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23 July 2003

Securing U.S. Borders, by U.S. State Dept.'s Maura Harty

Op-ed column by assistant secretary of State for consular affairs

(This column by Maura Harty, who is assistant secretary of State for consular affairs, was published in USA Today July 23 and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)

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Screening Will Be Thorough
By Maura Harty

Stopping dangerous people from entering the USA is our top priority. But the State Department must also efficiently document the millions of legitimate visitors who come to our country for business, school, family visits and exchange programs. There is both a tension and a balance between our need to provide for both secure borders and open doors. The eye of a trained officer on a case, making use of the language skills, country-specific knowledge and counterterrorism training he or she has received is a crucial element of our adjudication process. Access to information from other agencies of the U.S. government is also invaluable.

While security has always been a priority, visa screening in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, has become an essential element in our counterterrorism arsenal. We need to focus our resources, however, where they can be most effective.

Starting Aug. 1, we will require that most foreign visitors explain their proposed travel to a U.S. consular officer, who will have reviewed their visa applications beforehand and may have relevant questions to ask. While increasing the number of interviews may delay some applicants, we intend to take this measure in conjunction with others, such as increasing consular staffing abroad and streamlining certain data-entry procedures, to ensure timely processing of legitimate travelers. Our goal is to work with our partners throughout the U.S. government to give each applicant the scrutiny in an interview appropriate to his or her circumstances, no more and no less.

Most applicants will be able to establish quickly their qualifications for a visa.

Others will be refused due to legitimate concerns that they should not be allowed to come to the United States, either because of security issues or because they do not qualify for a visa under other aspects of U.S. immigration law.

Our Foreign Service officers are highly motivated and trained to do this work that is both our privilege and our duty to perform.

(Maura Harty is assistant secretary of State for consular affairs.)

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)