SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION
SERVICE'S (INS'S) INTERACTIONS WITH
HESHAM MOHAMED ALI HEDAYET
SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION,
BORDER SECURITY, AND CLAIMS
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
OCTOBER 9, 2002
Serial No. 110
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Printed for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.house.gov/judiciary
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR., WISCONSIN, Chairman
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
LAMAR SMITH, Texas
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
BOB BARR, Georgia
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
LINDSEY O. GRAHAM, South Carolina
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
MARK GREEN, Wisconsin
RIC KELLER, Florida
DARRELL E. ISSA, California
MELISSA A. HART, Pennsylvania
JEFF FLAKE, Arizona
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMIKE PENCE, Indiana
J. RANDY FORBES, Virginia
JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
RICK BOUCHER, Virginia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
ROBERT C. SCOTT, Virginia
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina
ZOE LOFGREN, California
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas
MAXINE WATERS, California
MARTIN T. MEEHAN, Massachusetts
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
TAMMY BALDWIN, Wisconsin
ANTHONY D. WEINER, New York
ADAM B. SCHIFF, California
PHILIP G. KIKO, Chief of Staff-General Counsel
PERRY H. APELBAUM, Minority Chief Counsel
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania, Chairman
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDARRELL E. ISSA, California
MELISSA A. HART, Pennsylvania
LAMAR SMITH, Texas
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
CHRIS CANNON, Utah, Vice Chair
JEFF FLAKE, Arizona
J. RANDY FORBES, Virginia
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
ZOE LOFGREN, California
MARTIN T. MEEHAN, Massachusetts
GEORGE FISHMAN, Chief Counsel
LORA RIES, Counsel
ART ARTHUR, Full Committee Counsel
CINDY BLACKSTON, Professional Staff
HAROLD BOYD, Minority Counsel
C O N T E N T S
OCTOBER 9, 2002
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Honorable George W. Gekas, a Representative in Congress From the State of Pennsylvania, and Chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee, a Representative in Congress From the State of Texas, and Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
Mr. William (Bill) R. Yates, Deputy Executive Associate Commissioner, Immigration Services Division, Immigration and Naturalization Service
Mr. Daniel Pipes, Director, Middle East Forum
Mr. Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies
Mr. Paul Virtue, Hogan and Hartson, former General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service
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Materials Submitted for the Hearing Record
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee, a Representative in Congress From the State of Texas, and Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
Prepared Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., a Representative in Congress From the State of Michigan, and Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
Letter from Dan Stein, Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)
Immigration and Naturalization Service Memo from Bo Cooper, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, submitted by the Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
Immigration and Naturalization Service Memo from James W. Ziglar, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Justice, submitted by the Honorable George W. Gekas
Alien File for Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet
IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE'S (INS'S) INTERACTIONS WITH HESHAM MOHAMED ALI HEDAYET
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2002
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House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Immigration,
Border Security, and Claims,
Committee on the Judiciary,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 3 p.m., in Room 2141, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. George W. Gekas [Chairman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
Mr. GEKAS. The hour of 3 having arrived, the Committee will come to order. Because the rules of the House, and, therefore, the rules of the Committee, require two Members to constitute a hearing quota, and quorum, and presence, we simply have to recess until a second Member should appear. In the meantime I have kept faith with my own self-inflicted directive to start every meeting on time. I have done that, and now I recess on time.
Mr. GEKAS. The Chair notes the presence of the lady from Texas Ms. Jackson Lee, Congressman Forbes; thus we have a working quorum and a hearing quorum, and, therefore, we shall proceed with the hearing at hand.
This hearing has been called, as everyone knows by now, to consider the interactions between the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet. This is the individual who, on July 4, 2002, at the Los Angeles International Airport, gunned down several people, killing two, and then being caught in fire himself whereby he perished.
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I asked the staff to determine what the present status of the victims or the families of the victims, and we know thus far that Mr. Aminov, the father of eight who was killed, left a wife Anat; and Ms. Hen, who died a day before a surprise party at which she was to become engaged, left other family members. We begin by entering into the Congressional Record our sympathies for the people left behind in this tragic event.
Then, as I recall the sequence of events, on July the 8, not more than 4 days following this incident, I personally contacted or sent a letter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service asking for a full exposition on the case of Hedayet and how it came to be that he was there at that time, and how it came to be that he took it upon himself to rain terror upon the occupants of space at the Los Angeles International Airport.
And then the other sequence of events that occurred, to the best of my recollection, in late July we received a modicum of information from and documentation from the INS leaving us still adrift as to the true picture of all that had occurred leading up to that incident, particularly with respect to the status of Hedayet. And then in August we began to pursue even more stringent measures to try to induce the INS to bring forth all that we requested by way of the background of this Hedayet. And then little by little, still not having received much definitive response after that late July flurry, the whole thing became noticeable and noticed by the Attorney General of the United States, who then, himself, directed full explanationdirected the INS to fully apprise us all of the true nature of the background of Hedayet, and that is where we are.
We are worried about the failure of the INS, as we see it, to follow through with a series of red flags in our judgment that would have prompted a reasonably inquisitive INS to look into the background more thoroughly of Hedayet when Hedayet was in front of them. He was in front of them from the very first as a petitioner for asylum, an applicant for asylum, and that was a wonderful opportunity to try to pin down who this man was. After a process that took years actually, then a final determination was made that asylum could not be granted to this individual because he didn't fall in the category of the five components of criteria of granting asylum, political affiliations, religious associations, et cetera, and that the criterion upon which he was refused asylum was one of incredible evidence or noncredible evidence, statements that he made during the interviews.
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These pose a lot of different questions considering what we have since learned about Hedayet himself, and that is what the purpose of this hearing is, to try to delve into how all of this came about. In my judgment, the testimony of the witnesses here today will lead us to determine whether or not we should be reopening the question of asylum and how it ishas become a part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's weaponry, and how best it can be used to make certain that those truly in danger if returned to their homes, their home countries, can be granted asylum; but on the other hand, that when there is any question at all, that process should bear down heavily on someone who seeks asylum and there is no justification for continuing to remain in the United States.
These questions are yet to be inquired and will become undoubtedly the focal point of future endeavors by this Subcommittee to tune up the immigration and naturalization portion of our responsibilities.
Mr. GEKAS. With that, I yield to the lady from Texas for an opening statement.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
We do know that this country was founded on the attitude of welcoming those persecuted to come to seek an additional and expanded opportunity, and so over the original journey of history of this Nation, the United States has lived with immigration. It has lived with it in a most favorable light, first with the waves of European immigrants as they came in the 1800's, and then as we moved into the 20th century and the large number of immigrants reflecting a more diverse partsmore diverse parts of the world.
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The INS has been the vehicle by which this country has documented its immigrants, using both the processes and the laws that are in place. It is the responsibility of this Committee, and I do thank the Chairman for an oversight hearing because, of course, I wish to offer my deepest sympathy to those individuals who lost their lives, particularly the victims of this very tragic and murderous act.
At the same time, as we review theeither the obstacles or the need for reform of the diversity visa or the lottery visa, we need to ensure and be certain that the procedures followed by the INS weremy first gleaning of the processes used by the INS gives me at least minimal comfort that they followed the laws and procedures, and that in the instance of the perpetrator of this violent or these violent acts, that initially there was no information regarding any affiliations of this person. And so I think it is extremely important that we recognize the good and the bad.
Just a year ago we were looking at opportunities to provide undocumented immigrants access to legalization, these immigrants who were hard-working, tax-paying individuals in this Nation doing the work that many Americans do not do, the yard work, the baby-sitting work, the bed-making work. In the twinkle of an eye, with the horrific tragedy of 9/11, we have changed both policy as well as common sense.
I hope this hearing will err on the side of common sense, what happened, what were the facts and how can we correct what was wrong. I hope it will not err on the side of that all immigration is bad, that all processes and procedures that we now have in place that have been legitimately vetted are wrong, because I would offer to say that if we could take a massive polling, we would find that there are lower percentages of individuals who have been in this country who have been engaged in horrific acts against this Nation.
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We do realize we have turned the page and that homeland security is a priority for this Nation. In fact, it encourages me even more to want to focus on homeland security as opposed to the preemptive unilateral strike that we are debating now against the nation of Iraq. But we are in an immigration hearing, and I believe that our responsibilities today are to be corrective and to seek ways that we can ensure that the Nation remains a Nation true to its values, a Nation that adheres to the laws, but also recognizes that it is and has been a Nation of immigrants.
There is no response to the victims, and we will certainly look to render to those victims justice, and that any systems that are broken we will fix, and we should do so. And I hope we can do so in a bipartisan manner. We will take an assessment on the procedures used by the perpetrator to achieve lawful permanent residence. That should happen, no doubt. We will follow chronologically the utilization of the asylum application process and then ultimately the use of the visa process that his wife won through the annual diversity lottery. That should be done. And finally the adjustment of status that was done through the INS.
Each deserves scrutiny, but as they deserve scrutiny, I would offer to say that we should balance the scrutiny with our view of realizing that legal immigration is important, and legal immigration is here with us in the United States, and we should look to reform it and refine it if we can, but certainly not to abolish it on the grounds of incidents that may be few, if not tragic. I yield back.
Mr. GEKAS. We thank the lady.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GEKAS. The Chair will ask any other Member who has an opening statement to offer it for the record so we can proceed with the testimony at the hearing, and at the same time to acknowledge the presence of the gentleman from California Mr. Issa, the lady from Pennsylvania Ms. Hart, the gentleman from Arizona Mr. Flake, and the gentleman from Virginia Mr. Forbes, as we previously had said.
Mr. GEKAS. We are prepared to hear the witnesses after a brief introduction thereof. Bill Yates is theoh, we are going to start from my right and go over to the final witness in that direction. Bill Yates is the Executive Associate Commissioner for the Immigration Services Division at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He has been with the INS since 1974. He was an immigration examiner both at district and regional level.
In 1990, he came to Washington as a Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force at INS. In this position he served as an advisor to then Attorney General William Barr.
Between 1994 and 1997, Mr. Yates served respectively as the Director of the INS's Vermont and California service centers. He returned to Washington, serving as the Acting Deputy Executive Associate Commissioner for INS field operations from 1997 to 1998 before returning to Vermont as the INS's Eastern Regional Director.
He has been the Deputy Executive Associate Commissioner at the INS's Immigration Services Division, and he received his bachelor's degree from Seton Hall University.
He is not yet joined at the counsel table by the purported second witness Mr. Pipes, who we will wait for his arrival before putting his introductory remarks into the record.
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And so we will proceed to introduce Mr.Dr. Camarota, who has published widely on the political and economic effects of immigration in the United States. His articles on the impact of immigration have appeared in both academic publications and the popular press, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Social Science Quarterly and Campaigns & Elections.
He received his bachelor's degree from Juniata College. He wasthat is in Pennsylvania, in case anybody didn't recognize it. He was awarded a master's degree in political science by the University of Pennsylvania, which is recognized as a Pennsylvania institution; received a Ph.D. In public policy analysis from the University of Virginia, which is not a Pennsylvania institution.
And he then will be followed by the testimony of Paul W. Virtue, the former general counsel of the INS, who is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Hogan and Hartson. Prior to going to this firm, Mr. Virtue served as the general counsel of the INS, the Agency's chief legal officer.
During his tenure with the INS, Mr. Virtue testified before Congress on numerous occasions as an expert on immigration law and on policy. He participated in drafting the immigration provisions of the NAFTA and provided legal advice regarding their implementation. Mr. Virtue represented the INS as a media spokesperson on numerous complex legal and policy issues and has been a frequent author and participated at legal and business conferences and seminars. He has a bachelor's degree in pharmacy from West Virginia University and his J.D. From the West Virginia School of Law.
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Mr. Pipes has appeared at the counsel table, and we will be able now to enter into the record his vitae. Mr. Pipes is a Director of the Middle East Forum and a prize-winning columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post. He is frequently seen discussing current affairs on television, appearing on such programs as ABC World News, CBS Reports, Crossfire, Good Morning America, News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Nightline, O'Reilly Factor and The Today Show. He has lectured in 25 countries.
In addition to television, Mr. Pipes has also published a number of periodicals including those in the Atlantic Monthly, Commentary, Foreign Affairs, Harper's, National Review, New Republic and The Weekly Standard, and has written 11 books. Many newspapers carry his articles, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and several other dailies.
Mr. Pipes serves on the Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology at the Department of Defense and sits on five editorial boards. He received his A.B. And Ph.D. From Harvard University, both of which emphasized history.
And now we will begin the testimony with the customary statement to the witnesses that their written statement will be admitted into the record as written and submitted by the witnesses, without objection. And we will ask each witness to summarize that written statement through the course of 5 minutes that will be allotted to each as their testimony begins.
We will begin then with our witness, William Yates.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF WILLIAM (BILL) R. YATES, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE COMMISSIONER, IMMIGRATION SERVICES DIVISION, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. YATES. Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to share with you.
Mr. GEKAS. Is your mike on?
Mr. YATES. Okay. Can you hear me now? Yes. Okay.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to share with you information resulting from the Immigration and Naturalization Service's review of its interactions with Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, the Egyptian immigrant who tragically killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4.
My remarks will focus on three items. First, I would like to explore the question concerning whether INS could or should have known that Mr. Hedayet was a threat to public safety. Second, I will discuss the increased level of scrutiny that applicants for benefits receive today. Third, I will discuss issues that I believe need to be addressed to enhance public safety.
We know several things based upon a review of Mr. Hedayet's file. We know that he filed for asylum almost 10 years ago. We know that his application was denied, and that the denial was based upon his failure to establish a well-founded fear of persecution based upon his religion. We know that Hedayet told the asylum officer that he had been falsely accused of being a member of a terrorist organization. We know that the officer found it difficult to believe that Hedayet would have left his wife and son in Egypt, and that Hedayet wasn't aware of the mistreatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt.
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We know now that at the time of his interview, Hedayet was concealing something; that his spouse and child had arrived in the United States just weeks before his March 30, 1993, interview. We know that the asylum officer found that inconsistencies in Hedayet's statements called into question his credibility.
What we also know is that no agency of the United States Government at any time during the past 10 years provided INS with any evidence that Mr. Hedayet was engaged in any form of criminal misconduct or that he was a threat to public safety. We know that during the past 10 years, INS took his fingerprints and forwarded those prints to the FBI; that INS forwarded his biographic information to the FBI and the CIA; and that INS sent a copy of his asylum application to the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. And we know that no agency provided derogatory information. Even today, after running comprehensive checks, including checks in the Interagency Border Inspection system known as IBIS, no evidence was located that suggests that this individual who resided peacefully in the United States for 10 years would suddenly commit such a horrible crime.
Second, my review of this record disclosed processes that required strengthening. My written statement describes many of the improvements that INS has already implemented, but let me mention a few of the most critical improvements. First, reform of the asylum program and removal of the employment authorization magnet has dramatically reduced asylum fraud. Second, INS now has an outstanding electronic fingerprint system and a national policy that requires receipt of a response from the FBI before decisions are made in asylum, adjustment of status, temporary protected status or naturalization applications. Third, Commissioner Ziglar directed that all applicants for benefits be checked against the interagency border inspection system, and that no decision may be made on any application until those checks are completed.
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The final point I would like to make is that two critical public safety issues need to be addressed. The first issue concerns our lack of ability to identify all Government records for an individual because we lack a national biometric standard.
The second issue concerns law enforcement and intelligence information. Earlier I listed checks that INS ran on Hedayet, how we sent fingerprints to one agency, biographic data to two, a copy of his application to another, and that we also ran recent checks in IBIS. Why do we run all those checks? We run multiple checks because no central depository for law enforcement and intelligence data exists. I would like to emphasize that the United States needs a comprehensive system that provides information to all law enforcement and benefit-granting agencies. The system needs to provide for background collection based upon a biometric identifier, as well as biographic information. Also the users of the system must be confident that all relevant information regarding that check has been disclosed.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks. I will be happy to answer questions.
Mr. GEKAS. We thank the gentleman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Yates follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF WILLIAM YATES
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
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Thank you for this opportunity to share with you information resulting from the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS') review of its interactions with Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, the Egyptian immigrant who shot and killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002. At the time of this tragedy, Mr. Hedayet was a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In December 1992, Mr. Hedayet filed an asylum application with INS. That application was denied in October 1995. Later, after his wife won a visa through the annual diversity visa lottery, Mr. Hedayet filed an adjustment of status application with INS. The INS interviewed him on this application and approved it in August 1997.
Particular attention to the INS role in this case was prompted by reports that Mr. Hedayet claimed in an asylum interview with INS that he had been falsely accused of belonging to Gama'a al-Islamiyya. The Department of State designated Gama'a al-Islamiyya as a terrorist organization in 1997, almost two years after INS denied his asylum application. Before I begin an overview of Mr. Hedayet's interaction with INS, I want to assure you a thorough review of all information available to INS about Mr. Hedayet's background reveals no enforcement or intelligence information that he was ever associated with a terrorist organization, or had engaged in any criminal activity prior to July 4, 2002. In addition, based on a thorough review of Mr. Hedayet's alien file, computer system records, and relating receipt files, INS has concluded that its decisions in connection with the asylum and adjustment of status applications were appropriate under the laws, regulations, policies and procedures in existence at the time.
My testimony will outline how INS followed regulations and procedures in place at the time Mr. Hedayet's applications were processed, and how INS has both improved processing procedures and strengthened security measures since then. However, it is important to understand that, even had Mr. Hedayet's applications been processed under the improved procedures in existence today, the outcome may have been the same. The current procedures, however, provide for a more thorough investigation and more opportunities to scrutinize potentially problematic cases.
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As I noted, there was no evidence that Mr. Hedayet was ever associated with a terrorist organization or had engaged in criminal activity. The only indication that Mr. Hedayet could pose a threat to others in the United States was his own assertion that he was falsely accused of being a member of an organization that committed terrorist activities and that these allegations were used as a pretext to persecute him because of his religious beliefs. His asylum claim was found not entirely credible and was denied. There is no evidence that the alleged false accusation of his membership in the terrorist organization was true or that he was actually a member of such an organization.
A brief chronology of INS interaction with Mr. Hedayet is as follows:
On July 31, 1992, he was admitted to the United States as a visitor with permission to remain in the United States until January 25, 1993. The multiple entry B2 visa, valid for one year, was issued on July 13, 1992 at the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. On December 29, 1992, Mr. Hedayet filed an asylum application claiming discrimination and police harassment due to his religious beliefs. An application for employment authorization accompanied the asylum application. The employment authorization application was approved on March 8, 1993, and an employment authorization document (EAD) was issued. Mr. Hedayet was interviewed regarding his asylum claim on March 30, 1993. He testified that he had been arrested and tortured multiple times, and was also made to sign documents admitting his membership in Gama'a al-Islamiyaa. He states that he is not a member of Gama'a al-Islamiyaa but of Assad Eben Furat Mosque Association, an organization that advocates the application of Islamic laws in Egypt.
On March 18, 1994, Mr. Hedayet applies to renew his EAD based on the pending asylum application. His application is approved and a new EAD is issued. On March 7, 1995, INS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny the asylum application. On April 27, 1995, the INS approves another renewal of Mr. Hedayet's EAD based on the pending asylum application.
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The notice of denial on Mr. Hedayet's asylum application is dated October 19, 1995. In addition, the INS issued an Order to Show Cause charging him as a deportable alien based on his overstay of his visitor visa. These are returned to INS as undeliverable mail on January 30, 1996. In June 1996, INS renews Mr. Hedayet's employment authorization after reviewing his file and determining that he was not in deportation proceedings and therefore entitled to the EAD based on his pending asylum application.
Mr. Hedayet files an adjustment of status application in January 1997 as the spouse of a diversity visa recipient, and his fingerprints are submitted to the FBI for a criminal history check. In May 1997, the INS initiates name checks for derogatory information on Hedayet with the FBI and CIA. Mr. Hedayet is interviewed and his application is approved for adjustment of status on August 29, 1997.
IMPROVEMENTS TO ASYLUM PROCESSING
It is important to acknowledge that numerous improvements have taken place in the years since Mr. Hedayet first filed his asylum application. I would like to use the remainder of my statement to highlight these improvements in processing both asylum and adjustment of status applications.
First, it is likely Mr. Hedayet would have received personal service of charging documents placing him in removal proceedings two weeks after his asylum interview.
Second, if he failed to appear for his hearing before the Immigration Judge, it is likely he would have been ordered removed in absentia if the INS could prove he was served with the charging document. He would also have been ineligible for employment authorization because of his failure to appear.
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Third, if he had appeared for his hearing before the Immigration Judge, he still would not have been eligible for employment authorization, unless his asylum application was granted by the Immigration Judge or was pending more than 180 days.
Fourth, as soon as INS received his application, it would have automatically sent his biographical information electronically to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for background checks, and scheduled him to have his fingerprints taken at an Application Support Center.
Finally, his allegation of being accused of membership in a terrorist organization would have triggered referral of his case to Asylum Headquarters (HQASY), which would then consult with the National Security Unit and the National Security Law Division, for further scrutiny.
These distinctions are a result both of asylum reform and security measures INS has continued to strengthen over the past six years. In 1995, asylum reform streamlined the asylum process and created a seamless referral process, giving asylum offices access to the Immigration Courts' calendars to directly schedule referred applicants for hearing in Immigration Court. The requirement that most applicants return to be served with a decision ensures timely decision-making and clear evidence of service of charging documents.
Under asylum reform procedures, it is likely Mr. Hedayet would have been scheduled for an interview within 43 days from the date he filed his application. Importantly, he would have been scheduled to return to the asylum office two weeks after his interview to be served with the decision on his application. As he was found ineligible for asylum and was not in valid status, the asylum office would have personally served him with charging documents within 60 days from the date he applied for asylum, thereby placing him in deportation proceedings. The charging documents would have contained a time and date for his first hearing with the Immigration Judge. Because Immigration Judges are required by statute to complete most asylum cases within 180 days, in all likelihood, Mr. Hedayet would have received a final determination on his asylum application and, if found ineligible, received an order of deportation or voluntary departure, within 180 days from the date he applied for asylum. If he failed to appear for his hearing before the Immigration Judge, the Immigration Judge would likely have ordered him removed in absentia, rather than have administratively closed the case, because INS would have been able to present proof of service of the charging documents.
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Additionally, Mr. Hedayet would not have been eligible to apply for employment authorization until 150 days from the date he filed his asylum application. Further, he would not have been eligible for a grant of employment authorization, unless his application remained pending 180 days after the date of filing or was granted by the Immigration Judge. If Mr. Hedayet had not shown up to pick-up his decision two weeks after the interview, he would have been ineligible to apply for employment authorization. If he failed to appear for the hearing before the Immigration Judge, he would have been ineligible for employment authorization unless he could establish exceptional circumstances for the failure to appear.
Current directives require Asylum Offices to notify Asylum Headquarters (HQASM) of asylum claims involving potential terrorists, including any case in which an applicant claims he or she has been accused of terrorist activities or terrorist associations. However, at the time that INS denied Mr. Hedayet's asylum claim in April 1995, specific notification requirements for any asylum applicant who admitted to having been accused of being a member of a terrorist organization were not yet established. Moreover, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) had not yet been enacted, so the current list of organizations designated as terrorist organizations by the Secretary of State pursuant to section 219 of the INA was not yet in existence. The Department of State published its first list of 30 terrorist organizations on October 8, 1997. It included the Gama'a al-Islamiyya.
At the time of the decision on Mr. Hedayet's asylum application, procedures required biographical information to be sent to the CIA by sending the CIA a copy of the Form G325, Biographic Information, only if the case was recommended for approval. Also, at that time, a fingerprint card submitted by the applicant was sent to the FBI only if the case was recommended for approval. Under current procedures, electronic tapes with biographical information on all asylum applicants are sent to the CIA and the FBI. If those agencies have any adverse information on the applicant, that information is transmitted to INS' National Security Unit (NSU). All applicants are routinely scheduled to have their fingerprints taken electronically at an Application Support Center and the asylum application cannot be approved until INS receives the results of the FBI fingerprint check. In addition, background checks are conducted against the Interagency Border Information System (IBIS) on all asylum applicants at the time of filing and before a decision is made if the last check was done more than 35 days prior to the decision. The application itself is sent to the Department of State for an opportunity to provide any comments or information. Records indicate that Mr. Hedayet's asylum application, along with the asylum officer's assessment, were sent to the Department of State on January 30, 1995. No response was received which was standard procedure when the Department of State either had no interest in the case or no additional information to add to the case.
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IMPROVEMENT TO ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS PROCESSING
The record of Mr. Hedayet's adjustment processing indicates that INS received his application on or before January 6, 1997, and that his fingerprints were forwarded to the FBI for a criminal history check on that date. In addition, Mr. Hedayet's adjustment of status application was filed with payment of the additional penalty sum, as required under section 245 (I) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
The INS Los Angeles District Office had jurisdiction to adjudicate the application despite the fact that an Order to Show Cause (OSC) had previously been filed with the Immigration Court. The controlling regulation at that time was found in 8 CFR 245.2(a)(1) as in effect on January 1, 1997, and states, ''After an alien has been served with an order to show cause or warrant of arrest, his application for adjustment of status under section 245 of the Act or section 1 of the Act of November 2, 1966 shall be made and considered only in proceedings under part 242 of this chapter.'' Former Part 242 referred to deportation proceedings within the purview of the Immigration Court. In this case, the record clearly established that the OSC had not been served upon the Mr. Hedayet and, therefore, that INS had jurisdiction over the application.
At the time Mr. Hedayet filed his adjustment of status application, INS had discretion to serve him with a copy of the OSC, or to adjudicate the application. If INS had decided to serve him with the charging document, the Immigration Court would then have had jurisdiction to adjudicate the adjustment of status application. As a general matter, INS exercises favorable discretion as early in its processes as possible in recognition of the government's and the alien's interest in avoiding unnecessary legal proceedings. Although Mr. Hedayet's record does not reflect the decision process not to serve him with the charging document, it would have been considered an unnecessary step to do so when he was prima facie eligible to adjust his status.
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IMPROVEMENTS TO APPLICATION PROCESSING
Since INS adjudicated Mr. Hedayet's adjustment of status application, INS has made several improvements to application processing, particularly in the area of background checks. These improvements include:
Electronic transmission of applicant fingerprint checks directly to the FBI after verification of applicant's identity by INS personnel;
Confirmed FBI responses to fingerprint checks and review of criminal record, if applicable, before scheduling an applicant for interview;
Electronic data exchanges with the FBI and CIA on biographic information;
Adverse information revealed by FBI or CIA biographic information checks is transmitted to NSU and adjudication of the application withheld until the information is resolved;
IBIS (''look out'') checks on all applications and petitions at the time of filing and again before adjudication if the first check was conducted more than 35 days prior to adjudication; and
A national Standard Operating Procedure governing all adjustment of status applications and a Quality Assurance program to ensure compliance with the standard procedures.
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This concludes my testimony and I look forward to responding to any questions that you may have.
Mr. GEKAS. We will turn now to Mr. Pipes.
STATEMENT OF DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR,
MIDDLE EAST FORUM
Mr. PIPES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for this opportunity. On March 7, 1995, asylum office in Anaheim California.
Mr. GEKAS. I think you just turned it off. There. Try it again.
Mr. PIPES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On March 7, 1995, the Asylum Office in Anaheim, California, of the INS sent a letter of intent denying Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, an Egyptian national, his application for asylum in the United States. This denial letter mentioned that Mr. Hedayet had acknowledged signing documents in Egypt that admitted his membership in an Egyptian group which the asylum officer called ''Gamatt El Islamaia.''
Despite the fact that Mr. Hedayet had possible membership in al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, this did not stand out in the INS denial letter, nor was it the basis of any further research or action by the INS or any American law enforcement agencies. Five years later or 7 years later, it is clear that this was a profound misjudgment, for on July 4 of this year, the very same Mr. Hedayet attacked the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two in a hideous act of terrorism.
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One might think that the INS would admit the error of its ways. One would be wrong. We just heard Mr. Yates indicate that it basicallythe INS was basically not responsible. There was really no evidence. There is no sense of shame on the part of the INS. In retrospect, I think this cavalier attitude toward Mr. Hedayet's possible membership in the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya is nothing less than astounding. It does not take a specialist in immigration procedures to realize that the INS's complete lack of curiosity in this matter iswas wanting.
There was very clear evidence, very easily available to the INS, about the nature of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. Every year the State Department puts out an important document called Patterns of Global Terrorism, and every year since 1992 it has pointed out the importance and the danger of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. For example, the 1992 edition of that book, said ''most of the attacks [in Egypt] in 1992 were perpetrated by the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya extremist group.'' One finds the same kind of language reiterated every single year since then, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, until there was a cease-fire between al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Egyptian Government.
It bears noting that Mr. Hedayet is hardly the only legal immigrant who has engaged in terrorism on U.S. soil. Others include Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani who killed two CIA personnel outside of Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in January 1993; several of the gang that bombed the World Trade Center a month later; the murderers, Lebanese and Palestinian respectively, who killed individuals on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building in 1994 and 1997; and, of course, nearly all, 15 out of 19, of the suicide hijackers on the four planes in September 2001, killing 3,000 people were legal immigrants.
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It bears noting that in today's New York Post there is an article which lookedwhich analyzes the application for asylum, for entry, of these 15 and finds that all of them were improperly filled out, lacking information, and should have been denied on the very face of them without having to go any further than looking at the applications themselves.
The INS must not only own up to its inexcusable error with regard to Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, but it must also begin a remedial campaign to go through its archives to locate, investigate and deport or arrest any immigrants with ties to terrorism.
Let me conclude by saying that I think we must go a step further. We have seen prominent business executives taken in handcuffs by law enforcement in recent months. I think punishments arefor criminal negligence are due not only to business executives, but also to Government officials who so betray their trust. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Pipes follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF DANIEL PIPES
On March 7, 1995, the Asylum Office in Anaheim, California, of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) sent a letter of intent denying Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, an Egyptian national, his application for asylum in the United States.
The denial letter mentioned that Hedayet had acknowledged signing documents in Egypt that admitting his membership in an Egyptian group which the asylum officer spelled ''Gamatt El Islamaia'' and his having admitted an intention to overthrow the government of Egypt. To be sure, Hedayet informed his U.S. asylum officer that the Egyptian police had compelled him to make these false confessions.
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Mention of Hedayet's possible membership in ''Gamatt El Islamaia'' did not stand out in the INS denial letter, nor was it the basis of any further research or action by the INS or American law enforcement agencies. Hedayet's case was completely routine, meaning that he was in effect permitted to disappear from the INS's supervision, and it then made no special effort to find him. So lacking in urgency was his deportation that when the INS found its letters to Hedayet returned unopened, it appears to have let matters go at that. Worse, the INS extended Hedayet's employment authorization on June 11, 1996, even as it supposedly was deporting him from the country.
In July 1996, Hedayet's wife won a visa from the annual lottery the INS runs. In November 1997, Hedayet applied for a change of status to become a lawful permanent resident. As in 1995, had the INS had reasonable grounds to believe Hedayet had engaged or was likely to engage in terrorist activity, it could have deported him. It appears that the INS paid no attention to this whole question, instead routinely approving Hedayet's adjustment application.
Five years later, the INS's profound misjudgment is unfortunately too obvious. For on July 4th of this year, the same Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet attacked the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two, in a hideous act of terrorism.
One might think that the INS would admit the errors of its ways. One would be wrong, ''The only indication that Mr. Hedayet could pose a threat to others in the United States,'' states INS official William Yates said in testimony prepared for this hearing, ''was his own assertion that he was falsely accused of being a member of an organization that committed terrorist activities.''(see footnote 1)
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In retrospect, this cavalier attitude toward Hedayet's possible membership in the group commonly spelled as al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (which translates as ''the Islamic Group,'' or IG), is nothing less than astounding.
It does not take a specialist in immigration procedures to realize that Hedayet mentioned the accusations against him because he decided the best tactic would be pre-emption. He anticipated that the INS's would do a thorough investigation of his life and wanted to spin his record in advance. Although it certainly could be the case that the Egyptian police compelled an innocent man to sign a false document, there was also a very real possibility that Hedayet actually did belong to al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya.
The INS's complete lack of curiosity on this issue is astonishing. Not only does al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya have a long and notorious history of terrorism, one going back to the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat in October 1981, but this history is well documented in U.S. government publications. Patterns of Global Terrorism, the most authoritative U.S. government source on this subject, had amply documented what dangers Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya posed by the time (March 1995 and November 1997) the INS reached its critical decisions about Hedayet.
The 1992 edition of Patterns of Global Terrorism, the Department of State's annual survey, explained that ''Most of the attacks [in Egypt] in 1992 were perpetrated by the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya extremist group. . . . This group seeks the violent overthrow of the Egyptian Government.''(see footnote 2)
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCThe 1994 edition states that ''Most attacks against Egyptian official and civilian targets, and against foreign tourists, were claimed by the extremist Islamic Group (IG). The IG seeks the violent overthrow of the Egyptian Government.'' In October of that year, it bears noting, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya was responsible for the only known attempt on the life of a Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz.
''Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya . . . continued to be the most active Islamic extremist organization in Egypt in 1995,'' stated the Patterns of Global Terrorism from that year. The group's highlight came in June, when it attempted to assassinate Egypt's President Husni Mubarak during his visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
No change in 1996: ''al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, which continued acts of terror in Egypt, remained active and dangerous.'' The report told about ''a shooting attack against foreign tourists at a Cairo hotel in April'' which it described as having ''the largest casualty count from a single incident in Egypt's modern history.''
As for 1997, Patterns of Global Terrorism termed al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya's November ''brutal attack [in Luxor] that left 58 tourists and four Egyptians dead'' as ''one of the world's most horrific acts of terrorism in 1997.''(see footnote 3)
It bears noting that Hedayet is hardly the only legal immigrant who has engaged in terrorism on U.S. soil. Others include Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani, who killed two CIA personnel outside agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in January 1993; several of the gang that bombed the World Trade Center a month later; the murderers on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building (in 1994 and 1997); and, of course, most of the suicide hijackers of four planes in September 2001, killing three thousand.
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The INS not only must own up to its inexcusable error with regard to Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet; but it also must begin a remedial campaign to go through its archives to locate, investigate, then deport or arrest any immigrants with ties to terrorism.
Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum, columnist for the New York Post and Jerusalem Post, and author of Militant Islam Reaches America (W.W. Norton).
Mr. GEKAS. We thank the witness and turn to Mr. Camarota, to Dr. Camarota.
STATEMENT OF STEVEN A. CAMAROTA, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES
Mr. CAMAROTA. Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing on the Hedayet case. My name is Steven Camarota, and I am Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank here in Washington.
When Mr. Hedayet murdered two people and maliciously wounded three others at LAX airport, on July 4 of this year, many observers mistakenly saw his crime, like the attacks of September 11, as either unpreventable random acts of terrorism or as failures only of intelligence, law enforcement or perhaps even airport security. But a careful examination of his immigration history reveals that fundamental problems in our immigration system also played a role.
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Mr. Hedayet came to the United States from Egypt on a tourist visa in 1992 and then applied for asylum, which, as we have heard, was turned down. However, his wife won the visa lottery in 1997, which gave him permanent residency. He then used the provision called 245(i), which allowed him to get his green card processed while he remained in the U.S. .
The Hedayet case raises a number of critically important questions about our asylum system, the lottery and 245(i). Turning first to the asylum system, although his asylum application indicated that the Egyptian Government thought he was a terrorist, the INS seems never to have investigated this connection. The case is eerily reminiscent of one involving Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who tried to bomb the Brooklyn subway system in 1997. Mezer indicated on his asylum application that the Israeli Government thought he was a terrorist, and again, like Hedayet his possible connection to terrorism was never adequately investigated. The primary reason the INS did not ask the Egyptian or Israeli Government about these men's possible links to terrorism is that it would have violated the confidentiality of the asylum process.
In my view, the safety of the American people must supercede such concerns. Our top priority must be national security, not some hypothetical risk that notifying a home government might pose to an applicant or his family. Those who advocate the alternative point of view must accept responsibility for the increased risk of terrorism this creates.
Let me briefly turn to the lottery used by Mr. Hedayet. One of the problems with the lottery is that it gives green cards to people who have no strong ties to the United States, unlike family-based immigration. Certainly individuals with few ties to the United States are more willing and more likely to engage in attacks on our country. The attractiveness of the lottery to terrorists is shown by the fact that two terrorists arrested in August of this year in Michigan also used the lottery.
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Finally, let me touch on why 245(i), which was also used by Mr. Hedayet, is such a problem. First, having the INS process applications in the United States increases the chance that any problem with the application will be missed. Consular officers in the home country know the local conditions and are in a much better position to judge whether someone is a security threat.
But the second and most important problem with 245(i) is that processing applicants from within the United States renders the background check meaningless. Let me say that again. It makes it meaningless, because even if a person is found ineligible, he is still in the United States. The INS has no procedure or means to require green card applicants systematically who are rejected to leave the country. In contrast, if the applicant had returned to his home country to undergo processing and was then found ineligible, he would have, in effect, deported himself. The only way to make the background check meaningful is to have it done in the applicant's home country.
The problems with our immigration system I have outlined result mostly from a lack of resources and ill-conceived immigration policies. A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies of 48 known al Qaeda terrorists found that at least 22 had committed significant violations of immigration law prior to taking part in terrorism on U.S. soil. Clearly, strictly enforcing our immigration laws and permanently eliminating policies like the lottery and 245(i) could significantly reduce the terrorist threat. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Camarota follows:]
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF STEVEN A. CAMAROTA
When Hesham Mohamed Hedayet murdered Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4 of this year, many observers mistakenly saw his crime, like the attacks of September 11th, as either unpreventable random acts of terrorism or as representing failures only of intelligence, law enforcement, or perhaps even airport security. While it is extremely important to consider possible failures in each of these areas, a careful examination of the immigration history of Mr. Hedayet reveals that fundamental failures in our immigration system also played a critically important part in allowing him to commit his heinous crime.
Although all of the facts have not been made public, a brief history of the Hedayet case is possible based on public information. Mr. Hedayet came to the United States from Egypt on a tourist visa in 1992, which allowed for a six-month stay. It seems clear that this was not his first long-term stay in the United States. In any event, before the visa expired he applied for asylum in 1992, giving him work authorization. Eventually his visa expired, but he continued to live in the United States as an illegal alien while his application for asylum was pending. His application was eventually turned down, as was his appeal in 1996. After he was denied asylum, the INS began deportation proceedings against him. However, his wife played the visa lottery, and in 1997 she won, which stopped his deportation and allowed her and her husband to become legal permanent residents. To obtain their green cards they used what was then a relatively new provision in the law called 245(i), which allowed them to have their green card applications processed from within the United States without having to return to Egypt for processing.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As for his crime, there is no question that it was premeditated, and that he intended to kill as many people as possible. Moreover, he walked past other airlines and started shooting only after he reached the El Al ticket area. There can be no doubt that he intended that many of his victims be Jewish. At the very least, in my view, his actions qualify as a hate crime. Moreover, reports in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper indicate that Mr. Hedayet met with Ayman al-Zawahiri in 1995 and again in 1998. Al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden's second in command and is one of the founders of al Qaeda. Thus it is very possible that in addition to being a hate crime, Hedayet's murderous killing spree was also part of an al Qaeda operation. The Hedayet case raises a number of questions concerning the asylum system, the visa lottery, and 245(i). My testimony will briefly touch on each of these areas.
THE ASYLUM SYSTEM
Turning first to our asylum system. The Hedayet case is extremely troubling for several reasons. Although his asylum application indicated that he was applying for asylum because the Egyptian government thought he was a terrorist, the INS seems never to have investigated his possible link to al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, also called the Islamic Group. In fact, Mr. Hedayet indicated on his asylum application that he had signed a confession in Egypt admitting his membership in the Islamic Group. The circumstances surrounding Hedayet's asylum application are eerily reminiscent of a case in the mid-1990s involving Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer. Mezer, who lived in the West Bank, indicated on his asylum application that he too faced persecution, in his case from the Israeli government, because that country thought he was a member of Hamas. And again, like Hedayet, his possible ties to terrorists were never adequately investigated. Mezer was later sentenced to life in prison after he attempted to bomb the New York subway system in 1997.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The primary reason that the INS did not ask the Egyptian or Israeli governments about the asylum applicant's possible link to terrorism is that it would have violated the confidentiality of the asylum process. Moreover, there is a fear that foreign governments may move to penalize the applicant's family who are still in their home country if those governments become aware that he or she was applying for asylum in the United States. However, in my view the national security of the United States must supercede such concerns. The safety of the American people must be the top priority of the United States government, not the hypothetical risk it might create for the applicant or his family. Those who advocate the alternative point and do not support contacting foreign governments about the possible terrorist links of asylum applicants must accept responsibility for the increased risk of terrorism this creates and must also accept some responsibility for the heinous crimes committed by terrorists like Hedayet and Mezer.
Mr. Hedayet and Mr. Mezer are not the first terrorists to use our asylum system. Some of the most notorious terrorists in the 1990s used political asylum to enter and/or remain in the country. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, for example, used an asylum application to prevent his deportation to Egypt after all other means of remaining in the country had failed. Rahman inspired several terrorist plots, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and he is considered one of the spiritual leaders whose ideology helped found al Qaeda. Mir Aimal Kansi, who murdered two CIA employees, and Ramzi Yousef, who was sentenced to death for masterminding the first attack on the World Trade Center, both had ayslum applicants pending when they committed their crimes. Moreover, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, who took part in the Millennium plot in 1999, and Ahmad Ajaj, who was involved in the first World Trade Center attack, both had applied for asylum as a means of remaining in the country. Tizegha's application had been denied prior to his arrest; and Ajaj left the country before attending a hearing but later returned and took part in the first attack on the World Trade Center.
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Our lax asylum system, which often does not detain applicants and does not carefully investigate their stories, has been one of the favorite means for terrorists to live in the United States. Such a system has in the past allowed terrorists not only to enter the United States but has also allowed them to remain in the country moving about freely while they plan their attacks. In total, at least sixseven if Hedayet is includedal Qaeda terrorists have successfully manipulated our asylum laws. Several key reforms are needed, including more resources so that claims can be quickly and throughly investigated, more detention space so that anyone who might be a threat can be held and most importantly the INS must take very seriously any indication that the applicant is a possible terrorist.
The visa lottery, used by Mr. Hedayet and his wife, is also very problematic from a national security point of view. The lottery gives out permanent residence to 50,000 people a year who mail in post-cards and ''win'' the opportunity to come to America. The lottery gives green cards to people who have no strong ties to the United States. That is, unlike family-based immigration, which awards green cards to those who have relatives in the United States, the lottery goes to those who do not have a relative who can sponsor them. Certainly, individuals with few ties to the United States are more likely to be willing to attack our country. The attractiveness of the lottery to al Qaeda terrorists is also shown by the fact that Hedayet is not the only terrorist to use it. Ahmed Hannan and Karim Koubriti, indicted on August 28th of this year as members of a terrorist sleeper cell in Michigan, came to this country in 2000 after winning the lottery in Morocco. They are accused of planning attacks both here and abroad against American interests.
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It is very difficult to see what purpose the lottery serves. It does not satisfy any humanitarian concerns. Moreover, unlike employment-based immigration, the lottery does not make any attempt to select people based on whether they have some special or much-needed job skill. Instead, the lottery, which requires the handling and processing of 10 million entries, and also the processing of tens of thousands of additional green cards each year that would otherwise not have to be processed, creates a significant administrative burden for the State Department and the INStwo organizations that are already overburdened by the number of applicants in other categories.
In addition to creating administrative burdens and an avenue for terrorists to enter the country, one of the worst features of the lottery is that it encourages illegal immigration, as it did in the Hedayet case. Having no other means of remaining in the country, Hedayet stayed here anyway as an illegal alien even after his asylum application was denied. By appealing his asylum claim and by playing the lottery he was trying different means of remaining in the country. The existence of the lottery gave him a realistic hope of eventually getting a green card, if he just played the lottery long enough. He really had no other choice, because he did not have a family member who could sponsor him, nor did he have specialized skills which would have allowed him to qualify for employment-based immigration, and of course he did not qualify for asylum. If it had not been for the lottery, he and his family might have given up and gone home.
After not carefully exploring Hedayet's possible links to terrorists, and then allowing him to use the visa lottery, our immigration system compounded its failures by allowing him to get his green card using 245(i). Of course, he did qualify for it. Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows illegal aliens (who have either snuck into the country or overstayed a temporary visa) to undergo visa processing (i.e., receive a green card) from within the United States. Applicants must pay a fine of $1,000, and by doing so they avoid having to return to their home country. 245(i) is a significant threat to American national security. Until the mid-1990s, most green card applicants would have been required to apply in their home countries.
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There are many problems with 245(i): it represents a fundamental disregard for the rule of law, it makes all those who wait their turn in their home countries look like fools because they played by the rules, and it sends the message to those considering entering the country illegally that they may come whenever they want and stay illegally for as long as it takes get a green card. But putting all these concerns aside, from a national security standpoint there are two significant problems with allowing illegal aliens to undergo changes of status without going home to be processed. First, having the INS process applicants in the United States instead of requiring the alien to return to his home country increases the chance that any problem with the application will be missed. Consular officers in the home country speak the local language and know the local conditions, are in contact with local law enforcement, and are in a much better position to judge the validity of the application, and whether someone poses a security threat than is an INS employee who might be half a world away.
The second and most important reason 245(i) is a threat to national security is that even if the INS could assess applications as well as the State Department, processing applications from within the United States renders the background check meaningless because even if a person is found ineligible, he is still in the country. The INS has no procedure or means to require green card applicants who are rejected to leave the country. In contrast, if the applicant had to return to his home country to undergo processing and was then found ineligible he would have, in effect, deported himself. The only way to make the background check meaningful is to have it done in the applicant's home country. The existence of 245(i) not only made it less likely that Mr. Hedayet's possible terrorist links would have been uncovered, it rendered his background check meaningless. Mr. Hedayet himself was in fact turned down for a green card, and he in fact did live in the United States as an illegal alien. He is not the only terrorist who was turned down for a green card and simply continued to live here illegally. Mohammed Salameh, who was turned down for a green card in the early 1990s, remained in the country and rented the truck used in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
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Of course, many will argue that of the thousands of people who use 245(i), only a small fraction are criminals or terrorists. While this is certainly true, this is no reason to render the background check meaningless by processing applications in the United States rather than sending the person back to his or her home country. After all, the vast majority of airline passengers are not intending hijackers, but we still use metal detectors and x-ray machines on all of them before they board a plane. All security measures are always aimed at the small fraction of the population who intend to commit a crime. Everyone must be checked, and the check must be meaningful. And for the background check to be meaningful, individuals must return to their home country.
If it can be said that anything good may have come from the atrocities of September 11th, it is that many Americans have come to realize that immigration is not simply a matter of economics or something to think about in only romantic and nostalgic terms. No longer can quaint stories of one's immigrant grandmother be a substitute for intelligent discourse on one of the most important issues confronting the country. We need to realize that the failures in our immigration system that facilitated the attacks of September 11th or the July 4th murders at LAX airport are not mostly the fault of the INS. Yes, the INS has very real problems. But the failures in our immigration system result mostly from a lack resources, ill-conceived immigration policies, and most important of all, from a lack of political leadership. Many elected officials have been all too willing to adopt policies that clearly reward illegal immigration, and make protecting our nation much more difficult. Our lax asylum system, our inability to deport those who are turned down for a green card, along with the visa lottery and 245(i), are all examples of policies that create significant problems for American national security.
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There is a fundamental misconception about how immigration policy can help in the war on terrorism. We often hear that the INS should ''only go after the terrorists.'' But for the most part, apprehending someone who is a known terrorist is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement, not immigration policy. The way our immigration system can play a vital role in reducing the terrorist threat is by the mundane work of carefully processing applications and by strictly enforcing the law, such as by making those who are here illegally leave the country. A recent study published by the Center for Immigration Studies of 48 al Qaeda terrorists, including the September 11th hijackers, found that at least 22 had committed significant violations of immigration prior to taking part in terrorism. (The report is available at www.cis.org.) Given how common violations of immigration laws are among terrorists, strict enforcement would almost certainly be helpful in disrupting terrorism in the future.
We also have to eliminate programs such as 245(i) that expose the country to unnecessary risks or that create unnecessary administrative burdens such as the visa lottery. If we adopt a policy of using our immigration system to ''only go after the terrorists,'' inevitably that will end up targeting people from Muslim countries for selective enforcement. I think we should reject a long-term policy of selective enforcement for only Muslims who violate immigration laws. We should enforce the law for everyone. Most people who argue that we should use our immigration system to target only terrorists almost certainly don't want it to result in selective enforcement. But that is the inevitable result nonetheless.
Mr. GEKAS. We thank the gentleman and turn to our final witness for the day Mr. Virtue.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF PAUL VIRTUE, HOGAN AND HARTSON, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. VIRTUE. Mr. Chairman, Ms. Jackson Lee, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss the implications for immigration policy of the tragic case involving Mr. Hesham Hedayet. The matter provides a legitimate basis for inquiry into INS processes and procedures. However, attacks against the sound immigration policies that underlie programs involving the protection of refugees, the diversity lottery and former section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act are simply unfair. Rather, your review should focus on how immigration reform can best contribute to our national security by enhancing our intelligence gathering and sharing capability while respecting our commitment to due process and civil liberties and facilitating the free flow of people and goods.
It is important to examine the handling of this case in the context of current processes and procedures. Chief among those is the restructuring of the asylum application process in 1995 by which automatic eligibility for employment authorization was eliminated. The process was streamlined to allow for consideration of the claim by INS and the Immigration Court within a 6-month period. INS approval of claims is now limited to only manifestly well-supported applications. All others are referred to the court, and applicants are now required to appear in person at the Asylum Office to receive the decision and service of a notice to appear for removal proceedings where that is appropriate.
Statutory provisions enacted in 1996 restricting consideration of asylum claims to those filed within 1 year of entry and requiring background checks before an asylum claim may be approved have also limited the attractiveness of asylum as a means to remain and work in the United States.
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Some suggested that asylum seekers be detained during consideration of their claims to limit the risk of danger to the community. While I agree that detention may be appropriate in those relatively small number of cases where the applicant poses a risk, or is suspected of posing a risk of harm, I don't believe that custody should be made mandatory or that this should be applied liberally in the asylum context. Detention must be considered carefully in the cases of torture survivors and other asylum seekers, many of whom are still suffering from the effects of torture and persecution when they arrive in the United States.
Similarly, I advise caution in the INS and State Department investigations of the bona fides of asylum claims and suspected terrorist activity. I continue to believe that sharing an asylum claim or the particulars of the claim with the sending country should be avoided as is provided in the existing guidelines for INS employees and State Department consular officials. Those guidelines permit overtures to the sending country in such a way that permits a thorough investigation while preserving confidentiality of the asylum process.
The Hedayet case is also being used to criticize the diversity lottery program. The lottery program itself does not pose inherent security problems. The lottery simply gives selected persons from countries with low rates of immigration the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. Lottery winners must still undergo extensive background checks, identical to those required by persons sponsored for permanent residence by family members or by employers. As with the asylum regulatory changes, a number of changes in the DV program have made that program more secure, and those measures are detailed in my written testimony.
Finally, former section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act has come under criticism as a result of the Hedayet case. Critics have suggested the provision operates as a loophole for those bent on terrorist aims because the applicant's status is adjusted in the U.S. This is simply not the case. 245(i) was enacted as an efficiency measure in 1994. It did not change the requirements for admission as an immigrant and did not eliminate the requirement for background checks before an application can be approved. At the time Congress looked at the number of people who were traveling to their home countries to apply for visas, the disruptions in their lives and that of their employers, and the effect that that had on the staffing at consular posts and decided to permit those eligible for immigrant visas to adjust their status here in the U.S.
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Some have suggested that those unlawfully present in the U.S. would be more thoroughly screened by consular officers abroad than by INS adjudicators, and also that requiring them to apply abroad would address the problem with removal of those whose visas are denied. I can't agree necessarily that consular officers are better postured than INS officers to conduct thorough interviews, but the latter point is a good one and should be examined. The problem is those people who are here in an unlawful status make themselves inadmissible by leaving to apply for a visa. There are ways to address this issue and to ensure that people who are of concern have to apply for their visas abroad.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GEKAS. We thank the gentleman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Virtue follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF PAUL W. VIRTUE
Mr. Chairman, Ms. Jackson Lee and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss the implications for immigration policy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (''INS's'') handling of matters involving Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, the Egyptian national who shot and killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002. As detailed in the agency's testimony, Mr. Hedayet entered the United States as a visitor in July 1992. His December 1992 application for asylum, in which he claimed persecution by the Egyptian government based on its mistaken belief that he was a member of Gama'a al-Islamiyaa, was denied by the INS in October 1995. An order to show cause charging Hedayet with being deportable as an overstay was then issued and mailed, but deportation proceedings were never commenced when the charging document was returned to the agency as undeliverable mail. In January 1997, Mr. Hedayet filed an application for adjustment of status as the spouse of a diversity lottery winner. When name and fingerprint checks with the FBI and CIA failed to elicit negative information, Hedayet's status was adjusted to permanent residence in August 1997.
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While the Hedayet case serves as the basis for legitimate inquiry into INS processes and procedures, it is both unfair and inaccurate to use the case to raise allegations against sound immigration policies that underlie programs involving the protection of refugees, the diversity lottery, or former Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Rather, responsible voices recognize that immigration reform can best contribute to our national security by enhancing our intelligence capacity while respecting our commitment to due process and civil liberties and facilitating the free flow of people and goods.
Needed reforms to our immigration system are included in the Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (Border Security Act, Pub. L. No. 107173). Specifically, the new law: authorizes increased funding for the Department of State (DOS) and the INS; requires federal agencies to coordinate and share information needed to identify and intercept terrorists; encourages the use of new technologies by authorizing funds to improve technology and infrastructure at INS, the Customs Service, and DOS, and targets much of this effort at strengthening our nation's border; implements a study to determine the feasibility of a North American Perimeter Safety Zone (that includes a review of the feasibility of expanding and developing pre-clearance and pre-inspections programs); includes provisions for a workable entry-exit control system; implements changes in the Foreign Student Monitoring Program that will fill in gaps in data and reporting; and provides for a one-year extension of the deadline for individuals crossing the border to acquire biometric border crossing cards.
This measure also poses challenges to our country, the Congress, federal agencies, and the American people. Given the Act's very ambitious deadlines, Congress needs to provide the federal agencies with the staffing and funding levels they need to implement this measure's provisions. It is important for Congress to give the federal agencies the funding they need to do a good job. In addition, some of the Act's provisions, particularly several of the mandated implementation deadlines, may negatively affect cross-border commerce and travel. Finally, the federal agencies, especially the INS and DOS, have an important role to play in enhancing our nation's security. This measure, if sufficiently funded, will give the agencies the tools they need to do their job. For their part, the agencies need to be up to the task of implementing major reforms that address our security needs at the same time they recognize the continued importance of immigration to our nation.
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All of these issues, as well as the Hedayet case, pose special concerns in the context of the creation of the proposed new homeland security department that would include our nation's immigration functions. If we are to make our nation safer, any proposal to reorganize our immigration functions must recognize the delicate balance between adjudications and enforcement that is necessary for efficient, effective, and fair enforcement and adjudications. Adjudications and enforcement are two sides of the same coin and must be closely coordinated and subject to the same interpretation and implementation of the law.
The INS has been criticized for failing to follow up on the statements made in Heyadet's asylum claim that he was targeted for persecution based on the government's mistaken belief that he was a member of Gama'a al-Islamiyaa, a group later included in the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. The INS testimony includes a thorough description of the steps it has taken to ensure full FBI and CIA background checks before asylum will be approved. Indeed, each applicant now undergoes background checks upon filing the application, irrespective of the INS determination regarding grant or denial. In addition, since 1997, statements included in asylum applications that raise questions regarding membership in terrorist organizations are referred to INS headquarters for review and appropriate follow up. Thus, had Mr. Hedayet's claim been considered under current procedures, it would be reviewed for further action by the INS Headquarters National Security Office, including detention, where appropriate.
Fair procedures are critically important in making what can be life and death decisions regarding asylum. Detention is an appropriate measure for dealing with threats to our national security, but its use must be considered carefully in the cases of torture survivors, rape survivors and other asylum seekers, many of whom are still suffering from the effects of torture and persecution at the time they arrive in the U.S. Many victims find it hard to speak of their experiences right after they arrive. Often times, the shame, isolation and terror they feel is overwhelming. Even to save their lives, these victims may be unable to tell a strange person in a crowded room what they have endured. Under current procedures the failure to articulate a legally sound claim for asylum at the port of entry can result in an asylum seeker being turned away without a fair opportunity to fully present a claim. For those who are able to pass a credible fear hearing, lengthy detention is commonplace.
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For many reasons, blanket detention policies are inappropriate and fail to strike a proper balance between security and humane treatment:
Detention undermines the ability of asylum seekers to pursue their asylum claims. Detained asylum seekers are often unable to obtain the legal assistance necessary to help them navigate the complex asylum process. Such assistance is critical; a Georgetown University study revealed that represented asylum seekers are 4 to 6 times more likely to win their asylum cases. Some detention facilities and jails are located in remote areas that are inaccessible to legal counsel, and asylum seekers sometimes find themselves transferred from facility to facility, stranding them hundreds of miles from their lawyers. The distance to these facilities also limits the ability of torture survivors to be examined by medical professionals in order to corroborate their cases.
The INS relies heavily on detention space rented from local prisons, facilities that are incapable of meeting the needs of asylum seekers. Local prisons account for more than 60 percent of INS detention space. In such facilities, asylum seekers, including women, are sometimes commingled with criminal inmates. They may be denied adequate translation services, and can be subjected to harsh disciplinary or other procedures, including the use of restraints. Asylum seekers can become invisible in these criminal prisons, indistinguishable from the rest of the prison population.
Families are divided. Families who arrive in the United States together are sometimes split between detention centers or into different units within a facility. They are either not allowed to visit with each other or allowed to do so infrequently and without physical contact. The remote location of some detention centers and restrictive visiting hours deter many relatives from visiting their detained family members.
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The INS frequently refuses to release asylum seekers from detention even after they are found to have a credible fear of returning to their home countries. U.S. law allows the INS to release asylum seekers after they have been found to have a credible fear of persecution. In fact, the INS has issued guidelines authorizing the release of asylum seekers who satisfy certain criteria, stating that its policy is to ''favor'' release of these asylum seekers. But some INS district offices frequently ignore these directives and continue to detain asylum seekers for prolonged periods.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Congress should:
Authorize and appropriate funds for adequate INS-managed detention space in locations with access to free or low-cost legal services;
Mandate the development and consistent implementation of alternatives to detention of asylum seekers, including by parole under the asylum parole criteria, supervised release, and the creation of shelters operated by appropriate non-governmental organizations;
Provide for independent review by an immigration judge of a decision to detain;
Instruct the Department of Justice to issue regulations facilitating the parole of asylum seekers, specifying the criteria for their release, providing for immigration judge review, and ensuring the release of individuals granted ''withholding of removal'' who present no danger to the community; and
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Create an Office of Detention Oversight within the Department of Justice to monitor detention facilities and enforce detention standards.
Through the implementation of the Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, we can increase the security of the immigration system without resorting to simplistic and overly-broad policies that fail to appropriately discriminate between those who seek to do us harm and those who are seeking protections from persecution.
Before the Immigration Act of 1990 (Pub. L. No. 101649), immigrants were primarily admitted to the United States through one of two routes: (1) through their relationship to a family member in the United States; or (2) via employer sponsorship. The 1990 Act, through creation of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program or Diversity Lottery), provided a third route by which immigrants can enter the United States.
The DV Program does not pose any inherent security problems. The lottery simply gives selected persons from countries with low rates of immigration the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. To qualify as a diversity immigrant, an alien must come from a designated ''low-admission'' country, and must have at least a high school education or its equivalent, or have worked at least two years in an occupation that requires two years of training or experience. Lottery winners must undergo extensive background checks, identical to those required by persons sponsored for permanent residence by family members or employers.
Security lapses can, of course, occur in this process if the FBI and CIA fail to share intelligence and law enforcement information with the INS and the State Department. However, this problem, too, was addressed by the Border Security Act, discussed above. The Border Security Act closes loopholes in our immigration system by requiring the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share vital information in real time, among our front-line agencies. It creates an electronic data system to give those responsible for screening visa applicants and persons entering the U.S. the information they need in real time and the tools they need to make informed decisions.
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Moreover, several recent regulatory amendments to the DV Program have served to make the program more secure. For example, an October 26, 2001, State Department final rule augmented the photograph and signature requirements contained in the DV regulations, and updated the method by which consular officers make determinations regarding applicants' work experience (66 Fed. Reg. 54135 (Oct. 26, 2001)). Specifically, the amendments provided that for anti-fraud purposes, the signature on the application must be the applicant's usual and customary signature in his or her native alphabet. An initialed signature or block printing of the applicant's name will not be accepted and will result in disqualification of the entry. The rule also added a new paragraph to the regulations to address photographs. Beginning with the DV2003 registration, the entry, in addition to containing the applicant's photograph, must also include recent photographs of the applicant's spouse and children (natural children as well as legally adopted children and stepchildren), with a separate photograph for each family member. Photographs must be submitted even though the spouse or child no longer resides with the applicant and whether or not the dependent will accompany or follow to join the applicant in the U.S.
The October 2001 regulations also clarified that under no circumstances may a consular officer issue a visa to an alien after the end of the fiscal year for which the alien was registered, and further, that at the end of the fiscal year, the petition is automatically revoked. Finally, the regulations required consular officers to make determinations regarding an applicant's work experience based upon the Department of Labor's O*NET OnLine rather than the previously used Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
A subsequent interim rule further refined the October 2001 amendments, and added language clarifying the definition of ''high school education or its equivalent'' (67 Fed. Reg. 51752, Aug. 9, 2002).
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INA SECTION 245(I)
Much confusion surrounds this important but little understood provision of immigration law. The provision to extend the deadline to file an application under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that passed the House last March has been so poorly reported on in the media that some important clarifications are in order.
Section 245(i) is an important provision of U.S. immigration laws that has allowed eligible people to adjust their immigration status in this country, without having to return to their home countries where they could face bars to reentering the U.S. of up to ten years. Immigrants applying for Section 245(i) are eligible for their ''green cards'' (permission to permanently reside in the U.S.), but without Section 245(i) are unable to obtain them in the U.S. because they are not in a legal status. Thus, because these individuals are eligible to become permanent residents, the only thing that Section 245(i) addresses is the location in which an application for a ''green card'' is processed. Under the provision, when a person becomes eligible to receive a green card because of a close family relationship to a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or through the sponsorship of a qualified employer, that person will be allowed to go through the application process in the United States.
This law does not change who is eligible or when a person is eligible. It does not put a person ''at the front of the line.'' There is only one worldwide ''waiting list'' for available visas, and anyone seeking to apply for a visa under Section 245(i) must await their turn in that line. This law does not provide work authorization or protection from deportation for those individuals waiting in the United States for their turn in the line to come up. Section 245(i) only pertains to where people receive their green cards. Without this law, many immigrants are forced to return to their countries of nationality to await their green cards, thereby facing separation of up to ten years from their families and leaving their employers without needed workers. Section 245(i) allows families to stay together and businesses to retain valued employees. Most importantly, it gives the U.S. government a chance to thoroughly review the backgrounds of these people who may already be living in our communities, and decide whether or not we want them to continue living amongst us. This screening process is lengthy and quite involved, but without 245(i) many immigrants would be discouraged from beginning the process and making themselves known to authorities.
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Section 245(i) also is fiscally prudent. It generated nearly $200 million in annual revenues for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) the last time this provision of the law was implemented.
Section 245(i) has been characterized by some as a loophole that will allow terrorists to get green cards and gain legal residency. It is time to set the record straight. Section 245(i) does NOT operate independently of the long-standing provisions of our immigration laws, which make known terrorists inadmissible to, and deportable from, our country. A person seeking processing under this law must prove to the INS that he or she is admissible to the United States for permanent residence. The law excludes any alien who has engaged in any type of terrorist activity, as well as any alien who the Attorney General has reasonable grounds to believe is engaged in or is likely to engage after entry in any terrorist activity. In fact, the law excludes any alien who the Attorney General has reason to believe seeks to enter the U.S. to engage in any unlawful activity.
People who apply for Section 245(i) processing can be rejected for many other reasons, including: health-related grounds (comprising both mental and physical disorders); criminal convictions; public charge issues; and participation in drug trafficking activity, prostitution, commercialized vice, smuggling or human trafficking, money laundering, document fraud or misrepresentation, to name a few.
Most importantly, Section 245(i) does not provide a person with authorization to remain in the United States, does not provide employment authorization, and does not provide any protection from deportation, unless and until the applicant's turn in line for visa processing has been reached, a visa is available, and the applicant has been approved for lawful permanent resident status.
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Adjustment of immigration status under Section 245(i) is neither a right nor an entitlement-approval of any Section 245(i) application is solely at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General and available only to those who are qualified to immigrate to the United States.
In sum, our focus in reforming our immigration laws must be targeted and meaningfulto identify and isolate potential terrorists, without compromising our values. Individuals who are otherwise eligible under our laws should be allowed to immigrate to the United States. Our actions must strike a careful balance between the need for strong law enforcement and preserving our tradition as a nation of immigrants.
Mr. GEKAS. And now it comes time to allot time to Members for a round of questioning of the witnesses, which will begin by the Chair allotting itself 5 minutes forduring the first round.
Mr. Virtue, you say that the 245(i) application background check can be efficiently handled in the United States. Mr. Camarota asserts that the only way to be thorough about that particular situation is to have the background check conducted in the home country. That is a vital difference there.
It seems to me that the more believable background check would probably occur in the home country, since that is where the individual grew up; is that not the case?
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Mr. VIRTUE. I don't disagree with that point, Mr. Chairman. The question is where the visa will be issued or where the adjustment of status takes place. The background check for the individual may still be done in the home country. It still may be done by the State Department. The question is where the actual interview takes place. So if we can refine the systems, and the INS is doing this, to have full information from the FBI and the CIA on the individual, the locus of the actual interview shouldn't matter on this point.
Mr. GEKAS. But isn't that exactly the problem we have not with the 245(i), but with the situation of Hedayet? Mr. Yates in his testimony says there is no evidence. I think that is the phrase he used. Let's see here.
Mr. YATES. That is correct, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GEKAS. There is no evidence. Yet I circled that portion. If I could find it. And yet his own statementit seems to me Hedayet's own statement in the asylum proceedings gave evidence, self-condemning evidence, that he was being considered as a terrorist, under his own words, in his home country. That seems to meand we lawyers, prosecutors, in the past have used that kind of statement as a red flag through which we would enter other realms of evidence to determine the truth of such a statement. What happened here?
Mr. YATES. But, Mr. Chairman, what he said is that he was falsely accused, and in the adjudication of asylum cases, it is not at all unusual for an individual to come forward and say, I was falsely accused, and their government was using those false accusations as a pretext to persecute them. I mean, this is a very common situation in the asylum process.
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Mr. GEKAS. Well, how did you.
Mr. YATES. He deniedhe not only denied that was true, he said that he had never been involved in any kind of violent activity.
Mr. GEKAS. How did it come up? Did he just blurt out, I am not a member of a terrorist organization? How did it come up?
Mr. YATES. He indicated during the course of the interview that he had been arrested by the police, that he had been beaten, that he had been detained, and he had been falsely accused of being a member of an organization that we now know ishas been classified since 1997 as a terrorist organization. He denied any involvement. He said, I am a religious man. I am a member of a mosque. I am not a violent man. I don't have a gun. So his statement was, I have been accused of that. That was part of his asylum claim. The basis for his claim of persecution was that he was being falsely accused and was being tortured because of that.
Mr. GEKAS. But the INS did not believe that; is that correct?
Mr. YATES. The officer who interviewed him, it was the totality of statements where the officer said, I don't think you are credible. I mentioned a few of the things. The officer said, if you have that kind of fear, why did you leave your wife and child back in Egypt? And, in fact, he had not. They had joined him in the United States shortly before the interview.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But it is clear that the officer did not find his testimony credible. That is why he denied the asylum application.
Mr. GEKAS. I thought you also said in your statement that no agency supplied the INS with any further background information on Hedayet. Did you say that?
Mr. YATES. I did say that; that is correct.
Mr. GEKAS. Did the INS reach out? Did they ask the State Department?
Mr. YATES. At the time of the asylum application, the asylum process, INS sent a copy of the application and a copy of the officer's notes to the Bureau of Humanitarianthe BHRHA, excuse me. I have justBureau of Human Relations and Humanitarian Affairs, excuse me. That was part of our process to determine whether or not there was any specific information.
INS was well aware of country conditions. The INS officer mentions he was well aware that there were attacks on Coptic Christians, so it was not that the officer was not aware of problems in Egypt at that particular point in time, but we received no information that indicated that he was involved in any activity that would be prejudicial to the United States.
Mr. GEKAS. Did the humanitarian agency assert that there was no evidence?
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. YATES. We received no reply.
Mr. GEKAS. Well, that is what I am saying; so that you did not havewhen you say you did not have evidence, you really meant you had no evidence.
Mr. YATES. Well, I chose my words carefully on that. But we have alsobut we also ran additional checks a short time later in the adjustment of status process with fingerprint checks, sending out other agency checks, and as I have mentioned, even after this tragic event, we went back and looked at all of the agencies to determine whether the CIA, the FBI, the Customs Service, the Department of State, anyone had any information on Hedayet, and it was negative.
Mr. GEKAS. And there is nothing in the record that I can discern that indicated that the INS ever contacted the Egyptian Government, correct?
Mr. YATES. No. In fact, Mr. Chairman, in the asylum process we would not do that, because if we contacted the Egyptian Government, if his claim was accurate, then we would have put his family members at risk. I mean, that is an issue that was discussed by other panel members here, but that isthat is a problem. That is, frankly, the only source that we do not contact, I mean, reaching out to that home government in those cases.
Mr. GEKAS. It seems that we have to try to balance the risk that you say applied to his family with that which obviously applied to Americans at an airport.
Mr. YATES. Right. I think.
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Mr. GEKAS. The time of the Chair has expired for this first round. The gentlelady from Texas is recognized for a round of questioning.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to have unanimous consent that my statement that I offered previously as an opening statement be submitted into the record in its entirety.
Mr. GEKAS. Without objection.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. And I would like to have permission, unanimous consent, to submit the statement of Mr. Conyers, the Ranking Member of the full Committee, on this oversight hearing.
Mr. GEKAS. Without objection.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. And I have a document from the United States Department of Justice dealing with the confidentiality of asylum applications and overseas verification of documents and application information. I would like to submit this, ask unanimous consent to submit this into the record.
Mr. GEKAS. Without objection.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
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Let me restate again for the record the importance of this oversight hearing and thank the Chairman for this hearing.
And I might provide a backdrop of my questions, Mr. VirtueI thank you for your presence here, and all of the witnessesand that is that in the course of this hearing, we are also studying, as we all are aware of, a total reform of homeland security, meaning that we are in the process of creating a Homeland Security Department. My understanding is that as this legislation is moving through the other body, we will place immigration in its entirety in the Homeland Security Department with a recognition that there be certain aspects of the visa authority that will be retained by the State Department, but oversight regulations and guidance will be under Homeland Security, which will put a new face, if you will, on all of these processes.
And so what I think is important, that as we look to correct what we believe may be detrimental in light of the terrible loss of life, we are going to be changing in any event how the oversight processes will go. Let me then pose questions to you in this instance, if you can restate your comments, is thatwould you, again, comment on this maybe premise that the 245(i), for example, or even the lottery system, in and of themselves pose a threat. What has been your experience, both in your former position and your present position?
I would like to go to Mr. Yates, and if he can be thinking of these questions, to give me the numbers of individuals in a ballpark figure that he may have in detention. How many incidents like this has come to mind or come to the attention of the INS that has resulted from a diversity lottery, meaning that a violent crime incident has generated out of a diversity lottery procedure such as Mr. Hedayet's wife received diversity lottery? How many incidents have come to your attention? And I will pose those questions shortly.
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Mr. VIRTUE. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee.
Yes, in answer to your question, the diversity lottery itself is just another category of eligibility for immigration to the United States, not unlike family-based immigration or employment-based immigration or special immigrant provisions in the statute.
Anyone who is eligible under that program must nonetheless go through the background checks and the interview required of anyone who is adjusting their status here in the United States. 245(i) similarly does not create, in and of itself, security risks. The issue is where the person's status is adjusted, whether that is in the United States or abroad. But the background checks can be done very well in the home country by the State Department, the CIA. Some offices have INS officers who are available to conduct checks in the home countries. So thatit does not create unnecessarily a risk against security.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. If we were toif we are reforming immigration as it relates to this new Homeland Security Department, you could easily move those responsibilities to the continental United States, if you will, under our own law enforcement agencies; is that what you are suggesting?
Mr. VIRTUE. Well, that certainly could be done. If anything, this case is one of many examples that points out the need to maintain close coordination between adjudication of benefits and enforcement of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is critically important, in my opinion, that those functions remain together in the homeland security office, and, yes, those functions could be handled here as well as abroad.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE. It is also the case that both 245(i) or the diversity lottery does not grant a status. It allows you to access a status and to go through the process.
Mr. VIRTUE. That is correct.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Yates, if you could answer those questions dealing with the troublesomeness, if you will, previously, or to your knowledge, of the diversity lottery.
Mr. YATES. Well.
Mr. GEKAS. The lady is granted another 1 minute for the purpose of questioning.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank the Chairman for his kindness.
Mr. YATES. Ms. Jackson Lee, we do know that a number of individuals who have entered through diversity visa lottery have committed crimes in the United States. What I can't tell you is if it is out of proportion with the average number of immigrants who have committed crimes. I don'tI haven't seen any statistics on that.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Or you can't tell me whether they are any different from other adjustment status procedures in terms of accessing legalization. So you can'tyou don't have background to say that one is more proportionate than others?
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Mr. YATES. No, no, I don't. I can tell you they go through the same types of checks before they come in, the same types of background checks and fingerprint checks and things of that nature, through the adjustment of status process. But I don't know after they enter if there is a higher rate of crime by those who enter in thatthrough the diversity visa process.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. But the adjustment is not weak. I mean, the vetting of those individuals are not weaker.
Mr. YATES. Are not weaker.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. GEKAS. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Virginia Mr. Forbes for a round of questioning.
Mr. FORBES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and, gentlemen, thank you for being with us today.
It has been mentioned earlier that our country welcomes immigrants, and certainly we do. And we also recognize we don't want to just leave them at the dock. We want to provide them with safety here, and we want to make sure that immigrants that are here legally with an intent not to hurt Americans are protected and just as safe as other Americans. But one of the things I hear when I travel across the countrytwo different thingsis, one, that Americans believe that it is time for us to work to protect innocent individuals from becoming victims just as much as we go afterprotect the guilty people after they have committed crimes.
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Mr. FORBES. And secondly, we heard this term common sense, and Mr. Yates, when I talk to people across the country, the question they say to me more than any other is where is the common sense in what we see happening with the INS today? And so I just want to come back to the fact that you had an individualand this is what the Chairman raised to you earlier, an individual who says that he was classified as a terrorist by the Egyptian government apparently, even though wrongly so, that he had been arrested, that they were going through his mail, that they were doing all kinds of things.
I think anyone would recognize that common sense would suggest that at least the Egyptian government thought he was a terrorist, perhaps, at that particular point in time, whether they did so rightly or wrongly.
My first question to you is if you had been able to contact the Egyptian government, would that have helped you at all?
Mr. YATES. I thinkI don't think I can honestly answer that question. I have read information now after his death that the Egyptian government has said they never had any record of this individual. They don't believe he was a member of any terrorist organization, but I don't know what we would have found.
The problem for us in that type of situation, though, is when you apply for political asylum and he is saying the Egyptian government is persecuting me and my family, how do we go back to that government without putting other people at risk? I mean, that is the dilemma, and that is why we rely on the Department of State and the FBI and the CIA to provide us information regarding a veracity of a claim or the potential threat to our own citizens.
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Mr. GEKAS. Would the gentleman yield? Again, I thought that you said that the only inquiry you made was to the humanitarian group, and you have mentioned the CIA and the FBI here and the State Department, but you.
Mr. YATES. Mr. Chairman, in that particular case, that is true. In 19for the applications that were filed then, we did not have the kind of rigorous checks that are in place today, and that came in with asylum reform. After 1995 those checks started to increase, and later after 1997, there was a requirement that any timeeven if there is a false accusation, that the asylum officer had to forward that case to INS headquarters so we could vet it with our national security unit and have a special vetting.
So there was a change in our process, a concern, and that concern, of course, occurred during the 1990's as we all became more aware of threats against the United States.
Mr. GEKAS. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. FORBES. Sure. Mr. Yates, how did you go about affirmatively trying to ascertain whether or not the allegations that were raised in this particular situation were accurate or not? I know that you said that you sent the information to the humanitarian group, but is that all that you do? Do you just send it there and say, hey, we have got this application and wait to see if they respond back, or do you take any affirmative steps to see if there is any validity to the claims that were made?
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. YATES. At the point in time that this case was adjudicated, it was the responsibility of the interviewing officer to try to elicit information from that interview and then sending information through the Department of State, through the BHRHA that I mentioned, to determine whether or not there wasthey possessed any information that would help us to make an adjudication in that case. As I mentioned, it is a much more robust process today.
Mr. FORBES. But let me just ask, again, the interviewing officer was supposed to solicit the information. The interviewing officer actually determined that he didn't think Mr. Hedayet was credible. Isn't that correct?
Mr. YATES. That's correct.
Mr. FORBES. All right. What additional steps, then, would he have to take if he determined that it wasn't credible? Did he just forward this application on to the other agencies, and if nothing took place, just approved it?
Mr. YATES. And the processhe didn't approve it, sir. He denied it, and he scheduled and he went through the process to schedule him for a deportation proceeding. Unfortunately, they mailed out the order to show cause, which was the charging document for that process, and he moved and never received the document.
Mr. FORBES. And that is my final question, as my time is about to run out. But when you have the asylum application that is denied, how do you find these individuals? What do you do at that particular point?
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Mr. YATES. Again, we have a stronger process today, because today the asylum applicant comes back to the office to get the decision in person, and if it is a denial, the officer hands that individual the documents to appear before the court. That means that if he does not show up, the judge can order him deported, and if he is encountered again, it is a matter of then locking him up and removing him from the United States. That is another improvement that is in the process today that was not part of the process back then.
Mr. FORBES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My time is expired.
Mr. GEKAS. The Chair now turns to the gentleman from California for a round of questions.
Mr. ISSA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, for all of the panel, I know that you are all here dealing with hindsight on a situation, and you see it differently, and no surprise I perhaps see it differently than any of you.
Mr. Yates, probably the thing that perplexes me the mostand I don't want to be somebody who comes to a Committee and says, I see conspiracies, but as I read through the circumstances around this, what I see is that Mrs. Hedayet apparently has eight names, and at least 16 derivations of that name, and it appearsand I will run through a scenario and you tell me where all the holes are in it.
It appears that she may have made multiple applications. One of them was granted but not under her normal name, and she made those applications perhaps to help her husband stay here, a member of Hamas, hypothetically, since he clearly had never been accused but said he was accused. And she got him to stay, and he killed Americans. Then she flees the country.
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What are we doing today to stop multiple name applications? Do we have a plan for biometric or some other system that would prevent this kindyou know, in my district I have a lot of Hispanics, they play by the rules, but many of them have multiple names. They could take advantage of this same situation very easily.
Mr. YATES. The multiple name situation clearly is a problem. You asked a number of questions. First, I can't tell you that his spouse, Hala el-Awadli did not.
Mr. ISSA. That is the short name. Right?
Mr. YATES. Yes. That is the name thatthat is her signature. I cannot tell you that she did not file multiple applications.
Now, they don't file with INS. These are applications for the diversity visa lottery that are filed with the Department of State. At least in the past, it was a practice of the Department of State to destroy all of the applications of those who did not win. So we have no way to go back to ascertain whether or not multiple applications were filed.
We do know, looking at her adjustment application now, I counted at least 12 variations, and I may have missed a few, on that name.
I alsothat application, by the way, was filed through an attorney. I also noted that her attorney misspelled his own name differently twice. It was very.
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Mr. ISSA. What is.
Mr. YATES. It was very sloppy work, but it points out the issue that I raised in my oral presentation, and that is, we do need a biometric identifier. It is something that is more than just INS. I think it isas we look at the process for immigrants arriving in the United States, or even nonimmigrants, it has got to start with the Department of State. It has to move on to INS. We have got to do that. This is a very serious issue.
Mr. ISSA. Anyone else feel that there is any room for doubt that we need to have biometric tracking so that we are dealing with one person, we are really dealing with one person and not one person becoming 12 in order to game the system?
Mr. CAMAROTA. No. Absolutely it is of enormous value, and it may have some deterrent effect, because giving your photo and fingerprints to the United States Government might be some deterrent for terrorists. They might not be anxious to do that. So not only would it help in doing what you are talking about, but it could have some other benefits as well.
Mr. ISSA. Mr. Yates, I don't want to pick on you, but I am going to. Yeah. We are always pleased to have people from INS. They tend to be a focus of this Committee.
Post September 11th, we were assured by the INS that changes were being made, incredibly fast changes to make it more robust. Today I heard the same words. What I am interested in is there are 8 1/2 and a half million people in this country who are either overstays or, in fact, were never allowed to be here. How many of these kinds are among them? What is it going to take to go through that backlog so that you can come here and tell me what I don't believe you can tell me today, which is we have gone through every single person to look for exactly the indications that understandably were missed, but were missed and in retrospect we would have done something further?
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What is it going to take financially and time wise, and how can this Committee assist you?
Mr. YATES. Okay. I am not sure I understand the question. When you mention 8 1/2 million, are you talking about an approximate number of illegal aliens in the United States or.
Mr. ISSA. I am dealing just with illegals, of whom 40 percent, you know, 4 million, 3 1/2 million, are overstays that would have similar documentation but no deportation orders, not a lot of this, and your 12 or so million that are here but are here based on the old standard? What is it going to take to go through that number of people?
Mr. YATES. I think that frankly, the task is a lot larger than that, because we receive about 8 million applications a year now. So you would have to look atyou are talking about 8 1/2 million who are here illegally. Some of those individuals may be attempting to legalize their status. The vast majority may be just out there, and INS has no information on those individuals. It is frankly a monumental task to try to do that.
Mr. ISSA. If I could do one quick follow-up.
Mr. YATES. It costs $75 to run a fingerprint check on an individual. It cost money every time we run those checks. So depending upon the total numbers, we can calculate costs, but then you have got to calculate costs of agents to locate them.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ISSA. And my question as a follow-up is because of my concern of the possibility of selective checking.
Ms. Jackson Lee has, for example, a private bill for a Palestinian who would be clearly an overstay, came here, applied for asylum, applied, applied, finally was denied but never left, and the years have gone on, more than 5 years since that time. His case was just, I think, a fluke that they discovered he was there. We have 3 or 4 million people in that category.
My reason for asking is that I am personally concerned that of these 3 1/2 or 4 million, I don't expect you to get rid of them all, but how do we go through and find out who of these 3 or 4 million people who are overstays, who have fallen out of the system, are potentially dangerous and then move up the procedure on them? It is selective, but it is selective based on threat, which to me is important.
I need to have this kind of person that we could have said, hey, there is something not quite right, versus this theory that we go get all 8 1/2 million which we know we could never get. So rather than say impossible, my question to youand I would appreciate it if you would respond in writing because my time is expiredis what steps are you taking to go through and find the highest risk of that, let us say, 3 million overstays in addition to the 8 million that you are dealing with anew every day?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Would the Chairman yield the distinguished gentleman an additional minute? And I would like to have the gentleman yield to me for a question?
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Mr. ISSA. I would be glad to yield to the gentlelady from Texas.
Mr. GEKAS. We will yield him an additional minute.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Let me join the distinguished gentleman Mr. Issa from California. I think we have discussed this for a number of weeks now, and that is of course the point that there are a number of overstays, and it would be important, as we look at homeland security, that we frame our search on those who we know pointedly may be dangerous. And at the same time, that we would be able to reflect on the Kezmer family that has lived openly in the community, and of course has been seeking, if you will, legalization. They, of course, are in the process of seeking that through a private bill now, that we could distinguish them from that. And I guess as soon as Mr. Issawhat I am saying, Mr. Issa, is you were distinguishing families like the Kezmer family that has lived openly, and seeking access to legalization have been vetted over and over again as being not dangerous, but we should join together to find those who do pose a threat to the United States.
I yield to the gentleman for his.
Mr. ISSA. And exactly. My concern is that we not selectively look for Egyptians, Palestinians, any particular group, even if they are a high-risk group, but we look through them. And knowing that if an Egyptian or a Palestinian pops up as an overstay today, the likelihood of deportation is very quick.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That doesn't take into account the Indonesians, the Malaysians, lots of other groups.
My concern is not matter where you are from, including the many people in my district from Mexico, I need to know that there is a system in place to go after the criminal alien, the terrorist alien, the alien who is not gamefully employed to theas a preferred class to go after, and that is something that has been missing from INS. And even today I don't have a comfort level that that is the screening criteria to deal with the portion of that 8 1/2 million that the Census said are here illegally, plus the 8 million coming in, but I am talking about the overstays and the simply never legally here, to go through it an at least go through the ones who will do us harm, recognizing that no one in this room thinks that you are going to get rid of 8 1/2 million undocumented workers here today, nor are we asking you to.
I think we are asking you to come up with a system that tells us with confidence that you are dealing with threats to our community and our safety as your first priority.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. If I might reclaim the extended 1 minute, some time of it and just simply say distinctive fromand I want to thank Congressman Issa for his support of the Kezmer family, which happened to be Palestinians, but distinctive from individuals who are living openly in the community and have at every step of the way sought to access legalization. I think we can all find common ground on that approach, to be protective of the Nation but also to be fair of those individuals who are here, who work and pay taxes and want to stay here. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GEKAS. The Chair will now recognize a second round questions for anyone who would like to ask them.
Ms. Jackson Lee.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. I will not hold the Committee. I simply want to just maybe acknowledge Mr. Camarota, I think you had raised a point about countries, the law enforcements in other countries checking on the background of individuals. And I would just want to probe that sometimes we have great concern about law enforcement in places like Yemen and Iraq and North Korea. Certainly would not be helpful to have them vet these individuals. Wouldn't it be more helpful to have this done by our own State Department, law enforcement authorities here?
Mr. CAMAROTA. Well, certainly, but in the case of Mr. Hedayet, he had indicated that the Egyptian government thought he was a terrorist. It seems to me, especially in a post 9/11 worldthough I would have argued we should have done it beforewe need to ask the Egyptian government. That might have exposed him or perhaps his familywe know it wouldn't have since they were already hereto some risk. And that is a balance, but for me that balance has to be struck in favor of the American people. We need to know why they thought he was a terrorist. We do have these reports in a London-based Arabic newspaper that he actually had met several times with Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No. 2 man, who is Egyptian. We need to know did the Egyptian government know that, and I think that is the kind of thing and that is the way the balance should be struck, national security first.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. I appreciate your response. Mr. Chairman, I am going to close by simply saying that I think your reasoning does not overcome the doubt that we may have in confronting some of these law enforcement agencies in foreign countries that may not have the national security of the United States as their first priority. It may be the oppression of individuals who have been so presumptuous and arrogant to leave the country.
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So I think there is some merit to the issue of the humanitarian aspects of this, and I think we can combine our necessities, that is, the protection of this Nation, national security, with the reinforcement of the Homeland Security Department that will begin to share these responsibilities and fix some of the problems at the INS.
I yield back. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GEKAS. Thank you. The Chair will now yield itself an additional 3 minutes for one last question.
Mr. Yates, the Attorney General has asked Commissioner Ziglar to promptly ascertain whether other aliens may be in the United States who have admitted that they have been accused of terrorist activity or terrorist association. Could you just tell the Committee whether or not this is being done, and if so, when it is going to be completed and how many claimshow many aliens have made such claims in the past years?
Mr. YATES. At the present time, we are working to identify the total universe of cases and to develop a plan on how that review can take place. We have not yet discussed the points in that plan with the Attorney General. So I can't discuss it further at this point in time, but we are identifying the potential case load that needs to be reviewed and what process needs to be established to complete that.
Mr. GEKAS. Thank you. And we would like to thank all of you for taking your time.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Would you be kind enough to restate that Members who were not able, as everyone knows there is a debate on the floor, not able to be present have a period of time to submit their statements into the record? I believe it is 5 days.
Mr. GEKAS. Without objection, we will be glad to grant that 5 days.
Also the Subcommittee majority and minority staff have prepared a copy of Hedayet's A file from which personal information has been redacted. If there are no objections, the Chair will enter this document into the record.
Mr. GEKAS. Also I willthe Chair will enter the Attorney General's September 18, 2002 memorandum to the commissioner concerning Hesham Hedayet into the record. If there are no objections.
Mr. GEKAS. Finally, the Chair will direct the INS to prepare a report for this Subcommittee to be made a part of this hearing record explaining what it is doing to investigate, prosecute fraud in the diversity visa lottery program. The Chair is interested in assessing whether the INS has any system for identifying aliens applying for an adjustment of status who have filed numerous applications for diversity visa benefits under different names, places of birth and or dates of birth. That report should be completed no later than November 8, 2002, so that it can be made a part of this hearing record.
Without objection, the hearing is adjourned.
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[Whereupon, at 4:17 p.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Material Submitted for the Hearing Record
PREPARED STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE SHEILA JACKSON LEE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this oversight hearing on this tragic incident. On July 4, 2002, we all recall the terrible images of terror coming from the events at the Los Angeles International Airport. No one in this room would not sympathize with the pain and suffering endured by those present at the airport, and the friends and family of the victims. On July 4, Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet went on a shooting rampage in the line of the El Al ticket counter killing two, 25 year old Victoria V. Hen an El Al employee, and 46-year-old bystander Yaakov Aminov. We deplore these acts and it is the purpose of this hearing to see if there was anything that the INS could have done to prevent this tragedy from occurring.
The record shows, generally, that at the time of the tragedy, Mr. Hedayet was a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In December 1992, Mr. Hedayet filed an asylum application with the INS. That Application was denied in October 1995. Subsequently, Mr. Hedayet's wife won a visa through the annual diversity lottery. At this point, Mr. Hedayet filed an adjustment of status application with the INS. The INS interviewed him on this application and approved it in 1997.
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I must admit that what stands out about this matter is the time that was taken to process Mr. Hedayet. Here we have an asylum application that began in 1992 that was not completed until 1997. I will be interested to hear from our witnesses, particularly the INS about their interpretations of the events that took place between Mr. Hedayet's initial application and the final approval of his adjustment of status application.
Many investigators have concluded that the actions of Mr. Hedayet on July 4, were random and unplanned, however, I am open minded and willing to hearing otherwise from our witnesses today. I understand that on the other side of the isle there is great concern about the timeliness of receipt of the Hedayet file after it was initially requested by the majority. I too share this concern.
There are also some on this committee that believe that Mr. Hedayet, may have misrepresented himself in his asylum application, which would have rendered him ineligible to later adjust status. I have not drawn any conclusions on these facts and, again, I come today with an open mind with the hopes of getting to the bottom of this tragedy.
I do, however, want to say that I hope that we do not come today to disparage policy and programs that are of vital importance to the immigrant community and many members of Congress. I have heard from those in the immigrant advocacy community about their concern that this forum will be used to attack such programs as the Diversity Visa Program, Section 245(i), and the Asylum process in general. I would hope that we could put our partisan hats aside and agree that these programs are not at the heart of this matter. While procedures concerning and about these programs may not have been followed appropriately, and acknowledging that the laws of old did not address certain matters as efficiently and effectively as the laws of today, it is important to emphasize that the policy and purposes of these programs are still valid, and that these programs still meet the needs of many immigrants and their American families.
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Many of the issues that we have visited in the past, we will surely visit again today. For example, during consideration of the PATRIOT Act, I along with many other members fought to keep confidential information within the applications of many of those seeking asylum in the United States. This confidentiality is needed in order to ensure that information within the asylum application is not turned over to the very home governments the asylum seeker is fleeing. Many asylum seekers have fled their home countries under threat of assassination. In fact, I believe that INS and the State Department already have significant tools to investigate asylum seekers. Along these lines, I would like to introduce the following INS memorandum regarding the Legal Framework of Confidentiality of Asylum Applications and Overseas Verification of Documents and Application Information from June of 2001 into the record.
Since this tragedy took place it has garnered significant attention and precipitated action on the part of the Department of Justice. Attorney General Ashcroft has directed the INS to review all existing asylum cases to determine whether possible terrorist links have gone unexamined. I encourage Mr. Yates to inform us of any information that he may have and can disclose about the progress of this investigation.
Mr. Chairman, at this point I will turn this hearing back over to your capable hands, noting that it is with great anticipation that I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses today. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF THE JOHN CONYERS, JR., A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MICHIGAN
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Let me first reiterate the fact that I agree with you that the immigration system in our country is broken and must be fixed. As you know, earlier in the year we introduced bipartisan legislation to restructure the INS, and I remain fully committed to that endeavor.
Just because there are systematic problems with the INS and our immigration system, however, does not mean that we should obliterate the very principles upon which our country was founded when things go wrong and immigrants are involved.
To be clear, our country is based on the notion that the United States is a nation of immigrants; that it is a haven for those who suffer and flee from persecution and mistreatment in their home countries; that the United States is a better nation for its diversity.
The asylum program, diversity visa lottery and section 245(i) are important form the framework for our rich immigrant tradition. These programs have been strongly supported by Republican and Democratic Administrations and must continue to receive our support.
These principles hold true even in the face of tragedies such as the one that occurred on July 4 at the Los Angeles airport. While Mr. Hesham Hedayat was an immigrant, according to press accounts. he was also a troubled man who was having family and business problems.
Unfortunately, this type of tragedy is not unique in our country. But more importantly is not limited to or typical of immigrants. We must make sure that we do not take isolated instances such as that involving Mr. Hedayat and transform them into a general indictment of all of our immigration laws.
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I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.
ALIEN FILE FOR HESHAM MOHAMED ALI HEDAYET
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(Footnote 1 return)
Associated Press, 9 October 2002.
(Footnote 2 return)
Page. 15. The report goes on to explain that Omar Abdel Rahman, the group's leader, ''has been in the United States since 1990'' and ''U.S. authorities are moving expeditiously with the aim of ensuring the Sheikh's departure from this country.'' Not expeditiously enough: in 1993, Omar Abdel Rahman engaged in terrorism in New York City.
(Footnote 3 return)
The State Department has subsequently found al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya to have ''ties'' to Al-Qaeda.