Skip to content

Efforts to Tighten Borders Continue

SPECIALLY TRAINED border patrol officers have long been authorized to issue removal orders so that illegal immigrants not seeking asylum get deported without a hearing. Called “expedited removal,” the authority previously applied in only three U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Sectors across the southwest border. It has now been expanded to nine.

Before the removal order is issued, a senior-level supervisory immigration officer must review the decision. People removed from the United States under expedited removal are barred from reentry for a period of five years, but can apply for a waiver.

It is one of many attempts to reduce the likelihood that potential terrorists will enter the United States as illegal immigrants (see “Legal Report,” page 111, for more), but the effort does not do enough, says Michael W. Cutler, former senior special agent with the INS and a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Until and unless we come up with a coordinated system—not a piecemeal approach—then we’re not going to be successful in securing our borders and defending our country against terrorism,” he says.

For example, as noted, expedited removal now applies in nine sectors across the southwest border. That’s not sufficient, however, because “Any state that possesses an international airport is a border state…. John F. Kennedy International Airport is as much a point on the border as is Nogales [Texas],” says Cutler.

Jack Martin, special projects director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says that while expedited removal is not a panacea, it is a necessary first step toward securing the country's borders against terrorists. Reforms to the visa program have made it more difficult for terrorists to enter the country illegally, he says, and consequently they will be looking to exploit other vulnerable areas of the U.S. border.

Mexico and Canada are likely to be the entry point of choice, he says. Expedited removal will help ensure that these persons will be deported quickly and before they can commit acts of terrorism.

Cutler and Martin agree, however, that the visa exemption for friendly countries must be revoked. Visas are integral to the fight against terrorism, says Cutler, because visa officials are required to screen applicants, and the application itself can provide INS officials with investigative leads they would not have had otherwise. In addition, says Cutler, “Very often we find it is easier to prosecute suspected terrorists on visa fraud than [for] committing an act of terror.”

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has also looked at progress at the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies in strengthening the visa process. Among the improvements, the GAO says, consular officers at eight posts, including those of interest to antiterrorism efforts, now “regard security as their top priority.”

However, the report also cited areas of concern. For example, the Department of State has not consistently updated the consular and visa chapters of the Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect recent policy changes. Additionally, clarification is needed as to DHS’s roles and responsibilities overseas, and State must also work to ensure that trained staff members with language skills are posted at key consular points around the world.

The GAO found that critical posts in Saudi Arabia and Egypt were staffed with first-tour officers with no permanent mid-level visa chiefs to provide guidance.