U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Home Issues & Press Travel & Business Countries Youth & Education Careers About State Video

National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NEERS)

Kris Kobach, Counsel to the Attorney General, Department of Justice
Foreign Press Center Briefing
Washington, DC
January 17, 2003

11:13 A.M. (EST)Photo of Kris Kobach

Real Audio of Briefing

Copyright (c)2003 by Federal News Service, Inc., 1919 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20036 USA.  

       MR. KOBACH: Thank you. Thank you for coming and for taking the time to explore this program and talk about it with me.

       What I thought I would do is begin by telling you a little bit of a narrative of what went into the thinking behind this program in the days after September 11th and how we got to the point we are now, and then give you some statistics and some reports on how the program has proceeded.

       In the days that followed September 11th, 2001, it became clear to the United States that we needed to radically improve our control of our borders. We had a situation where terrorists had been able to enter the country absolutely undetected; where they were able to operate on our soil unhindered; they had no obligation to make further contact with federal law enforcement for any reason; the only contact with any law enforcement was entirely accidental with local law enforcement; and we had no way of knowing if they left the country, or if they did, when they left. And as many of you know and many people of foreign nationality know, it's quite easy -- it has been in the past quite easy to overstay a visa in the United States. Indeed, three of the 19 hijackers had overstayed their visas, but the INS had no system in place to alert officials when such an overstay occurred.

       And all of the hijackers had said that they were going to be doing something other than what they actually did, of course, while they were here. And we had no way of knowing whether they were sticking to what they said. But bear in mind, what they said was very little because the INS, for the vast majority of foreign visitors, and I'm sure many of you have filled these out before, requires only an I- 94 form, to be filled out on the plane, typically. It looks like a traffic ticket -- (holds up hands) -- it's about this big. And it requires nothing more in terms of stating your plans to the United States and give us a foreign address. One of the hijackers wrote, "Ramada Hotel, New York," not even New York City, no address, no specification.

       With that incredible lack of information, we realized just what difficulty there was in trying to follow up and see who was abusing the temporary visitor process in the United States.

       Now, we knew one thing, and that was that Congress had already required us -- us being the Justice Department and the INS -- to develop a comprehensive entry-exit system. Comprehensive in the sense that it would apply to all or virtually all visitors who come to the United States. But that system is a long way -- it was at that time a long way off, it's now getting closer; the target date is the end of 2005.

       It became clear on September 11th, though, that that long-term project, as important as it was, needed an immediate step; that we had to take the first step and do something now to try to get control of our borders and a sense of where visitors were and what they were doing.

       And so over the past year, the Department of Justice has put in place -- and responded to that need -- the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, as it has come to be known.

       And I'll -- I think most of you are familiar with the system, but let me just quickly outline what NSEERS does. There are basically three components to it.

       The first is at the border, and essentially it requires that all foreign visitors who are identified as presenting any sort of elevated national security concern must have a brief digital fingerprint taken, and a background check is run on that print. And they must provide more thorough information than is otherwise required on an I-94.

       So where the I-94 merely asks for an address in the United States, someone who's registers in NSEERS has to provide information, very specific information, about where they're going, where they're studying, what course they're studying, what they're going to be doing in the United States if it's not education, their parents' names and addresses, their past educational history, any cellphone numbers they have, any e-mail numbers --addresses they have -- just a very thorough questioning about basic background. Included also: eye color, hair color, height, things like this that hadn't been included in the I-94, that would simply make it more easy and facilitate the identification of people if -- in the event it was learned in the future that the person needed to be contacted by law enforcement, we could do so more effectively. That's the first part -- provide more information.

       The second part is a quick fingerprint check. It's done with a digital pad, using the two index fingers. It takes 10 seconds to obtain the prints, and it takes only a few minutes to run those prints against a database of tens of thousands of wanted criminals, people with criminal records and known terrorists; prints that are -- that the military has obtained abroad, prints that the military has obtained through people in captivity, prints that allied governments have given to the United States and so-called latent fingerprints, prints that don't have a name associated with them. These have been obtained by the U.S. military in al Qaeda safe houses, in al Qaeda training camps.

       If you touch a piece of paper like this -- a lot of people don't realize it -- that a fingerprint on paper can last more than 30 years. And so the training camps were a source, a mine of fingerprints, as it were.

       But we don't have any names associated with these prints, but those prints are in this database, too. So we merely run the prints quickly to see if they match any criminals or terrorists, know or unknown, and then the person is on their way when they come into the country.

       The second part of NSEERS is that the person is required to register once in the country after -- if they're staying more than 30 days, they just have to (appear ?) at one of 76 INS offices across the country and verify that they're doing what they said they would do, staying where they said they would stay. Very quick process, and I think many -- many of you are familiar with the fact that most European countries have done this for decades. If you change address in Europe or if you establish an address in most European countries, you have to at some point report, usually to the local police is the way the system works there, and prove that you're living where you say you are living.

       And then the third element of NSEERS is that when the person leaves, they simply have to verify their departure at the airport or the port of entry. Again, a very quick process, and many countries have had departure controls for decades, but this is the crucial first step in developing the entry-exit system that Congress has already mandated that we must have in place by 2005.

       So those are the three components of the system. In addition, registration has been occurring in the country's interior, domestic enrollment of individuals from specified countries. And essentially, this is nothing more than an effort to try to capture information that we would have gotten at the border had the people come in before -- after, rather after NSEERS was put in place. Now, the system became effective nationwide at the border, at all ports of entry on October 1, 2002. So there is an effort to sort of retroactively gain information about people who may still be here on temporary visas.

       Now, I want to make one thing clear -- I think there's been a lot of confusion about this is the press -- and that is this only applies to non-immigrant visa-holders, temporary visas, B-1, B-2, tourist visas, temporary visitors for business, student visas, temporary work visas. It does not apply to lawful permanent residents in the United States who are citizens of another country. It does not apply to people who have become naturalized U.S. citizens. It does not apply to refugees. It does not apply to asylum applicants, it does not apply to asylees. And it doesn't apply to holders of certain diplomatic visas.

       And so there is a huge population of people of alien birth for whom this does not apply whatsoever. It is temporary visas, the kind of vehicle that all of the 19 hijackers used, and the kind of vehicle that is so easily -- has been in the past, so easily manipulated and abused by those who would wish to do the United States and all the people who visit or reside in the United States harm.

       Let me just now turn to some of the statistics and successes that we've had so far in the three-and-a-half, going on four months, that the program has been in place nationwide.

       First, NSEERS has already led to the apprehension of 330 aliens at the border who presented law enforcement threats. And those numbers are correct as of two days ago, and they change daily. This includes wanted criminals, aliens who have committed serious felonies in the past that render them inadmissible now to come into the United States; aliens with fraudulent documents; aliens who have previously violated U.S. immigration law. And let me give you a couple of examples. So that 330 includes all of those individuals. And those apprehensions sometimes result in detention and turning the person over to a relevant law enforcement authority. In other cases, if it's a past immigration violation or some other condition that renders the alien inadmissible, they are given the opportunity to voluntarily depart or withdraw their application for admission and just turn around.

       But some examples. One example, a Tunisian who was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking offenses, in addition to previous violations of immigration law, identified because of NSEERS. Another example. A national of the Dominican Republic convicted of aggravated assault and burglary on a prior visit to the United States and had been deported after that prior visit, also turned around at the border. Third, a Canadian with multiple narcotics convictions. These are just a few of the -- three of the 330 that I just mentioned.

       A second general statistic or success point, and that is that NSEERS has led to the apprehension of more than one suspected terrorist so far. And I wish I could go into greater detail as to where this occurred and what country the persons were from. But at this point, for national security reasons, we just want to say that we do have more than one, thus far, apprehended through NSEERS, suspected terrorist.

       Third, the domestic registration of individuals already in the country has yielded a great deal of benefit for the national security of the United States and for those who visit the United States. We have, thus far, apprehended 15 felons who were also in the country illegally.

       Most of these cases that I'm -- I'm going to give you a couple of examples. Most of these have been from the Los Angeles office, where there was, as you know, in December some lines and an overload, as it were, of that office. But let me just give you an example of some of the people who have been detained. And again, I think the discussion of detentions -- and I'll certainly take any questions on that -- has had a lot of misinformation.

       One example, an Iranian who had been convicted three times of assault with a deadly weapon and had been convicted twice of grand theft in addition to the immigration violations. Second example, an Iranian had been convicted twice of child molestation. Third, an Iranian who had been convicted of theft and narcotics possession, all these in addition to -- this one in addition to prior immigration violations, and all of these in addition to the present immigration violation that all three were guilty of.

       This sort of identification of criminals is a critical part of the domestic enrollment. But of course, the vast majority of those who are domestically enrolled come in and leave and, you know, it is a very easy and painless process and there is no detention involved.

       A fourth general point of success, and that is that NSEERS has allowed the INS now to track the entry and exit and the whereabouts of 54,000 foreign visitors enrolled thus far. Now, these registrants come from 148 different countries. Let me repeat that number. Fifty- four thousand people enrolled thus far in the system, from 148 different countries. That includes essentially every country on the Earth that I could point to on a map. You know, only the very smallest countries remain that haven't been registered.

       And the reason there are so many countries is that NSEERS is not limited to any one country. Now, true, the regulation that established the system did say that all people from the five state sponsors of terrorism mentioned in the regulation -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria -- that all visitors over the age of 14 from those countries would be registered, but that does not reflect the majority of NSEERS registrants. The vast number are picked -- are pulled into the system because intelligence-based criteria are used by the INS inspectors at the port of entry to identify people coming in who meet certain criteria for being registered in the system. And again, there is no distinction in those criteria that would exclude any one country or that would necessarily include any one country. And so that's why we have so many countries represented in that 148 statistic.

       I should also point out that State Department officials in the issuance of a visa can identify someone who is appropriate for NSEERS enrollment; that is to say, someone who it might make sense to go ahead and just check and make sure after 30 days that they're living where they said they would live. And so it's not only the INS but also the State Department officials who can, by computer, notify the inspector at the port of entry that this person would be worth just checking in, making sure that they leave on time, so that at least we can gain that information for this portion of those non-immigrant visa holders.

       Fifth general point: The requirement to report in after 30 days has yielded some strong investigative leads. We know immediately when a person doesn't show up. They have a 10-day window, if they're staying for more than 30 days. And bear in mind, as I'm sure you know, the vast majority of people on temporary visas -- I won't say vast -- the majority of people on temporary visas stay less than 30 days. But if a person doesn't show up and check in and verify where they're living and what they're doing, then a signal will go up on the 40th day. They have their 10 days to check in.

       And just to give you one example of an investigative lead that we thought was quite important, recently a person from Saudi Arabia who was a flight student in Florida refused to come in and register and verify during that 30-day check-in period. Obviously, because of similarities with the hijackers of September 19th -- September 11th, there was a need to follow up and just see what was going on. So those -- that kind of information is generated by the 30-day requirement.

       And the sixth general point I would make is that the fingerprinting technology utilized in the NSEERS program is proving effective in other contexts as well. On January 1st, 2002, the Justice Department began a program of -- a pilot program of deploying this technology out to the border patrol and to the INS secondary inspection offices across the country, so that any time any person was apprehended trying to sneak across the border or was in secondary inspection for some other reason, we would go ahead and run their prints using the exact same system, to see if they were in the database. And thus far the results are pretty astounding. By the end of the calendar year 2002, 3,995 wanted criminals had been arrested attempting to cross into the United States.

       Q That number again, please.

       MR. KOBACH: Three thousand, nine hundred and ninety-five. That was through the calendar year 2002.

       At this point I want to just mention that I think an important part of what was announced yesterday with respect to the domestic enrollment of people in NSEERS -- and that is that we announced a grace period for visitors from the 20 countries who were required to register by the deadlines of December 16th and January 10th. And that's, I think, important, because it shows our willingness to listen and to make adjustments in the program. The idea here is not to trick anyone into failing to register and then having a reason for excluding them or removing them from the United States. The idea is to get lawful visitors -- just get information and get them into the system, so that we know and we can verify that they did what they said they were going to do and left when they said they would or by the time their visa -- their period of enrollment -- their period of stay expired in the United States.

       The -- but we recognize and we heard from relevant groups that some people might not have heard in time, and now that the deadline had passed, they were afraid to come in and register because they would have failed to register in a timely manner, and so we did extend this grace period from February 27th -- sorry, from January 27th through February 7th, during which a person who is required to register in those earlier deadlines may still come in and apply without any penalty for lack of timeliness. And again, this reflects our desire to make it as easy as possible and make this registration process as painless as possible so that all lawful visitors can come in and be enrolled in the system.

       Now, I think I would like to end by just mentioning a few things as far as the imposition that this implies -- or applies with respect to a person coming to the United States. First, I'd mention what I did before. The idea of registering people is not a new idea at all. The authority to do so in the United States is based on a 1952 provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and in the past, the United States has exercised that authority from time to time, but had not done so recently, certainly not in the '80s, and in the 1990s it had begun with respect to four of the state sponsors of terrorism, but it had been done with a paper and ink system that really wasn't making the most effective use of the option to register people.

       But I think it's important to note if you've traveled in Europe and stayed there for an extended period of time, which I have done and I imagine all of the people in this room have done, you are asked to just come in and verify where you are living, and it's a pretty standard thing. Also, departure controls are common around the world. The United States has such a huge volume of visitors that departure controls have not been part of our immigration system. But Congress has mandated that they must be in the future, and NSEERS is a way of getting them up and running for those aliens who might provide -- might pose some sort of a national security threat.

       The second point I would make is that the imposition is minimal. We're doing everything we can at the INS to try to decrease the amount of time it takes to go through the registration process at the port of entry. Right now -- and we're keeping track of how much time it takes -- right now, the national average is 18 minutes, and we expect that to decrease in the future. Every time we come out with a new version of the software, that new version is meant to make it easier for the inspector to get the information as quickly as possible so the person is not delayed, so they don't miss flights, so they're on their way without inconvenience.

       And then the last point I would mention is that the system not only protects American citizens, naturalized citizens and lawful permanent residents, it protects the visitors themselves. It's a way of making the United States a safer destination to be if we can try to use the technology to secure the country and to keep track of visitors who might pose a national security threat in a way that imposes minimal inconvenience on them; that's what our objective is.

       So with that, I will take any questions you have.

       MODERATOR: We'll just ask you two, as usual. Use the microphone, identify yourself and your news organization.

       We'll start with the gentleman in the back there, please.

       Q Edward Aldman (ph) from Financial Times. One quick technical question and then bigger follow-up to that. The technical question: In terms of identifying citizenship, if you take someone who was born, say, in Iraq and their family moved to France when they were three months old, is that sort of person considered somebody from a state sponsor of terrorism and therefore, would have to go both through the lengthy sort of visa security review, or if they arrive here, through the registration if they already have a visa?

       MR. KOBACH: The short answer to your question is no. Merely being born in a country that is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism does not mean that they are regarded as a national of that state when they come to the United States. There are other factors: Whether the person is still maintaining a current passport, whether they present that passport at the border; whether they have in any way renounced or given up their citizenship in the country of birth; those are factors that are all considered. But merely being born in, around Iraq or whatever does not necessarily mean the person will be classified as a citizen thereof.

       Q And I just have a question about the larger foreign policy implications of this. I mean, when you travel around the world, one of the interesting things is a lot of people don't like U.S. foreign policy; they don't like things that the U.S. does in the world. But they like the U.S. a lot; it's a place they want to come and visit or come and study, they have family here. Do you worry about the message that gets sent out if you make it much harder for people to do that? I mean, the nonimmigrant visa numbers from last year are way down; fewer people are coming to the U.S. What does that do in terms of the U.S. image in the world?

       MR. KOBACH: I'd answer in a couple of ways. One is that first of all, the United States is welcoming foreign visitors and we wish to extend that hand of greeting and that message that, you know, this is no way should be taken as any discouragement to people to come to the United States. We're merely, you know, taking what you could regard as a European model of registration and beefing it up with some fingerprinting technology and saying, "Come to the United States. If you're selected to be registered, don't regard it as an imposition."

       It merely means that if you stay for 30 days -- and most people don't if they're just visiting like you described -- you'll have to check in and verify where you're living, and you'll have to make a short stop at the airport on the way out to just verify that you've left. And by the way, you know, everybody is going to have to do this after 2005 once the universal system is up and running.

       And so it's -- you know, it's a part of our -- it's a new reality we faced -- we face, post-9/11.

       And the second thing I would say is, you know, it's -- the imposition is minimal. It's a small amount of time. And I think it's important to look at the numbers here. Last year we had over 35 million temporary visitors to the United States. Now that 35 million -- let me just give you a picture of the number. That 35 million is a subset of 440 million entries into the United States. So 440 million entries includes U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, et cetera. Thirty-five million are people entering on temporary visas. Of those 35 million, thus far, we have registered just over 54,000 individuals, and we anticipate that by year's end, the first year of the program, it'll be around 150,000 individuals.

       So statistically, the chances of your having to be registered are not that great. But we hope that the intelligence that we use in trying to decide which people to register and which people not to register, both by the State Department and by the INS at the port of entry -- you know, we hope that our information is good enough to identify people that it's appropriate -- and if someone is identified, we hope that it's of minimal imposition to them. We want to try to make it as easy as possible.

       MODERATOR: (Off mike.)

       Q I'm Margery Friesner, ANSA, the Italian News Agency. I'm a little bit confused. I thought I understood that by 2005 this system will apply to visitors from all countries, but it only just started with a limited number of countries. But then you said of the 54,000 registered, they came from 148 countries.

       So if my first -- what I understood first is true, that they're all -- all countries it will apply to by 2005, do you have a calendar of which countries, in what year, like 2003, 2004? Not necessarily that you know it offhand, but if it's -- is it available? Thank you.

       MR. KOBACH: Let me -- that's all right. And let me clarify, and I apologize if I wasn't clear. By 2005 Congress has mandated that a comprehensive system be in place at the border for all non-immigrant visa holders coming into the United States and that that would apply to you regardless of where you come from.

       The 148 number is that the NSEER System at the border now applies to all countries. That is to say anyone, from any country, can be registered. But because it doesn't necessarily apply to everybody that walks through the port of entry, you know, that 148 number keeps changing every day, you know, as someone else is registered from another country. So -- if that makes it clear.

       Anyone can be registered from any country, and that 148 number will continue to climb each day or each week, as eventually more and more people are pulled into the program because they happen to meet the criteria that the State Department or the INS use.

       Now, as far as the domestic enrollment, where we've been mentioning specific countries and asking people who came in before September 30th to come in, those countries are listed, and each time we go out with another list, the country -- all of the countries, thus far, are countries that are state sponsors of terrorism, as designated by the U.S. State Department, or are countries where al Qaeda has been operating. And that's a reflection of our resources, because it takes resources, it takes people, it takes computers, and it takes a lot of manhours to actually register people and ask them to come in to the INS offices, if they didn't do all this at the border. And so we are deploying those resources in a way that makes the most sense quickly, and that is asking people from state sponsors of terrorism and, thus far, countries that have an al Qaeda presence either in operation or in recruiting.

       Q Okay. So if it's not based on the country of origin, how does an INS official at a point of entry decide who he wants to register and who he doesn't? I mean, not all 148 countries are sponsors of terrorism.

       MR. KOBACH: Absolutely -- that's absolutely correct. The INS official has a set of criteria that he or she must apply, and those criteria are based on intelligence, so I can't, you know, elaborate on what they are. But I will give you some examples of some of the things.

       One example is travel patterns. Certain travel patterns would raise suspicion and would prompt an inspector to register them. Another example, which is pretty obvious, which I can say without hampering our national security, is if a large batch of blank passports has been stolen from a particular country, those passports become available on the black market, and then that increases the risk that terrorists might try to obtain those passports and use them to get in the country. That's another example of intelligence that would be applied. There are other factors, but I won't go into those.

       Q Charlene Porter from the Washington File. This 54,000 figure that you mentioned, so this is in the final quarter of 2002, right? I mean, starting October 1 to the end of the year is what you said?

       MR. KOBACH: Actually, to be -- it started at all ports of entry on October 1. We did start it at selected points of entry as sort of a quick pilot, on September 11th, 2002. So basically, it's the last four months of 2002.

       Q Okay. So the point is, do you have any kind of statistics about that number being a percentage of how many visitors that entered the country during that time?

       MR. KOBACH: I don't have that statistic for you. I think --

       Q Can you ballpark?

       MR. KOBACH: I can ballpark. I can say, you know, if you take the year -- overall year from the previous year, it was just over 35 million. And we're expecting that, if we've got thus far 54,000, we're anticipating it's going to be around 150,000 after one year. So you take 150,000 out of 35 million, you get roughly --

       Q Are you going to make me do the math? (Laughs.)

       MR. KOBACH: No, I think I -- I tried to do this math once myself, and I might have gotten it wrong, but I think that's about -- it's less than half a percent.

       Q Okay.

       MR. KOBACH: I think if we -- correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't 350,000 be 1 percent of 35 million? So it's less than half of 1 percent.

       Q Okay. I don't know if you directly answered this lady's question here --

       MR. KOBACH: All right, I'll try again.

       Q -- in terms of do you anticipate that the non-immigrant visitors from additional countries are going to be subject to the domestic enrollment as the 25 countries so far that have been announced? And ultimately, are you saying, with the implementation of this whole system by 2005, that identification of citizens from particular countries is really going to be kind of a moot system because the border entry procedure is going to be so well in place that you won't have to go back and capture information -- I believe the phrase you used -- from people who have already entered? Is that what you're trying to explain there?

       MR. KOBACH: Yeah, let me -- I think there are two questions there, the first part being more countries and the listing thereof.

       As you probably noticed, each time we have announced additional countries that we ask to come in, we have not forecast that in advance. And so I cannot at this time answer the question directly, you know, will there be another tranche and which countries will be involved. The reason we don't forecast that in advance I think is pretty obvious. We don't want to give people who might be here with ill intentions a schedule as to when they might be asked to come in.

       And the second answer to that question is that those determinations can change very quickly if we get new intelligence. So, you know, those calculations as to which countries to ask to come in, you know, in the past -- because -- to ask their people who entered in the past, prior to September 30th, to come in, those will change based on the intelligence we receive.

       Your second question was what about after 2005, does all of this become merged into the, you know, the general entry-exit system? The answer is yes and no. Yes, the entry-exit elements of NSEERS will be merged into the overall entry-exit system. And so if the overall entry-exit system, for example, uses radio frequency cards that can be read remotely as the person comes through the point of entry -- and there are all kinds of technologies that are being considered to make that as easy as possible -- then those elements of NSEERS will be identical to the overall entry-exit elements.

       However, the no part is that there is the element of NSEERS that requires the person to come in after 30 days, and then also come in annually -- I didn't mention this. If a person stays more than a year, they come in every year and just verify they're still doing whatever they said they were doing. Those elements will still be in place for people identified for special registration; that is to say even beyond 2005, if there are certain, you know, criteria that pose some sort of elevated concern about a person, they could be identified for special registration, and that would mean that in addition to the entry and exit, they would still have to do the verification.

       MODERATOR: The gentleman up front here.

       Q Abdulrahim Fukara (ph) from Al-Jazeera Television. I have a couple of questions. You listed the various categories of people you say will not need to register, if you're a permanent resident, for example. The implication from that, it would seem, is that the moment you become a permanent resident of the United States, you stop posing a national security concern.

       And my second point concerns illegal immigrants. There are obviously a lot of illegal immigrants out there who do not pose a national -- a threat to the national security of the United States, but who are here, however, illegally, and they are supporting themselves and their families outside the United States. The NSEERS program, it seems to me, is in that particular case tantamount to asking those people to turn themselves in, which they may not be willing to do and, therefore, will be in this country illegally indefinitely.

       MR. KOBACH: Your first question was, doesn't it imply that they no longer pose a threat if they're a legal permanent -- a lawful permanent resident or a naturalized citizen. No, we are not implying that. The reason that they are not required to register is that in order to become a lawful permanent resident, a person has to go through an extensive series of checks, has to actually affirmatively apply, has to go in and talk to the INS, has to fill out a lot of sheets of information -- many people say too many sheets of information. (Laughs.) But there is already an extensive amount of checking that goes into becoming a lawful permanent resident, that goes into applying for U.S. citizenship. And so we feel that that checking is adequate to screen individuals in that process. So there's no need to make them go through the NSEERS process as well when they enter the country.

       The other reason why NSEERS would not be appropriate for lawful permanent residents is, remember, NSEERS is in large part focused on entry and exit; and if a person is a lawful permanent resident, they're not under an obligation to leave by any particular date. So again, we have less concern about people who overstay, because there is no real overstaying if you're a citizen. Your second -- or a lawful permanent resident or a refugee.

       Your second question was, what about illegal immigrants? And I think the implication, or the way you asked that question was, you know, why would they -- why should they come in if they're here illegally and they're getting along just fine and no one has found them and they're providing income for their family?

       The answer is that if they've overstayed their visa -- and there are quite a few people here illegally who have come in on a tourist visa and then have just tried to avoid law enforcement and overstayed -- it goes from becoming an administrative or civil offense to overstay a visa to a criminal offense if they fail to register. And that's a very important distinction, and it's something that people who are here illegally should take note of. If they don't respond to the call to come in and register, they will have committed a crime under the Immigration and Nationality Act. And that will prejudice them in the future.

       If they try to leave the country and then come back in, they will face a real barrier in doing so, or if they are apprehended, what was a violation of less consequence, the civil violation, has now become a criminal violation. And so they should take note of that as well.

       Q (Off mike) -- they still --

       MODERATOR: The microphone, please.

       Q People in that particular category, they still do not have enough of an incentive to actually go ahead and register, if they know that they're here illegally? If they go to register, they're going to get arrested and deported. I mean, what incentive would they have to actually come forward?

       MR. KOBACH: Well, I think that's a -- it's a good point, but there are a number of reasons why they would. One is, again, you're always better off if you -- you know, if you keep any violation that you have as being a merely administrative violation, rather than elevating it to a criminal violation.

       The second is that they can argue their case in front of an immigration judge. The mere fact that they come forward doesn't remove any of the due process and any of the administrative hearings that they would otherwise get. So they can come forward. Say, for example, they have -- they'd like to seek a change of status or they have already filed for a change of status. The immigration judge, who would weigh their case in the hearing, can make a determination as to whether their application for a change of status would have been granted or not. So you know, they can still argue their case, as it were, in front of an immigration judge.

       So on balance, we would say it's better off for them to come forward, rather than, you know, failing to enroll, because if they are apprehended, then there will, of course, be some suspicion as to why -- you know, "Why didn't you come forward and register in this national security program?"

       I think that answers the question.

       MODERATOR: The next question? The lady in red here.

       Q (Name and affiliation off mike.) I was wondering if you had any numbers on the number of South Asians -- (off mike) -- deported for -- mainly for overstaying their visas -- (off mike) -- immigrants. So there are reports that they -- (off mike) -- and there was kind of fear in the community, and many, many Pakistanis are trying to -- (off mike) -- somehow. So could you comment on that and give me any numbers you may have? The number that one has read is that five planeloads of Pakistanis have been sent back.

       MR. KOBACH: Okay. Yeah. Let me make a few comments in respect to that. First of all, I would just like to say generally, both with respect to all countries involved and also specifically with respect to Pakistan, that, you know, the United States would like to thank countries for cooperating with this and for being involved in it and, you know, would like to apologize for any inconvenience, the extra 18 minutes at the airport, and recognizes that Pakistan has been a great ally in the war against terrorism. And indeed (the 400 ?) arrests of al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan has been of great benefit to the United States in the war against terrorism.

       And we recognize, you know, the unfortunate reality that some of our greatest allies, and many countries whose civil rights records are extremely good, countries who have a democratic system of government, countries that are very close to the United States in the war against terrorism, are involved in this -- their citizens are involved in this. And that's just an unfortunate recognition of the fact that al Qaeda has chosen to operate in those countries. And so we have to try to figure out when al Qaeda comes in, and try to improve our information in that respect.

       The more specific question you asked, though, was about how many Pakistanis have been removed through this process. I don't have the exact country-by-country breakdown with me right now, but I can give you a general sense of where we are at this point.

       So far, as of two days ago, 23,414 individuals had been registered in the domestic portion of the NSEERS program, and thus far, the total number that were detained for any period of time -- and this would indicate the number of people who are here illegally -- is 1,169. Now, the total number of people detained at present is 164.

       A lot of those detentions were temporary. Many of them were detentions that occurred merely while -- it's determined that the person is here illegally and has committed immigration violations of the law, it makes sense in those cases to run an extra background check, to check FBI watch lists and check the additional FBI databases that aren't done immediately. You know, the FBI has paper files and other systems that are not triggered immediately by this -- the finger-printing at the border or at the INS offices. So the person would be temporarily detained while those checks were being done. And if there was a long line of people, you know, that detention might be for a few hours, or in a limited number of cases, overnight. And indeed, that kind of detention is called constructive detention by the lawyers who do this work, because really, they're not, you know, removed to a holding facility, they're just temporarily kept there while the extra background checks are being done.

       My guess is that Pakistanis represent a relatively small percentage of that 1,169 cases that I mentioned, simply because Pakistan's domestic enrollment has just -- opening that window has just started. So I would guess that it would be a relatively small percentage. But at the border, you're really seeing a case, more frequently people are either turned around at the border, or if they've committed a crime, they are not detained by the INS for removal, but transferred to the relevant authority that is seeking them for that crime.

       So, I know that doesn't give you the exact number you're looking for, but I don't have that with me.

       But, Bob did you --

       ROBERT MOCNY (Inspections Division, INS): Let me help you out here. My name is Bob Mocny. I'm with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

       The number of Pakistanis -- excuse me. The number of any citizens from these countries, part of this program, none have been deported. So there have been no deportations based on this program alone. Those deportations that you mentioned would just be part of the normal routine deportations that may occur throughout the year. But there have been none. There's been detentions, but no one has been deported.

       MR. KOBACH: And there are some cases -- no one has been deported yet. There are some cases where the immigration hearing has either occurred or is about to occur or has been scheduled. So there may be some deportations in the future, but thus far there have not been any.

       MODERATOR: Okay, next question. The gentleman over here.

       Q Yeah, I have a question about Armenia, because Armenia was originally part of the list, and then it was struck off the list. And some organizations here in the U.S. have been saying that the reason why Armenia has been taken off the list is that because the Armenians have actually lobbied hard to have the name of their country taken off that list. Can you address that issue because, I mean, if that is true, then this whole process is not based on security, it's based on politics, it's seems to me.

       MR. KOBACH: No. No, the -- as I said, each -- the countries that are listed on the domestic call-in -- bear in mind that Armenians are registered routinely at the border coming in, if they meet any of the criteria. But the countries listed in the domestic call-in, it's a calculation with each country, because the resources are limited, and the number of countries that can be called in at the front end is limited.

       With each case, a cost-benefit analysis is made of the number of people that would be asked to come in. The likelihood of a terrorist or a person who's committed other crimes, coming in has to be weighed. And there was an interagency discussion with respect to whether Armenia should be asked to come in. In that discussion there was some disagreement, and the discussion had been continuing, and intelligence had been continuing to come in, and the decision was initially made to add them, and then later, based on that discussion and those -- you know, the information that was available, the intelligence information, the decision was made to change direction with respect to Armenia at the last minute. And I think it's -- you know, it's an unfortunate fact of timing that turnaround was made right at the time the announcement was about to go out.

       MODERATOR: And a final question? Okay, in that case, thank you very much, Mr. Kobach.

       Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

       MR. KOBACH: All right. Thank you.

Copyright 2003 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 220, 1919 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20036 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please email to info@fednews.com or call (202) 419-6167.

U.S. Department of State
USA.govU.S. Department of StateUpdates  |  Frequent Questions  |  Contact Us  |  Email this Page  |  Subject Index  |  Search
The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.
FOIA  |  Privacy Notice  |  Copyright Information  |  Other U.S. Government Information