to bear the full authorities behind BICE enforcement.


BICE's Division of National Security Investigations is designed to tackle national security threats previously addressed by INS and Customs as independent agencies. It will oversee BICE initiatives aimed at protecting our national homeland security. The Division has three component Branches: the National Security Unit, the Strategic Investigations Branch, and the Compliance Enforcement Branch, each with its own active and dynamic national homeland security mission.


The National Security Unit focuses on programs, policies, and initiatives that identify, prosecute, and remove foreign nationals and groups involved in terrorist activity. The Strategic Investigations Branch focuses on programs, policies, and initiatives designed to prevent terrorist groups, foreign entities, or criminal organizations from trafficking in Weapons of Mass Destruction or unlawfully transferred technology. For example, BICE cases in this area include stopping the trafficking of strategic military component parts and technology used in Weapons of Mass Destruction, warplanes and missiles. This Branch also monitors any individuals or groups who engage in transactions that support or facilitate such illegal activities or those that violate United States embargoes or sanctions. It incorporates the traditional authorities of the former U.S. Customs Service into BICE's national security mission. The Compliance Enforcement Branch is focused on maintaining the integrity of our immigration system by actively locating and removing non-immigrant visa violators. This program will focus substantially on violators identified in our Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, and the soon to be implemented U.S. Visit system.



The National Security Unit works in concert with the National Security Law Division (NSLD) in developing hard-hitting, effective strategies in the war on terrorism. The NSLD also assists in cases where BICE agents seek indictments for alien smuggling and benefit, identity, visa and marriage fraud linked to "special interest cases." BICE's unique authority and experience in civil and criminal immigration law disrupt the activities of those who seek to harm our nation.


In addition to the work of the National Security Division, BICE is engaged in proactive enforcement actions geared toward prevention and disruption of terrorist cells, and suspected terrorist supporters and activists, before they have the opportunity to act. BICE is uniquely poised, because of its statutory authorities and mission, to undertake prevention and disruption activities against foreign nationals from countries known to contain active supporters or harborers of al Qaeda - and other - designated foreign terrorist organizations.


A prime example of this national security focus is the initiative BICE launched on

March 20, when agents began seeking out Iraqi nationals believed to be unlawfully in the United States. The joint effort, carried out with the FBI as part of Operation Liberty Shield, aimed to identify and collect information on individuals who might pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people. Approximately 2,000 interviews were conducted resulting in 92 arrests (84 on immigration violations and 8 on criminal charges) by BICE. The Iraqis targeted as part of this effort were identified using a range of intelligence criteria and based on screening of data from our immigration databases. Additionally, as part of Operation Liberty Shield, BICE detained arriving asylum applicants from Iraq and nations where al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda sympathizers, and other terrorist groups are known to have operated. This reasonable and prudent action allowed BICE agents to contact asylum seekers, determine the validity of claims, verify identities, and interview those detained in order to gather intelligence for potential threats and/or sources of information. Further, BICE led an initiative to review approximately 2,500 asylum files related to Iraqi nationals in order to exploit these files for potential threats and/or sources of information. Of the 2,629 reviewed, 619 cases have been referred for follow-up investigation by BICE and the FBI.



Projects initiated under the INS now subject to BICE management include the Absconder Apprehension Initiative (AAI), National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), critical infrastructure protection operations, anti-smuggling programs, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and the operations of the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC). The recently announced U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology system (U.S. VISIT) will replace the currently existing NSEERS program, integrate the SEVIS program, and encompass the Congressional requirements of the automated Entry Exit system. U.S. VISIT is designed to make entering the U.S. easier for legitimate tourists, students and business travelers, while making it more difficult to enter the U.S. illegally through the implementation of biometrically authenticated documents.



An examination of these projects and initiatives demonstrates how immigration expertise is vital to the protection of the national security and how that authority will be enhanced by proximity to the other authorities now housed within BICE.


Absconder Apprehension Initiative


BICE is deeply committed to using the full range of its broad statutory authority to enhance domestic security. The Absconder Apprehension Initiative is one of several notable examples of this approach. Under this initiative, BICE tracks, apprehends, and removes violators of U.S. immigration law who had been ordered deported, but fled before the deportation order could be carried out. Careful analysis has determined there are in excess of 300,000 alien absconders with unexecuted final orders of removal including approximately 80,000 with criminal records. Moreover, historically, voluntary departures have not been tracked. BICE views the failure to track departures as a serious issue effecting national security. The affective implementation of the Entry-Exit system, now part of U.S. VISIT, under development will be part of the solution to confirm departures.


BICE has identified outstanding areas of concern. For example, Phase I of the two-phase alien absconder project first sought to target 5,900 aliens from countries with a known al Qaeda presence or known terrorist recruiting activity. After vetting all files, approximately 5,000 individuals were deemed appropriate for removal. To date, only 1,139 absconders have been apprehended. Moreover, 803 of those arrested have been removed from the country; 224 of those arrested are currently in BICE custody awaiting removal; and 45 apprehended absconders are in various stages of criminal prosecution by the United States Attorneys for a variety of offenses. BICE has taken a variety of steps to apprehend these individuals or to verify they have left the U.S. These efforts include following-up on all available leads by conducting field investigations to determine if individuals are still located in the U.S. Additionally, we have analyzed passenger departure manifests, a variety of public and government data systems including driver license information, and state-owned systems available to law enforcement personnel.


Phase II of the Initiative is focused on the apprehension and removal of more than 300,000 aliens with unexecuted final orders of removal. As a force multiplier, this data is being entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database so that the added weight of other Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers is brought to bear on this mission. Working with the FBI, an Immigration Violators File has been created within NCIC specifically for this initiative and is expected to be deployed in June. We are now in the process of prioritizing these violators so that the most violent offenders, those that pose the greatest threat to public safety, are located first.

 

BICE recognizes the fundamental importance of this program to immigration law enforcement. To maintain integrity in our legal immigration system, there must be consequences for those who fail to abide by orders of removal. In order to give this effort appropriate attention and priority, BICE plans to move the AAI from the Investigations Program to the Office of Detention and Removal. The shift will permit Special Agents, who currently handle these cases, to concentrate on national security and criminal investigations and at the same time allow Deportation Officers to focus on locating and apprehending absconders. BICE's ultimate goal is to apprehend and remove all aliens who have received a final order of removal. We realize accomplishing this goal will take time to achieve but it is vital to the integrity of our immigration system.

 

National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)


The NSEERS program, which BICE now oversees, plays an important role in our anti-terrorism efforts. The program has recently been folded into the new comprehensive U.S. VISIT system mentioned above.


Congress called for development of an integrated entry-exit system for arriving visitors. NSEERS is the first part of that system. NSEERS promotes several key national security objectives:

 

          Allows the United States to run the fingerprints of aliens seeking to enter the country or already present against a database of known terrorists and criminals;

          Enables the United States to determine whether such an alien has overstayed their visa status; and

          Permits the United States to verify that an alien is complying with the terms of his visa status by living where he said he would live and by doing what he said he would do while in the United States, thus ensuring that he is not violating our immigration laws.


Since the implementation of NSEERS last September, more than 138,000 individuals from more than 151 countries have registered. BICE Special Agents are responsible for interviewing and processing registrants referred for investigation of possible immigration violations, criminal violations, or terrorism-related matters. To date, the program has resulted in the identification of 11 aliens linked to terrorism, the arrest of more than 120 criminal aliens, and the issuance of more than 12,000 notices to appear for removal proceedings.


Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)


Ensuring that foreign students comply with the terms of their visas is also vital to our nation's security. That is why the Congress mandated in 1996 the development of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which was deployed under the legacy INS. This new Internet-based system, now part of U.S. VISIT and operated by BICE, maintains information that can be accessed electronically, making it a powerful tool for combating fraud and for ensuring that individuals comply with the terms of their visa. Student status violators are now referred to our Division of National Security Investigations where those leads are prioritized based upon factors such as criminal history and prior adverse immigration history. High priority leads are then referred to the appropriate field office for investigation. To date, 174 cases have been referred for field investigation resulting in 20 arrests. As BICE continues SEVIS implementation, increased resources will be required to ensure effective enforcement against student violators. Under BICE, we plan to resolve inherited technical issues and further enhance operational and resource planning to support follow-up investigations and enforcement actions. With current investigations resources already strained, a fee-based SEVIS structure currently under review within the Administration must be implemented to provide strong enforcement against violators.

 

SEVIS leads, as well as those leads generated by the NSEERs program I just described, will now be coordinated, disseminated, and tracked through the newly-created Compliance Enforcement Program.


It has been widely reported that the SEVIS system suffers from various technical problems. BICE is being aggressive is addressing these inherited issues. For example, there has been an identified issue with the interface between SEVIS and the Department of State Consular Affairs Consolidated Consular Database. At times, there was a delay in data share from SEVIS to the Consular Affairs system. That issue was corrected on May 2nd and we have worked closely with the Department of State to reconcile any data gaps between the two systems. Additionally, the problem of "data bleeding" or the more technical term “data crossover” is the incorrect placement of student or school data in a record. For example, there was an instance where one school printed an I-20 only to find information from another school appearing on the I-20. A solution was identified and successfully tested this week. The solution will be integrated into the SEVIS software next week.

    


Critical Infrastructure Protection Operations


Another priority within BICE is reflected through the creation of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Office which will focus its traditional immigration employment verification authorities on our nation's critical infrastructure or venues. The presence of workers who have presented fraudulent identification and employment authorization documents poses a significant security breach at our nation's critical infrastructure. Operation Tarmac, for example, was launched in recognition of the fact that illegal workers at airports may pose a serious security risk. It aims to ensure that people with access to secure areas at airports are properly documented and identified. Those without proper documentation are either prosecuted or removed. So far, more than 229,000 Employment Eligibility Verification Forms (Forms I-9) have been audited at more than 3,000 airport businesses. Nearly 1,000 unauthorized aliens have been arrested, with more than two-thirds of them being charged with criminal violations. Additionally, fines have been levied against employers for worksite violations.


Operation Glowworm uses the same approach to enhance the security of our Nation's nuclear power facilities. Field offices have investigated the 104 commercial nuclear plants and facilities regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and more than 63,000 permanent and contract employees with direct plant and facility access. We are pleased to report significant industry compliance with employment documentation requirements, resulting in only six administrative arrests.


Earlier this year, Operation Game Day was conducted to protect public security and safety at Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, California. This operation targeted security and transportation companies in the San Diego area that had unrestricted or broad access to Super Bowl activities, including the game at Qualcomm Stadium. BICE reviewed employment authorization records of approximately 11,000 security guards and checked indices for approximately 3,500 licensed taxi drivers working in the San Diego area. Operation Game Day resulted in the arrest of 45 security guards and 24 taxi or limousine drivers for either criminal or immigration violations.


Consistent with aligning BICE's structure and resources with the threats facing the Nation, BICE has focused its resources on protecting critical infrastructure. BICE plans on expanding upon operations such as Tarmac, Glowworm and Game Day, by further investigation of industries, facilities, landmarks and other critical infrastructure vulnerable to those who seek to do harm. Planning for future critical infrastructure operations will use a risk-based approach to assess threats, develop targets and allocate investigative resources.


Anti-Smuggling Program


BICE's Anti-Smuggling Program aims to dismantle smuggling organizations with links to terrorism and others groups that pose a risk to our national security. Available information indicates terrorist organizations use human smuggling rings to move around the globe, which makes investigating and dismantling these organizations a vital part of our overall effort to enhance homeland security.


Focusing our anti-smuggling resources on domestic security led to the initiation of Operation Southern Focus in January 2002. This multi-jurisdictional operation targeted large-scale smuggling organizations specializing in the movement of U.S.-bound aliens from countries of concern. Many targets of Operation Southern Focus were believed to be responsible for smuggling hundreds of aliens into the country. Since the inception of this operation, nine major smugglers have been arrested and charged with alien smuggling violations, and significant alien smuggling pipelines have been severely disrupted. BICE plans to continue to focus anti-smuggling efforts on organizations and systems that can be exploited by terrorists to gain entry to the United States.


As I mentioned earlier, BICE seeks to enhance its anti-smuggling efforts by incorporating financial crimes expertise developed by Customs into this critical immigration enforcement program.



Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC)


BICE makes its investigative expertise more widely available by providing support to state and local law enforcement through the LESC located in Burlington, Vermont. The Center's primary mission is to help local law enforcement agencies determine if a person they have contact with, or have in custody, is in fact an illegal, criminal, or fugitive alien. The LESC provides an around-the-clock link between Federal, state, and local officers and the immigration databases maintained now by BICE.


When a law-enforcement officer encounters an alien, LESC personnel are able to provide that officer with vital information and guidance, and if necessary, place the officer in contact with a BICE immigration officer in the field. The partnerships fostered by the LESC increase public safety. Everyday, these partnerships result in the apprehension of individuals who are unlawfully present in the United States, many of whom have committed a crime and pose a threat to the local community or our Nation. Under BICE, the role of the LESC will be enhanced by further expanding service to local law enforcement and maximizing the intelligence and analytical capabilities of this critical resource. In addition to serving law enforcement agencies, BICE is transitioning the LESC by enhancing the internal and external coordination of national law enforcement activities. Under BICE, the LESC will play a more significant role in support of the Institutional Removal Program (IRP); Alien Criminal Apprehension Program (ACAP) and expand on the development of the Central States Command Center philosophy of coordinated processing of criminal aliens for removal through technological tools such as video teleconferencing.

 

CONCLUSION


Deterring illegal migration and combating immigration-related crime have never been more critical to our national security. The men and women of BICE are tackling this challenging mission with diligence, determined to ensure that no duty is neglected even as they continue to adjust during this time of transition into the new Department. We are eager to work with you and the other members of Congress to provide the American people with the level of security they demand and deserve. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.



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