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Senate passes bill tightening border security, visa process

April 19, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Legislation to enhance U.S. border security and tighten the visa process passed the Senate unanimously Thursday night.

‘‘The attacks on Sept. 11 clearly pointed out the shortcomings of our immigration and visa system,'' Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release. ‘‘The (Sept. 11) hijackers exploited the weaknesses in our immigration system to come here, to stay here, to study here and to kill here. This bill is a strong first step toward fixing that system.''

The bill would add 3,000 inspectors and investigators to the nation's northern and southern borders and would largely prohibit issuing student and tourist visas to those from countries determined by U.S. officials to sponsor international terrorism.

The bill would require schools to notify immigration authorities if a foreign student had not reported to school within 30 days of the beginning of the academic term and require immigration officials to closely monitor records.

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It also would require nations participating in the visa waiver program, which allows pre-approved countries to allow its nationals to visit the United States without a visa, to issue tamper-resistant, machine-identifying passports to its citizens.

If passports were lost, the bill would oblige the Immigration and Naturalization Service to track them more efficiently.

Other reforms in the measure include creating a data system to provide the INS and State Department quick access to law enforcement and intelligence information and mandating commercial aircraft flying to the United States to provide information about all their occupants prior to arrival.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said Friday that passing the bill by unanimous consent, a parliamentary move that limits debate, could lead to the eventual loss of public support for the stricter enforcement plans. However, he voted in favor of the bill.

The INS estimates the cost of the proposal to be $1.1 billion the first year and $3.2 billion over three years, but Byrd said even that cost is underestimated.

The House passed a similar version of the bill in December. A committee of House and Senate members will convene to resolve differences between the two bills before final votes in both chambers.

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