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17 January 2003

Suspected Terrorists, Convicted Criminals Identified in New U.S. Border Checks

(Foreign visitor registration marks a "new reality" after terrorist
attacks) (920)
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Convicted drug offenders, traffickers and burglars are
among the 330 aliens who have been stopped as they attempted to enter
the United States since the implementation of the National Security
Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) on September 11, 2002,
according to Kris Kobach, counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Kobach discussed the four-month old program at a Washington press
briefing January 17.

The suspicious aliens stopped thus far include "wanted criminals,
aliens who've committed serious felonies in the past that render them
inadmissible now to come into the United States, aliens with
fraudulent documents, (and) aliens who've previously violated
immigration law," Kobach told reporters.

In some cases, the Department of Justice official said these would-be
visitors to the United States have been refused entry to the country,
and in other cases, they have been turned over to appropriate law
enforcement authorities.

"NSEERS has led to the apprehension of more than one suspected
terrorist so far," Kobach said. For national security reasons, Kobach
said he could not reveal further details.

The first phase of NSEERS was implemented in September as the
Department of Justice and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) work to carry out a congressional mandate to establish a
comprehensive entry-exit system by 2005.

"It's a new reality we face," after the September 2001 terrorist
attacks, Kobach said. Prior to their strikes against American targets,
the attackers had entered the country legally, investigations
revealed, but then violated the terms of their visas.

The INS had no knowledge of the hijackers movements before the
attacks, and no way of knowing. Recognition of that "incredible lack
of information," Kobach said, prompted immediate action to establish a
system which would provide authorities with information on the
whereabouts and activities of foreign visitors.

Kobach says NSEERS has several components. Temporary visitors entering
the country are checked at ports of entry. Nonimmigrant visitors
staying more than 30 days are required to check in with the INS and
report where they are and what they're doing. Visitors are also
required to notify the INS upon their departure from the United
States.

In these last few months, approximately 54,000 alien visitors from 148
different nations have been checked at ports of entry, approximately
one half of one percent of all visitors who have entered the country
since that time, Kobach said. Entering visitors are selected for this
special registration by immigration officials based on various
criteria developed through intelligence information.

As an example of those criteria, Kobach said that a visitor's pattern
of travel through other countries or regions might raise an
immigration official's suspicions; or a visitor might be carrying a
new passport from a country where a large batch of blank passports had
been stolen.

"This system not only protects American citizens, naturalized citizens
and lawful permanent residents, it protects the visitors themselves.
It's a way of making the United States a safer destination to be,"
Kobach said.

Another component of NSEERS requires selected nonimmigrant visitors
from 25 nations to check in with their local INS office to report
their address and activity. They are also fingerprinted and
photographed.

Through this domestic registration process, "We have thus far
apprehended 15 felons who are also in the country illegally," Kobach
said. Among these are aliens who have been convicted of assault with a
deadly weapon, child molestation, theft, and narcotics possession.

More than 23,400 have been registered in this process, Kobach said. Of
those, 1,169 have been temporarily detained, and 164 were being
detained at the time of the January 17 briefing. None have been
deported, although some pending hearings could result in deportation,
the Justice Department official said.

Nonimmigrant visitors from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries are
subject to the NSEERS domestic registration, a fact that has led to
allegations the program is racially or ethnically biased. Rather,
Kobach said, visitors from these countries are subject to the program
because al Qaeda has been known to operate in their homelands.

The Attorney General directed nonimmigrant visitors from Afghanistan,
Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North
Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan Syria, Tunisia, United Arab
Emirates or Yemen to report to their INS offices in December and
January. Visitors who are citizens from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are
directed to comply with NSEERS by February 21. Citizens of Bangladesh,
Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait have been directed to report to
the INS between February 24 and March 28.

The Attorney General January 16 authorized a reopening of the
registration period for those who've missed December and January
deadlines in recognition that there has been some confusion and
misunderstanding of the program. This "grace period" will run from
January 27 to February 7, and Kobach said it demonstrates authorities
willingness to be responsive to complaints from the community.

"The idea is not to trick anyone," Kobach said, but simply to achieve
an orderly enrollment of male alien visitors over aged 16 from these
countries. He also emphasized that broad categories of alien visitors
are not required to register, namely diplomats, lawful permanent
residents, refugees, asylum applicants, and asylum grantees.

While NSEERS has been met with some alarm and resentment from
immigrant communities, Kobach said it is no more demanding than laws
in place in many European countries where alien visitors staying for
prolonged periods must advise authorities of their whereabouts.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)