Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Border Watchlisting a Decade after 9/11

New Report Examines Progress, Remaining Challenges

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, curtailing terrorist travel must remain a top priority. Today, the combined domestic/foreign “Terrorist Watchlist,” listing individuals where there exists sufficient “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist activity, is almost entirely made up of foreign-born terrorists, with Americans or legal permanent residents constituting only two percent of the names. Attempts to enter the U.S. by foreign terrorists can best be stopped by knowing who they are ahead of time through the hard, tedious process of watchlisting, and making those watchlists available to the right frontline officers in real time.

Janice Kephart, National Security Director at the Center for Immigration Studies and former 9/11 Commission border counsel, takes a look at watchlisting since 9/11 and criticisms of its shortcomings in the wake of the 2009 attempted Christmas Day bombing. Her report, Border Watchlisting a Decade after 9/11, is available at www.cis.org and presents a historical perspective on 9/11 Commission watchlist recommendations. The report concludes that the hardest work of implementation is complete, and offers recommendations to curtail “legitimate” terrorist travel (i.e., by those who seek legal entry by abusing vulnerabilities that remain in our border and aviation systems). These recommendations include:

* “Cloud”, encryption, and storage technologies that solve the inability to gain information access across systems and databases, while also assuring both security and privacy. Piloting this technology should be prioritized.

* Biometrics, including digitized facial images and fingerprints, need to be fully incorporated into watchlisting to reduce misidentification of legitimate travelers and terrorists.

* DHS must create comprehensive travel and immigration histories for foreigners that cut across agencies and are easily accessible to the entire intelligence community. This 9/11 Commission recommendation is law, but Congress has not conducted oversight to assure its implementation.

* Law enforcement data obtained from abroad by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Visa Security Units conducting terrorist investigations of visa applicants is extremely useful; Congress needs to prioritize the VSU expansion, and give DHS visa revocation authority.

* The U.S. must do what it can to keep European Union agreements in place pertaining to Passenger Name Records; these records are absolutely essential to assuring accuracy of matching watchlist information to relevant aviation travelers.

* All visa holders and visa waiver participants should have their information vetted at least every two years, and every time they seek to travel to the U.S. Right now, visa waiver travelers are subject to higher security thresholds than many visa holders from countries not friendly to the U.S. Applying a standardized approach avoids profiling, establishes security away from our borders, and enables real-time vetting where derogatory information develops after visa issuance.

The above is a press release from from Center for Immigration Studies. 1522 K St. NW, Suite 820, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 466-8185 fax: (202) 466-8076. Email: center@cis.org. Contact: Janice Kephart, jlk@cis.org, 202-466-8185.

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution which examines the impact of immigration on the United States. The Center for Immigration Studies is not affiliated with any other organization

Surge in visa success rates 'luring' boatpeople to Australia

SUCCESS rates for refugee claims have leapt from 30 to 70 per cent in just six months, sparking accusations the government is encouraging boatpeople by virtually guaranteeing them visas.

Senior Immigration Department officials conceded at a recent parliamentary committee hearing that the success rate for asylum claims now stood at 70 per cent, not far below its record high of more than 90 per cent.

With the High Court to hand down its ruling on the Malaysia Solution tomorrow, the figures prompted agencies to warn the Department of Immigration's high success rate was acting as an incentive to asylum-seekers to get on a boat.

Senior department official Garry Fleming told a parliamentary committee earlier this month the primary acceptance rate for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat stood at 70 per cent.

Mr Fleming said the speed at which refugee claims were being processed meant that "a good articulation" of people's refugee claims was not being heard at their initial assessment, resulting in a high rate of overturn at review. "That is now seeing primary recognition rates in the order of about 70 per cent," Mr Fleming told the committee.

The figure does not take into account unsuccessful asylum claims that are overturned on review, suggesting the final success rate could be considerably higher.

The rate at which refugee claims for boatpeople are upheld is seen as a key element in the factors driving refugee movements.

Early last year the Rudd government was warned its refugee success rate was "out of whack" with other countries and was acting as a "major pull factor". The warning was contained in confidential advice sent to government prior to the decision to freeze Afghan asylum claims for six months and Sri Lankan claims for three months. At the time the advice was sent the refugee success rate was more than 90 per cent.

According to department statistics the primary success rate was just 27 per cent for the first six months of 2010-11, meaning it has soared more than 40 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power said "clearly there have been issues in the quality of the decision-making". "That's the only conclusion one can reasonably draw," Mr Power said yesterday. "The fluctuations of people from the same countries and in similar circumstance being rejected is baffling to anyone outside the department."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he found the department's explanation for the wildly fluctuating success rate "unconvincing". "Clearly if your recognition rates are higher than the rest of the world (asylum-seekers) are more likely to say yes to a people-smuggler and get on a boat," Mr Morrison said. "With primary acceptance rates going from the high 90s to the 20s then back up to 70 per cent, it reveals a process that is all over the place."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said refugee decisions were made on a "case-by-case" basis. "As we have said before, driving forces will vary from time to time and numbers will rise and fall in different parts of the world at different times," the spokesman said.


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