The U.S. Attorney General is tightening controls on immigration to weed out terrorist suspects even before they enter the United States. The measures call for more information- sharing between law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Naturalization Service. Immigration activists are watching closely to make sure legitimate newcomers are not caught up in the sweep.
Attorney General John Ashcroft says the aim of the newly-established foreign terrorist tracking task force is to safeguard the United States by better screening immigrants before they enter the country. "The Department of Justice will prevent aliens who engage in or support terrorist activities from entering our country," he says. "We will detain, prosecute and deport terrorist aliens who are already inside the nation's borders. America will not allow terrorists to use our hospitality as a weapon against us."
Attorney General Ashcroft has also asked the State Department to reject visa applications for anyone associated with 46 groups the federal government has designated as terrorist organizations.
INS Commissioner James Ziglar says the new controls do not target legitimate immigrants. "Immigrants are not terrorists," he says. "We've got lots of immigrants, people who come to this country to build their lives and contribute. So we're not talking about immigration, we're talking about evil."
Still, immigration activists like Angela Kelly, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, raise concerns that broadening the authority to target terrorists could infringe on the civil rights of legal immigrants. "If the Attorney General and the people who have authority under it use restraint and you don't see a round-up of lots of folks, then it may be an effective tool in countering terrorism while at the same time maintaining people's civil liberties," says Ms. Kelly. "It all depends on how it plays out in the community." Most immigration activists also have advocated better screening for immigrants at the time they apply for visas from locations outside the United States.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He favors tougher screening measures and suggests they would make life easier for legitimate immigrants. "I think the interest of immigrants in the United States and the warmth of the welcome they are likely to receive are directly related to the confidence in the immigration control system," he says. "So yes, a system that is better at screening out enemies of America and does a better job of enforcing the law is more likely to win the confidence of Americans and reduce suspicion of immigration and immigrants in general."
U.S. efforts to tighten immigration controls echo measures already adopted by many European governments. Policy analyst Joanne van Selm of the Migration Policy Institute says there are lessons to be learned from the European experience. "One very important lesson that comes to mind is that the anti-terrorism and anti-immigration in the European Union have wound up for one reason or another very much targeting refugees and asylum seekers," says Ms. van Selm
Ms. Van Selm says the change of U.S. policy has most directly affected political refugees now waiting for resettlement. The program has been temporarily frozen for security reasons. "All refugee resettlement has been halted, which means the refugees are not able to come to the United States even if they've already been through very strict security clearance with very strong controls, which proves that they're not a security risk to the United States.," she says.
Immigration experts say the effectiveness of the new U.S. anti-terrorism policies will depend on how fairly they are applied.