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Help In War On Terror Could Even Help Illegal US Immigrants - 2001-11-30

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is promising immigration help for non-American citizens willing to offer information on terrorists operating inside the United States.

Attorney General Ashcroft says the government is willing to provide visa assistance and what he calls a pathway to citizenship for those non-citizens who have useful information about suspected terrorists.

"If you have any information you think might assist the federal government in its efforts to fight terrorism, please contact your local FBI office. Or, if you are abroad, contact the nearest United States Embassy," he said. "If the information that you provide is reliable and useful, we will help you obtain a visa to reside in the United States and ultimately become a United States citizen."

Under what is called the responsible cooperators program, even illegal aliens could have their deportations deferred, if they offer useful information.

Mr. Ashcroft says U.S. law enforcement officials need all the help they can get to track terrorists still operating in the country. "We believe that al-Qaida continues to operate within the United States. These enemy operatives are trained to disguise their appearances, to memorize false personal documents, to evade electronic and physical surveillance and to avoid trouble in their neighborhoods or at work," he said.

The attorney general also defended other aspects of the domestic anti-terrorism campaign in television news interviews Thursday.

The administration's roundup of hundreds of non-citizens in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the possibility of using military tribunals to try non-citizens suspected of terrorism continues to provoke criticism.

Kate Martin is with a civil liberties group called the Center for National Security Studies. She testified before a Senate committee Wednesday. "We have become increasingly concerned that instead of conducting a focused and effective law enforcement investigation, the government has turned instead to a number of radical and overly broad measures that threaten basic rights, without in turn providing any increased security," he said.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Thursday that President Bush strongly supports the attorney general's tactics. "It is their right and their duty to express their objections, and the majority agrees with what the president and the attorney general are doing, and they are doing it so that the rights of the minority can be protected," he said.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that six in ten Americans agrees with the administration's decision to authorize military tribunals for non-citizens suspected of terrorism.