Plan to control alien entry raises concerns

Plan to control alien entry raises concerns

The Justice Department plan announced today to fingerprint and photograph aliens of 'national security' concern, in Attorney General John Ashcroft's words, has prompted concerns about the ability of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to handle the job.

The registration plan calls for aliens who meet an as-yet-undefined criterion to be photographed and fingerprinted as they enter the country with valid visas. Some foreigners now in the country holding visas in good standing also would be asked to provide fingerprints and photographs, Ashcroft said.

Justice attorneys who framed the proposal were not aware that the INS' Computerized Applicant Information Management System already holds photographs of aliens and actually has been modified to hold fingerprints, an official with oversight responsibilities in the area said.

But 'the INS logistically isn't staffed to implement Ashcroft's proposal,' the official said. INS lacks the staff and systems resources to operate the system at all 300 ports of entry to the United States, he said.

He added that the State Department has a system, operated by bonded contractors, of biometric identification cards for Mexican nationals who are allowed to enter parts of the United States at will. The system operates under a special agreement with Mexico and gives about 6 million people legal access to the United States. 'The question is, why doesn't he just extend this?' the official said.

Under the plan Ashcroft described in a press conference today, state and local law enforcement officials would be requested to help Justice implement the program and track down aliens who fail to abide by its requirements. Several municipal police departments have recently said they would not cooperate with broad sweeps for aliens who do not hold valid visas.

Ashcroft said that Justice would enter the names of those who fall afoul of the requirements into the FBI's National Crime Information Center system.

Authority for the new regulations stems from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which requires aliens in the United States to register annually via the U.S. Postal Service. Enforcement of that requirement lapsed in the early 1990s as the INS leadership shifted resources to other areas and the flow of illegal immigrants into the country increased, sources said.

But thousands of aliens continue to send in postcards annually verifying their visa status and residence, the official said. The INS has not maintained databases of the residual flow of alien registration documents, the official added.

Reports that the proposal would only apply to nationals of Middle Eastern and Muslim countries prompted outcries by representatives of the Arab American community, who charged that it was discriminatory. Ashcroft said that almost anyone entering the United States from any country could fall under the photographing and fingerprinting requirement if they met the criterion for national security concern.

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