The controversial issues of Homeland Security, terrorism, welfare and multiculturalism all meet in the issue of immigration. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when disparate portions of the Left join hands to harm America's best interests on the immigration front. Thanks to the unholy alliance of leftists, Islamists and multiculturalist racial pressure groups, the Department of Homeland Security has stopped a successful program tracking immigrants from terrorist nations, replacing it with a less ambitious, less targeted arrangement to question a broader swath of immigrants -- putting emigres from Canada on the same level as young Wahhabi "students" from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Yet even this modest program has found critics in the ACLU, CAIR and far-Left Hispanic organizations.
The Department of Homeland Security this month announced a sweeping change to their immigrant registration program, changes that will enable the immigration officials and local law enforcement to better track those who enter our country legally and allow a tighter screening process to guard against criminal aliens and terrorists seeking to come to our shores.
Following the horrific attack on America Sept. 11th 2001 the federal government, in an attempt to tighten immigration enforcement lapses and locate possible sleeper agents of terror began a registration program for males, 16 and older who hailed from nations known as terrorist safe havens.
Under the auspices of the National Security Entry-Exit Registry System (NSEERS) which was implemented to track all newcomers to the country, BICE (formally INS now under the Homeland Security Department) began the Special Registration Program in November 2002. Special Registration required not only new arrivals but those from the selected countries of origin already present in the States to register with their local immigration office. When reporting they were photographed, fingerprinted and were subject to questioning under oath. If the investigation revealed discrepancies in their immigration status or ties with criminal activity including terrorist links, registrants faced arrest, detention or deportation.
The program targeted those from 25 nations: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. As of May 2003 approximately 80,000 people had registered under the program, with another 94,000 from as many as 150 countries who registered as they entered the country.
According to BICE's website “Most of the foreign visitors registered are students, individuals in the U.S. on extended business travel, or individuals visiting family members for lengthy periods. The requirement to register does not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees, asylum applicants, asylum grantees, and diplomats or others admitted under 'A' or 'G' visas.”
The program was fairly successful, netting 35,000 found to have overstayed their visas triggering 13,800 deportation hearings. Another 2,870 have been detained with 23 in federal custody and over 140 criminals uncovered including a reported 11 suspected of having terrorist ties. In addition the DHS reported that several questionable persons have been denied entry.
However, on December 2, Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary of Homeland Security's Border and Transportation Security Department announced that the program would be terminated in order to implement a broader program to target all those who enter the country regardless of nation of origin, age or sex. This month the original program begins a re-registration process which is still required for previous registrants, however under the new program re-registration would be on a case by case basis.
Called the US-VISIT program, the expansion of the registration process will require all who enter the country to provide “biometric identifiers” and detailed information of travel plans, planned places of residency and other personal information and be digitally photographed all of which will be entered into a national database. Information would be updated when the registrant leaves the county. The US-VISIT program is set to begin in January 2004 and be phased in during the course of the year coming fully online by 2005.
"The change will allow us to focus our efforts on the implementation of US-VISIT while preserving our ability to interview some visitors when necessary," Hutchinson said in a press release announcing the new program.
Mandatory interviews, a requirement under the previous system will no longer be required but red flagged cases would be subject to greater scrutiny.
The original program faced predictably shrill criticism from some civil-libertarians and open-borders proponents. Some critics of the special registration program raised the old knee-jerk canard of racial profiling as it targeted predominantly Muslim countries. The calls of profiling were dismissed however and BICE officials noted the presence of Hindus and Christians among the registrants.
BICE spokesman Garrison Courtney explained to the Washington Post, "It had nothing to do with Christians or Jews or Muslims or any religion, it had to do with nations that have people who want to do us harm. There are a lot of terrorist organizations in those parts of the world."
But Saurav Sarkar,of the (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund) AALDEF said, "This program has set a very dangerous precedent for what happens when government decides that Muslims are suspect."
Attempts to paint BICE's actions as anti-Muslim were unfounded as Courtney pointed out that “Seventy-nine percent of the total deportees each year are sent to Mexico."
Hutchinson denied that charges of racial profiling had anything to do with the move to expand the program. The special registration process had faced legal challenges from groups like CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) who had sued over the arrests of those who voluntarily come forward and AALDEF which had begun an active PR campaign to end the program.
Todd Gaziano, legal issues expert at the Heritage Foundation agreed, telling reporters this move did not signal backing down by the administration under criticism. Noting the unprecedented characteristics of the war on terror, Gaziano said it only made sense to improvise and fine tune methods of ferreting out terrorists in our midst.
"The reason that they would suspend one program and try another is because of sensitivity, as well as (that) they think they can do it better. Without a lot more knowledge, I think we as citizens ought to assume that they have found a more effective way," Gaziano said. "Something's got to give if we're going to be serious about keeping track of potential terrorists in this country. Either we need to register everyone and keep files as European nations do, or we need to get serious and apply the technology -- with appropriate protections -- to be able to look for the people who really ought to raise suspicions. I think it would be irresponsible to do neither."
Some pro-Muslim activists welcomed the program change. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington told reporters "We are pleased that the old NSEERS program of special registration is being phased out. We believe that it was counterproductive and that it did little or nothing to promote national security and only served to alienate thousands of law-abiding visitors to the United States."
Others took a more cautionary tone, however. According to press reports Shukri Abed, spokesman for the D.C.-based Middle East Institute, suggested the move may have been deferential overture by the administration to quell growing Arab mistrust of U.S. policies.
"Obviously, we have reached a very low point in Arab-American relations. (Phasing out NSEERS is) absolutely an improvement, but the question is if it is a tactical improvement or strategic improvement. (Bush administration officials) know the anger that prevails in the Arab world, so America has to wake up (to) that," Abed told Radio Free Europe. "People are coming from the Middle East now very angry, and maybe we should go to the source of that anger. Most Arabs are very angry at the United States, and some of them take it to the extreme, of course, by trying to harm the United States, and that's what we want to avoid. [Security] should go beyond searching people and humiliating people. It should go to the roots of this problem by countering it through real aid -- socially and economically and politically -- to the Arab world."
Equally unsatisfied was the ACLU, which said despite the changes that discrimination still lies at the heart of the program.
"These changes suspend one requirement under NSEERS but leave untouched the other provisions that still unfairly target immigrants for detention and deportation because of their religion, ethnicity or national origin," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "It’s crucial to note that the department cited lack of effectiveness in its narrowing of the program, exposing the bankruptcy of such discrimination as a security measure."
As far as the ACLU is concerned, the entire program should be scrapped.
"(The) announcement (of the NSEERS change) is a good first step but it does not address the failure of the program, the discrimination it perpetuates, the confusion that remains and the damage already done," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrant Rights’ Project. "The same reasons - and many more - that are causing the government to suspend the re-registration requirement compel the elimination of the other NSEERS requirements as well."
When the initial special registration program was announced thousands of individuals from the select countries fled rather then face the scrutiny Special Registration entails; Canada reported a huge upswing of nearly 3,000 Muslim “refugees” from the United States, predominantly Pakistani men have sought asylum this year. Hundreds of others returned to their nation of origin. Many however simply ignored the order and have attempted to blend in with their neighbors, hoping to go unnoticed. It is unclear how the US-VISIT program will affect the wider population of immigrants.
What is undeniable however is that the stakes are high for all parties concerned: the United States government who's failure to enforce immigration law allowed the 9/11 terrorists to operate with impunity, needs tougher standards to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. For immigrant's rights groups, it is a setback to their efforts to undermine immigration policy and eliminate the borders and has brought them to the unenviable position of defending diminished homeland security in the aftermath of 9/11.
This move to expand the program is good news to those who seek to improve the ability of Homeland Security to weed out not only terrorists but those who have taken advantage of lax immigration enforcement, entering into the country on temporary visas with no intention of ever leaving.
The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform welcomed the program expansion so long as it meant a universal registration requirement for those entering our country.
"Our immigration policies and national security concerns became the victim of American exceptionalism--the idea that terrorist attacks couldn't happen in the U.S. becuase America is so strong and so righteous. But the 9/11 attacks are proof-positive that that assumption was wrong and the Feds were caught snoozing on the job. The public learned that we had tens of millions of aliens in the country and no one knew how to find any of them and whether or not most of them were affiliated with terrorist groups," David Ray, FAIR spokesperson told Frontpagemag.com. "The only way to get a handle on that whole problem is an entry/exit system and alien registration program that is universal, that applies to everyone even Canadians."
Ray stressed the often unreported fact that there is no constitutional, fundamental or any other right for anyone from anywhere to be in this country. It is a privilege, nothing more, nothing less. A secure, reliable entry/exit and alien registration system would go a long way to ensuring the requisite national security in the post 9/11 America. But Ray reminds us that such a system alone will flounder without across the board immigration reform.
"One Achilles heel still remains and that is the porous border with Mexico that probably the entire Iraqi Army could've gotten over if they had tried," Ray said. "The elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is the completely open and unfettered access nearly anyone has to the United States over the Mexican border."
But fierce opposition to any kind of registration program or secure entry/exit system remains widespread with no indication of subsiding. Left-wing radical activists such as Refuse and Resist, an online group of radicals that has compared Ronald Reagan to Hitler and have made it their stated goal to prevent a "Resurgent America" and LaResistencia, who are, according to their website ”an organization building a mass movement of opposition and resistance to all the attacks on immigrants by the government and their racist point-men,” (and who's motto is ”¡Todos somos ilegales! We are all illegal!") haven been some of the most vocal opponents of the Special Registration program. They have compared the detention and deportation of those found in violation of immigration law with the “disappeared,” the political enemies of the state who vanish in totalitarian banana republics never to be seen again. They are members of the so-called Blue Triangle Network, a front for radical extremists, including Not in Our Name, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU and the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee who have fought tooth and nail against any attempt by immigration officials to weed out criminal aliens in our midst and to improve our nation's security. They cite sympathetic examples of men who had gone to register and were not heard from again until they called their families in America from the nation they were deported to.
The emotional comparisons make for red meat to the ACLU and others already decrying stringent Homeland Security measures and the attendant “loss of liberties” they see behind every move of the Department of Homeland Security. The loss of the freedoms of a relative handful of criminal aliens who flaunt immigration law is an unfortunate necessity given the dangers facing our nation in this war on terror. It is again incumbent to point out that criminal aliens have no rights or guarantees to freedoms of any kind, despite the repeated and disingenuous distortions of fact, stark reality and history spewed by the radical left and aped by the mainstream press in their unending campaign to abolish the bedrock ideals and system of government embodied in our constitution.
This is not the equivalent of Japanese interment camps during World War Two. It is hardly the Holocoaust concentration camps these activists have suggested it is. Tales of registrations and interrogations, round ups and detentions may have struck fear into the hearts of some in the effected communities but it is only the fear that criminals being caught in their crimes should have. It is far less important than the fear unrestrained terror would inflict on the populace in general.