INS urged to expand tracking

Center for Immigration Studies

The computerized system being assembled to keep tabs on foreign students in the United States should be expanded to track other long-time visitors as well, an immigration control advocate told a House subcommittee June 19.

And, the names of 4 million foreigners who have overstayed their visas should be added to a national criminal database, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. That would alert local police to their identities and could lead to tens of thousands of arrests and deportations each year, he said.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there has been a rising demand for greater scrutiny of foreigners, tougher enforcement of immigration laws, and greater use of computer systems and other information technology to do the job.

For example, by expanding the automated system being built to track foreign students, the Immigration and Naturalization Service could be informed of the whereabouts and activities of nearly a million temporary workers, trainees and intra-company transferees who are in the United States now, Camarota told the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration and Claims Subcommittee.

In recent weeks, INS has announced several high-tech initiatives to step up monitoring of foreigners. One is an automated system that is to begin tracking students this summer. Another would require some foreigners to undergo fingerprinting and photographing when they arrive at U.S. ports of entry. Their fingerprints would be compared to those in databases of criminals and terrorists. And certain foreigners would also be required to periodically report to INS while they remain in the United States.

To keep track of foreign students, INS plans to require colleges and schools to use an Internet-based system to alert INS when students change addresses, change courses of study or violate terms of their visas.

Camarota said employers and others responsible for long-term visitors who are not students should be required to do the same kind of reporting.

Keeping tabs on long-term visitors is important because they are in the country long enough to pose a threat, he said. "Short-term visitors are less likely to have the time to hatch sophisticated plots before their visas expire," he said.

Short-term visitors also are a lot harder to track. "It is unrealistic to expect foreign visitors to submit their passports every time they check into a hotel and to expect hotels to report that information," Camarota said.

For now, INS "has no idea" where most visitors are once they have entered the country. The agency doesn't even know whether foreign visitors have left when their visas expire, Camarota said.

INS already has plans to change that with a computerized entry/exit system that would catalog visa holders as they enter the country and alert the agency when visas expire but visa holders have not departed. The system is scheduled to be in place by the end of 2004.

INS has begun adding 300,000 names of illegal aliens who have been ordered deported to a national criminal database, but Camarota said that effort should be greatly expanded to include all visa overstays. The 1990 census estimates that 3 million to 4 million of the 8 million illegal aliens in the United States have overstayed their visas.

The INS must do more to monitor visiting foreigners, said Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.), subcommittee chairman. "There are thousands among those millions — perhaps millions among those millions" who pose a threat to safety and homeland security, he said.

But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) cautioned that INS must be able to distinguish aliens who pose a threat from those that do not. The U.S. economy has depended for years on the labor of undocumented workers such as farm laborers and hotel workers. "They are not the terrorist threat that we need to guard against," she said.

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