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Nexus Update

9/11 Commission Report to Impact
U.S. Immigration Procedures

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9/11 Commission) released its final report on July 22, 2004. The report contains various observations and recommendations related to immigration controls and inter-agency information sharing which will likely change the face of U.S. immigration procedures regarding the issuance of visas, as well as the entry and exit procedures, and treatment of all foreign nationals.

While the 9/11 Commission calls for a welcoming immigration system that facilitates low-risk travelers, implementing the recommended changes would have a noticeable impact on border communities as well as every U.S. employer who has international personnel or international clients. In the coming months, Congress is expected to introduce legislation that would attempt to implement many of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, notwithstanding that many of these recommendations are very general and, if improperly drafted and implemented, could negatively impact our security needs and the flow of people into this country. Many expect that Congress will pass, and the President will sign into law, legislation that will implement these recommendations before the November elections. Interested parties therefore should familiarize themselves with the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

The report contends that because border security was not considered to be a national security matter prior to 9/11, neither the State Department’s consular officers nor the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s inspectors or agents were viewed as full partners in national counterterrorism efforts. As a result, there were various "missed opportunities" where shared intelligence might have hampered the 9/11 hijackers’ ability to enter or remain in the United States. To correct this weakness and integrate immigration authorities into a wider information-sharing network, as well as make it more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, the Commission recommends the following:

Address problems of screening people with biometric identifiers across agencies and governments, including our border and transportation systems, by designing a comprehensive screening system that addresses common problems and sets common standards. "As standards spread," the Commission states, "this necessary and ambitious effort could dramatically strengthen the world’s ability to intercept individuals who could pose catastrophic threats….For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons." (Full Report at pp. 384, 387). "The current patchwork of border screening systems, including several frequent traveler programs, should be consolidated with the US-VISIT system to enable the development of an integrated system, which in turn can become part of the wider screening plan we suggest." (Full Report at p. 388).

Quickly complete a biometric entry-exit screening system, one that also speeds qualified travelers. The Commission finds that Americans, Canadians and Mexicans should not be exempt from carrying biometric passports or otherwise enabling their identities to be securely verified when they enter the United States. "The current system enables non-U.S. citizens to gain entry by showing minimal identification," the report states. "The 9/11 experience shows that terrorists study and exploit America’s vulnerabilities." To balance this requirement, the Commission urges that programs to speed known travelers be given a higher priority, thus permitting inspectors to focus on those who pose greater risks. "The daily commuter should not be subject to the same measures as first-time travelers," the report notes. An individual should be able to pre-enroll, with his or her identity verified in passage. Updates of database information and other checks can ensure ongoing reliability. The Commission believes that the solution to balance the need for security with the flow of traffic, which still will require more research and development, is likely to combine radio frequency technology with biometric identifiers. (Full Report at p. 388).

Integrate the U.S. border security system into a larger network of screening points that includes the transportation system. Such a screening system should "look for identifiable suspects or indicators of risk" and would require "frontline border officials who have the tools and resources to establish that people are who they say they are." (Full Report at p. 387).

Set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses. (Full Report at p. 390).

Target terrorist travel. The Commission recommends that travel intelligence, operations and law enforcement be combined in a strategy to intercept terrorists, find their travel facilitators, and constrain their mobility.

Immigration Law and Enforcement. Within the section of the report laying out the Commission’s immigration-related recommendations, the Commission noted the following:

"Our borders and immigration system, including law enforcement, ought to send a message of welcome, tolerance, and justice to members of immigrant communities in the United States and in their countries of origin. We should reach out to immigrant communities. Good immigration services are one way of doing so that is valuable in every way—including intelligence."