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Homeland Security

Washington File

17 June 2003

U.S. Not Removing "Welcome Mat" for Foreigners, Official Says

(Arab-American convention explores impact of new immigration policies)
(960)
By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the
United States has increased background checks on persons applying to
enter the country, but these checks "do not target any one particular
group" and the United States is not taking away the "welcome mat" to
foreign visitors and immigrants, says a top immigration official.
William Yates of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of
Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) spoke during a panel
discussion June 13 on the "Impact of New Immigration Policies," at the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) annual convention in
Washington. He said the aim of the national security background checks
is to ensure that the people who receive immigrant "benefits" are
legally entitled to those benefits.
"We do the same type of background checks on every single applicant
for a benefit," said Yates, who serves as acting associate director of
BCIS, the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
which became part of the Department of Homeland Security March 1,
2003.
BCIS oversees the administration of the following benefits:
citizenship, asylum, lawful permanent residency, employment
authorization, refugee status, family and employment related
immigration, and foreign student authorization.
Moderator of the panel and executive director of the American
Immigration Lawyers Association, Jeanne Butterfield, said the panel's
aim was to provide information on U.S. immigration policy and explore
issues pertaining to racial profiling, detentions and the National
Security Entry-Exit Registration System's (NSEERS) Special
Registration program.
The NSEERS program, which was implemented September 11, 2002, has
consisted of three components: Point-of-Entry (POE) Registration,
Special Registration and Exit/Departure Controls. At POE registration,
temporary visitors entering the country who are identified as
"presenting an elevated national security concern" are fingerprinted,
interviewed and photographed. With Special Registration, also called
"Domestic Call-in Registration," nonimmigrant men 16 years of age or
older who are nationals of 25 specified countries were required to
register at immigration offices within a certain time period. The
registration program ended April 26.
Exit/Departure Control rules require visitors who are enrolled in the
program to complete a departure check when they leave the country, so
immigration officials can know immediately when persons overstay their
visas.
Critics have questioned whether the NSEERS program is a legitimate
step to enhance national security, and they say use of
nationality-based criteria for special registration is discriminatory.
Officials say special registration based on national origin will be
phased out over the next three years.
Butterfield charged that the majority of new measures being
implemented in the name of security "do little or nothing to make us
really more secure."
"These new measures threaten, repress and undermine the very freedoms
and protections which make this democracy unique in all the world,"
she said.
"They send a message to people the world over that the United States
does not want their hard work and contributions," said Butterfield,
who explained that security measures make it more difficult for
immigrants to obtain and retain legal status in the United States. The
war on terrorism, she said, has in many ways become a war on
immigrants and refugees.
But Yates said the United States is not "taking away the welcome mat"
from those interested in visiting or immigrating to the United States.
While admitting backlogs and delay in processing applications for
immigration benefits such as citizenship and adjustment of status to
permanent residency, he said the U.S. officials are working toward a
more efficient system and "to get rid of the backlogs."
At a recent naturalization ceremony in Detroit, Michigan, Yates said,
he welcomed a group of 300 new U.S. citizens of whom 120 people were
of Arab descent, telling them that the United States "celebrates your
heritage."
"We celebrate you and your families and grandparents and what you
bring to this country. I mean that. The BCIS means that and we all
play a role to ensure that the welcome mat stays out there," Yates
said he told the new citizens.
Addressing the ADC convention at the June 14 "Voices of Peace Awards
Banquet," Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated U.S. commitment
to achieve secure borders while maintaining open doors.
"We need to make sure that we keep our borders open to the exchange of
people, the exchange of product and the exchange of ideas which have
made our nation great," said Powell.
Commenting on the NSEERS program in his keynote address, Powell said,
"NSEERS is not a way to keep Arabs out of this country, Muslims out of
this country. It is not a way to close our borders to anyone with a
legitimate reason to come to the United States, to the visit the
United States."
The Secretary of State called NSEERS an "interim approach" to securing
U.S. borders while a better long-term solution is devised.
"On a regular basis, [Department of Homeland Security] Secretary [Tom]
Ridge and [Department of Justice Attorney] General [John] Ashcroft and
I sit and talk about how we can put this system in place as quickly as
possible so that America will always be seen as a welcoming place, a
place that wants people to come and visit, to get an education, to
take advantage of our healthcare system, our cultural attractions. And
when fully in place, the new U.S. system, which is called U.S. VISIT,
will replace NSEERS," Powell told the ADC convention delegates.
"We firmly believe the new system will help ensure that all visitors
to this great country are received with dignity and with humanity,"
said Powell.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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