Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information Holds Hearing on Border Security Technology
Thank you, Senator. And I apologize for running late. And I literally am running late. I got held up, and I ran all the way over here, and I'm out of breath. So, if I have to stop in the middle of this, I apologize. But thank you for holding this hearing and asking my subcommittee to participate. And I appreciate very much, Senator Feinstein, Senator Kennedy, Senator Leahy as well as Senator Craig being here.
This hearing addresses some very important issues facing our nation. I'm glad that we have an opportunity to have a discussion with some of the key players at the Department of Homeland Security who'll now be in charge of securing our borders. I'm particularly pleased that Secretary Hutchinson is here, an old colleague of mine, a gentleman that I know very well and have utmost respect for. I traveled around the world with him and know him to be, not just a great gab, but a great leader. And we're sure pleased to have you where you are.
I'm pleased that we're able to have a discussion in the form of a joint subcommittee hearing because I think it's critical that both the Technology, Terrorism and Government Information Subcommittee and the Border Security Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee be involved in solving these issues. Because we do need the cooperation of both subcommittees to find a solution to the problem that we are now facing at our borders. I told you I was out of breath. I'll get there (ph).
I do not think that anyone here would argue that the events of September 11 brought to light a glaring hole in the security of our nation. And that is our immigration system. It's overwhelmed and undermanned. And I would say to Secretary Hutchinson that you have a tremendous responsibility on you that I'm glad it's you there and not me. And it seems that things slipped through the cracks, and as a result, three terrorists who hijacked the planes that flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were in this country with expired visas. The problems with our immigration system cannot be fixed overnight, and I do not think anyone realistically expected them to be. But we can take steps. And we have taken steps to address the myriad of issues that we are currently facing with our immigration system.
The USA Patriot Act, which we passed in the 107th Congress resolved some of the ambiguities in the Immigration and Nationality Act regarding the admission and deportation of terrorists. It also provided the attorney general with the power to detain suspected terrorists before they had an opportunity to do more harm. We built upon that legislation with the passage of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act. This legislation closed several loopholes in immigration law by providing additional staff and training for our borders and training and by facilitating comprehensive data sharing between law enforcement officials, intelligence agencies, the State Department and the INS. It also mandated the use of biometric technology to enhance our ability to confirm the identities of those seeking admission to the U.S., restricted the admittance of nationals from countries that sponsor terrorism by requiring the State Department to first conclude that the individual does not pose a national security threat and improved upon our foreign student monitoring program.
I'm very pleased with the legislation that the Congress passed and the president signed into law. And I realize that we attached short deadlines with many of the mandates that we incorporated into that legislation. But we were eager for action. Now is the time to check the progress of implementing this legislation and see what more needs to be done to determine the areas in which performance needs to be more effective and to assess how realistic the goals of our last legislative efforts were.
I know that I remain committed to working with my colleagues, our president, his administration, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Treasury Department and all other necessary parties to ensure that we are taking the needed steps to secure our borders. I'm concerned with the number of the aspects associated with our immigration system. For instance, I want to know what steps we are taking to track foreign national visitors in the U.S. with expired visas. I have concerns about the number of illegal immigrants coming into our country between ports of entry. I'm worried about the smuggling of drugs or weapons across our borders and what we're doing to prevent it.
Today I will focus on what the departments are currently doing and what mechanisms can be put in place to facilitate the entry of people authorized to come into this country and to ensure at the same time that certain inadmissible people are prevented from entering. I'm interested in hearing more about the possibility of adding biometrics to visas and passports and of creating a biometric watchlist to identify travelers who are inadmissible to the United States before issuing them travel documents or before allowing them entry into the U.S. However, I do have questions about the cost of implementing these tools, about the reliability of current biometric technology and about the affect that pursuing one of several of these options will have on our trade and commerce and our relation with other nations.
I'm eager to begin our discussion with today's witnesses. I thank them again for being here and participating in this important exchange. And I look forward to a dialogue. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, you have probably heard Speaker Hastert use this example. And I want to cite it to you as really a real flaw in the procedure that has been ongoing at our border, particularly our border on the south. And that is that at any one location, whether it's Nogales or whether it's Laredo or where, we have any number of stalls that every vehicle has to go through. And it's very obvious that the bad guys have people sitting in the woods on the hill with binoculars checking each of these sites where the vehicles are going through.
And because of the various jurisdictions that are in place at the border, the INS folks may be checking one lane, and they have the power and authority to do certain things, maybe look in trunks, maybe not. DEA may be at another location. They have power and authority to do certain things, maybe look inside the vehicle, maybe ask people to get out, maybe not. And the people who are sitting on the hill are directing their truck drivers or their automobile drivers to a certain number of entry point based upon where they have illegal people or illegal drugs. And the folks are going to that particular location knowing that that particular agent can't look in his trunk.
I know this was somewhat addressed in the Border Enhancement Security and Visa Reform Act. Have you had an opportunity to address this in the short time you've been in your position? What are we doing with respect to long-term trying to solve this problem?
Senator Chambliss, likewise I have been with Speaker Hastert, and he's made that comment. And there is some reality there. Certainly those who want to bring illegal goods in across the border do their own surveillance. And they look for weaknesses. And I think from our standpoint strategically, we have to be flexible to respond to that. We have to shift our mode of operations so that it is not as predictable. And then I think we've taken a good step at the Department of Homeland Security.
As you know, you have Customs inspectors, and you had INS inspectors and Agriculture inspectors at each point of entry all reporting up to three different port directors, all reporting up to three different departments of government. We have combined the inspection services with the border patrol into the Customs and Border Protection Bureau. So you have clear leadership, lines of authority, and you've got the greater potential for cross training that will address some of those weaknesses.
And I think finally, obviously it's intelligence. They try to look what we do. We need to know what they are planning. And so we want to be able to enhance our human intelligence capability too, so that we can have effective procedures to counter that.
So is everybody that's going to be checking at the border now going to be physically under your jurisdiction?
That's correct. Through the Commissioner Bonner (ph) who will be head of Customs and Border Protection.
That will make a huge difference.
Secondly, as you know, one primary focus that I have had over the last couple of years is information sharing between federal agencies as well as vertically down to the state and local level. Picking up on what Senator Kennedy said and what Senator Kyl mentioned there, how are we doing with respect to information sharing with regard to INS, APHIS (ph), everybody that's under your control and the respective law enforcement agencies, FDI, CIA or whoever?
CIA and FBI are doing a better job. But it certainly doesn't need to stop there. That's just the very, very beginning point. I want to make sure that your folks have an ongoing relationship at the horizontal level of sharing this information across agencies, also your relationship with your state and local folks, particularly at these borders where intelligence information has got to be shared in real time.
And that is the goal that we have. And the urgency of that is very clear. Substantial progress has been made since September 11. Both the mandate of the president, attorney general and Secretary Ridge is to make sure that we share information. There are some obstacles in terms of systems. And that's what we have to work with this committee to overcome.
But for example, since September 11, the visa applications and the information from our overseas consular offices has been made available to our inspectors at the border. When you look at what the FBI has in their NCI (ph) system and their wanted persons, those have been added to the immigration ident (ph) system. This last week I was in the Newark airport port of entry. And the inspector was showing me that they have access to the INS database.
They have access to the FBI database. And it has made enormous difference. These are new accesses since September 11. And the problem is there's two different systems. We still need to make them more interoperable. But enormous progress has been made. Since January of 2002, INS checks have produced over 4,500 hits on these new availability of records. That's more than 300 a month on the average of individuals being checked that have committed crimes or have some basis to explore further.
Integration of those systems, I agree with you, is critical. Are we giving you the resources to do that?
I think we are where we need to be right now. I think it's important as you look at the commitment of resources that we get organized. We have a good plan. We have a logical way to evaluate that. So Congress has appropriated money to start on these initiatives. And we report back as to the progress that we're making and continue to evaluate it.