- Mark Tanner
- Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, FBI
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims
- Washington DC
- October 16, 2003
Chairman Hostettler, Ranking Member Jackson-Lee, and Members of the Subcommittee, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the important issue of nonimmigrant aliens who overstay their lawful admission and their relationship to terrorism. The Department of Justice and the FBI have been charged by the President, with the support of Congress, to protect the American people from the continuing threats of terrorism and the crimes associated therewith. It is in the context of our post-9/11 world that we present our views and concerns to the Subcommittee today.
As represented in the GAO report, which is the focus of this hearing, the number of foreign visitors to the U.S. who fail to leave as required by their respective visa is significant. The quality and completeness of government information concerning an individual's correct identity, location and status has a direct impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of our efforts to locate them. The enormous number of visitors to the U.S. and avenues of entry and exit makes it inordinately difficult, if not impossible, to accurately account for each entrant. Nonetheless, the Department of Justice and the FBI, in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, the intelligence community, the defense community and foreign nations are devising and have implemented processes and specialized operational units to mitigate the risks imposed by such overstays.
One such specialized organization is the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force or FTTTF. The participants in the FTTTF include the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security's Bureaus of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection, the State Department, the Social Security Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Energy, and the Central Intelligence Agency. To date, we also have established liaison with Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The mission of the FTTTF is to provide information that helps keep foreign terrorists and their supporters out of the U.S. or leads to their removal, detention, prosecution or other legal action. To accomplish this mission, the FTTTF has facilitated and coordinated information sharing agreements among these participating agencies and other public and proprietary companies to assist in locating terrorists and their supporters who are, or have been, in the U.S. The quality and completeness of the data directly impacts our efficiency and effectiveness.
Among our sources of data are the I-94s, which were a focus of the GAO study. The I-94 is collected by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, after being completed by a foreign traveler. It is recognized that the quality of data on the I-94, which is self-reported, is rarely complete. This factor is compensated, by our use, when appropriate, of other sources of confirming data. These additional data sources, increase the quality and therefore usefulness of our efforts. For example, as terrorist subjects are identified by law enforcement or the intelligence community, the FTTTF typically searches other sources of data to assist in developing investigative leads. If there is an I-94 record for that same subject, it may be compared to other government, public, and proprietary sources of data in order to verify or refute its accuracy, with our ultimate goal to locate the individual.
In addition to supporting the specific investigations of terrorists, FTTTF has supported the Department of Homeland Security's National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) by vetting over a quarter of a million NSEERS registrants in order to assist in the location of absconders.
The newly created Terrorist Screening Center, as required by Homeland Security Presidential Directive - 6, will further enhance our capabilities to keep terrorists and their supporters out of the U.S. or locate them. HSPD-6 requires that the Terrorist Screening Center provide information to support screening processes at all opportunities. Such information will be made accessible when appropriate to State, local, territorial, and tribal authorities to support their screening processes and otherwise enable them to identify, or assist in identifying such individuals. Additionally, mechanisms will be hosted, to the extent permitted by law, to support appropriate private sector organizations and foreign governments' cooperation with the U.S. in the war on terrorism.
Efforts such as these, and the cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other law enforcement agencies significantly mitigate the risk imposed by the visa overstay problem. It bears noting, however, that the critical point of risk mitigation is to keep terrorists and their supporters out of the U.S. The earliest opportunity that the government has to encounter and identify terrorists and criminals is during the visa application process or at their initial border inspection. The recent GAO study suggests there is room for improvement in the current processes.
In the event that someone penetrates the border or comes to law enforcement attention for serious criminal activities after their legal entry, the FTTTF and Terrorist Screening Center will work to locate them. Whether or not there is an accurate record of their lawful and timely departure, we must assume they may still be in the U.S. or have returned undetected, and thus we remain vigilant in our efforts to locate them. The fact that they are able to overstay their visa authority, affects the timing of their plans, but not their intent. As you can well appreciate, our mission requires that we remain as vigilant about serious criminal activities by foreign visitors during their lawful stay, as during any subsequent overstay.