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Congress backs tighter security

The bill, which Bush supports, is the first big change in immigration law since Sept. 11.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2002

The bill, which Bush supports, is the first big change in immigration law since Sept. 11.

WASHINGTON -- In a unanimous vote, the House passed a border security bill Wednesday that is intended to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws, keep terrorists out of the United States and keep better track of foreign students.

The bill now goes to the president after clearing both houses without a dissenting vote. Bush strongly supports the measure, which would be the first major change in immigration law since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"This is important and long-overdue legislation," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee.

The need for some kind of border security legislation became obvious after the attacks. The airplane hijackers had entered the United States on tourist, student and business visas.

The new bill would:

Give the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service until October 2004 to set up an automated system to record arrivals and departures of hundreds of millions of foreigners. The so-called entry/exit system, mandated in the past but never installed, would allow the government to keep track of aliens who have overstayed their authorized visits, as did some of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Strengthen requirements that schools monitor foreign students. Schools would have to report to the federal government if a foreign student fails to show up within 30 days of the start of classes. One of the 19 hijackers had come on a student visa but never appeared on campus.

Require issuance of machine-readable, tamper-resistant travel documents with biometric identifiers such as face recognition technology.

Require consular officials to transmit visa applications electronically so that immigration officials have the information before the person arrives.

Require that all flights from foreign countries have passenger manifests at the U.S. point of entry when they arrive.

Eliminate the 45-minute time limit for clearing passengers entering the United States on international flights.

Call for 3,000 new inspectors and investigators for the INS and Customs Service each year through 2006.

Give the INS an additional $150-million to improve its border security technology.

Even with broad backing for the border security legislation, a major question remains about whether it will bring dramatic changes.

Congress passed a comprehensive border law seven years ago after a handful of terrorist incidents, including the 1993 bombing in the parking garage of the World Trade Center. As security concerns faded, however, business interests and university groups successfully lobbied lawmakers to sidetrack provisions.

-- Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.

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