NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sorting Terrorists from Other Immigrants Is Monumental Challenge

October 8, 2001

Millions of honest foreigners come to the U.S. in search of better lives. A few enter for nefarious purposes. Identifying which would be no easy task in the best off circumstances. But experts say our immigration system is broken -- and it is at our peril that it is not being fixed.

  • Critics say the Immigration and Naturalization Service fails to keep track of persons who enter as foreign students and ignores scores of second-tier schools that offer aviation and specialized training to foreigners.
  • The INS is unable to track more than three million foreign nationals who are overstaying their visas -- just as it has no record of six of the 19 suspected Sept. 11 terrorists entering the country, even though they are thought to have come through ports of entry on legitimate visas.
  • Counterterrorism has never been a top INS priority and the agency is reportedly ill-equipped or funded to handle it.
  • Terrorists are well aware that the 4,000-mile border between the U.S. and Canada is easy to cross with its vast unmonitored stretches.

Outdated technology is also an issue. When most foreign visitors arrive, their names and intended destinations go into an INS database. But the information supplied is often false.

That was demonstrated more than a decade ago when agents visited 2,000 addresses to find visa offenders. They found one.

Source: James V. Grimaldi, Steve Fainaru and Gilbert M. Gaul, "Losing Track of Illegal Immigrants," Washington Post, October 7, 2001.


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