Congressman Elton Gallegly, chairman of the House International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights subcommittee, said today's the passage of the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act" falls short of what's necessary to make America safer.
For that reason, he voted against the bill.
"The bill voted on today does not meet the goals outlined by the 9/11 Commission's comprehensive report, just the few selected by the Senate," Gallegly said. "A bipartisan majority voted 282-134 for the House version of the bill, which met the 9/11 Commission's comprehensive goals. This watered down version drafted by the Senate is not a compromise, it's an abdication of our responsibility."
The bill includes many provisions Gallegly authored and championed. However, it doesn't include numerous provisions designed to thwart terrorists from taking advantage of loose illegal immigration laws, provisions that Senate conferees stripped from the bill.
Gallegly (R-CA) conducted one of the first congressional hearings in the 9/11 Commission's report, on Aug. 6 at Los Angeles International Airport. That hearing led to some of the provisions Gallegly added to the comprehensive bill.
"I want to once again commend the 9/11 commissioners for the job they did in compiling their report and in explaining the rationale behind their recommendations before congressional committees," Gallegly said. "Unfortunately, Congress has ignored the commission's warning that illegal immigration poses a substantial security risk for the United States.
"This bill contains many important provisions that will increase American security by tightening our inspection procedures for terrorists who try to enter through our ports of entry. Our challenge for the 109th Congress will be to tighten our internal controls to make it more difficult for terrorists to hide among the thousands who sneak across our borders every day, then use fraudulent documents to freely move across the county."
Gallegly noted that the 9/11 terrorists were not the first to take advantage of lax immigration policies.
Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who tried to bomb the New York City subway in 1997, used a false asylum claim to prevent deportation prior to taking part in terrorism. In addition, Mohammed Salameh, a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, applied for amnesty and was denied. But, because there was no mechanism in place to force people denied amnesty to leave the country, he continued to live and work in the United States illegally and ultimately took part in the 1993 attack.
Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 WTC attack, did not have a visa to enter the country, but he applied for asylum when he arrived at JFK airport. Because of a lack of detention space, he was paroled into the country.
Despite these disturbing lessons, the final bill dropped the provision that would deny asylum to terrorists and replaced it with a study. Other provisions dropped from the bill would have allowed the detention of dangerous foreigners who cannot be deported, would have made it easier to remove deportable people, would have allowed for the deportation of foreign terrorists and their supporters, and would have restricted the excessive judicial review of the deportation orders of criminal illegal immigrants.
The bill does include a provision directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to set standards for identification acceptable for domestic airline travel. In six months, Congress will have the opportunity to approve the new standards. If Congress disapproves, no foreign-issued IDs would be acceptable to travel on domestic flights, with the exception of passports. This provision is based on Gallegly's bill, H.R. 687, the "Identification Integrity Act of 2003," except that Gallegly's bill would have barred all federal employees from accepting identification cards issued by foreign governments, with the exception of foreign passports.
Gallegly vowed to continue to fight to further restrict unsecured foreign IDs so they do not provide access to our banking, transportation, and other critical infrastructure.
Other illegal immigration provisions that were stripped from the bill include:
Enforce restrictions on employing illegal immigrants.
Bar illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.
Expedited removal of illegal immigrants.
"As the 9/11 commission realized, searching for a small group of terrorists among the millions of other illegal immigrants in our country is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. The smaller we make the haystack, the easier it will be to find the needle-or a dirty bomb al Qaeda may try to sneak across our border," Gallegly said.
The items Gallegly was responsible for getting into the bill include:
Reform the designation process for foreign terrorist organizations: The bill puts the onus on organizations that have been designated terrorist groups to prove they are not, and simplifies procedures to track the organizations' aliases and reorganizations. This change will streamline the process for keeping a group on the terrorist list, allowing the government to focus on actually fighting terrorism. This provision is based on Gallegly-authored H.R. 3978, "Designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations Reform Act."
Expand pre-inspection efforts at foreign airports: Currently, the Department of Homeland Security inspects passengers who are traveling to the U.S. at 14 foreign airports instead of inspecting them at ports of entry in the U.S. The bill expands this program to include at least an additional 25 airports by January 2008. In addition, the selection criteria for pre-inspection locations would be modified to focus on keeping out potential terrorists. This will help prevent terrorists like Richard Reid, aka the Shoe Bomber, from getting on flights bound for the United States.
Expand Immigration Security Initiative: The bill expands to at least 50 foreign airports the program that assists and trains airline personnel in identifying fraudulent travel documents.
Increase penalties for identification fraud: The bill increases the criminal penalty for the possession and transfer of fraudulent government identification documents, if the offense is committed to further an act of international terrorism.
Support creation of a unified system for transliteration of names into the Roman alphabet: The bill supports an international agreement to improve and modernize the standards for translating names into the Roman alphabet for international travel documents and name-based watch list systems in order to ensure one common spelling for names.
Corrects a definition in federal law that leaves in question the ability of federal prosecutors to go after international terrorists for acts against America and Americans outside U.S. borders. The bill includes the provisions from Gallegly-authored H.R. 3046, "Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries Correction Act of 2003."
Speed up implementation of the entry-exit system: The bill calls on the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to accelerate the full implementation of an automated entry and exit data system at U.S. ports of entry.
Consular training: The bill increases the number of consular officers by 150 per year for fiscal years 2006-2009 and requires improved training, including in the detection of fraudulent travel documents.
Support international agreements to strengthen identification: The bill calls on the United States to lead efforts to implement an international agreement to stop international travel by terrorists through the use of lost, stolen or fraudulent documents and to lead efforts to strengthen the security features of passports and other travel documents.
Study on allegedly lost or stolen passport: The bill orders a study of the feasibility of developing a system to provide consular officers and immigration inspectors with real-time information on passports that have been newly issued to persons who claim that their old passports were lost or stolen. The 9/11 Commission found that terrorists obtain new passports to hide evidence of suspicious travel.
Prosecute terrorists for acts outside the U.S.: Corrects a definition in federal law that leaves in question the ability of federal prosecutors to go after international terrorists for acts against America and Americans outside U.S. borders, which was based on the Gallegly-authored H.R. 3046, "Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries Correction Act of 2003."
The "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act" passed the House today on a 336-75 vote. The Senate was also expected to pass it this week and send it to the President for his expected signature.