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New law will mean closer
monitoring of foreign visitors
By SERGIO BUSTOS
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON — Congress and the Bush administration have radically altered the nation’s longstanding open-door policy toward foreign visitors since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, which President Bush signed into law in May, imposes strict visa requirements on millions of foreign visitors who come here to study, do business or travel as tourists.
Bush insists the new law is a necessary tool to prevent future terrorist attacks.
“We must know who’s coming into our country and why they’re coming,” he said. “We must know what our visitors are doing and when they leave. That’s important for us to know. It’s knowledge necessary to make our homeland more secure.”
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A border patrol agent scans the border near El Paso, Texas, during 2001. (Linda Stelter/El Paso Times)
The new law bans foreigners from countries deemed sponsors of terrorism and authorizes the federal government to track the entry and exit of all foreign visitors. The information will be shared among several federal agencies, including the FBI.
Under the new law:
• College and university officials must inform the federal government whenever a foreign student fails to enroll in school.
• By 2003, all passports must contain “biometric” features that include electronic fingerprints and photos.
• Twenty-eight national governments participating in the Visa Waiver Program will be graded every two years on how much they’re cooperating with the United States to prevent fraud. The program allows visitors from participating countries to enter the United States for a limited time without a visa.
• Airlines and ships must submit passenger lists to immigration officials before arriving in the United States.
The law also authorizes the Justice Department to hire hundreds of new border patrol agents along the southwest and northern borders. As many as 10,000 agents will be stationed in the Southwest at the end of next year, up from 9,000 this year. About 1,000 agents will patrol the northern border, up from 300 this year, according to the Justice Department.
Keeping track of every foreign visitor won’t be easy. About two-thirds of the 500 million people who enter and leave the country each year are foreign nationals. The rest are U.S. citizens.
The job of tracking foreigners will be handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, at least until Congress passes legislation aimed at abolishing the INS and replacing it with two new agencies.
“We must know who’s coming into our country and why they’re coming. We must know what our visitors are doing and when they leave.”
— President Bush
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