The United States has always prided itself on its acceptance of those who are not safe in their home countries--those who face torture and death in their homelands. Even today, the United States has no law limiting the number of refugees we will accept from any country. However, the unfortunate reality is that many foreigners have used our generosity to exploit our overburdened immigration system. Unscrupulous aliens have sought to use loopholes in our immigration laws to illegally enter and live in the United States at a high cost to our society, and to legitimate refugees.
Nowhere is this abuse more evident than in our system of granting political asylum. Thousands of aliens have learned that once they arrive at an American port of entry such as the Kennedy Airport in New York, simply by uttering the words `political asylum,' they are virtually assured of an extended stay in the United States.
Recent events have shocked the country into recognizing a horrible consequence of this breakdown in immigration control--acts of terrorism within U.S. borders made possible by lapses in our immigration law, particularly our system of adjudicating political asylum cases.
The Nation was jarred into the reality of terrorism by the pictures of chaos and destruction resulting from a bomb placed in the heart of New York's business district. During the followup investigation, it soon became clear that most of the suspects in the bombing has used our chaotic immigration system to enter and remain in the United States illegally.
The New York Times recently characterized two of the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing. One, named Mohammad Ajaj, was apprehended and put into custody when arriving at Kennedy International Airport because of a fraudulent passport. He arrived at the airport carrying in his suitcase instructions on how to place land mines, videotapes on suicide car bombing, and how to make TNT. Unfortunately, the capture and detainment of Mr. Ajaj is the exception.
Another suspect in the bombing who arrived on the same plane, Ramzi Yousef, was not put into custody. Mr. Yousef uttered the magic words `political asylum,' which immediately entitled him to stay in the United States until his hearing date, well over 1 year. During the interim, Mr. Yousef was released from detention because of the lack of space. Mr. Yousef is still at large.
Another individual, Mir Aimal Kansi, responsible for the tragic walk-by shootings outside the CIA facility here in the DC area, also used the claim of political asylum to stay in the United States and even received a work authorization. According to a Washington Post article quoting INS officials on February 18, 1993, Kansi's application cemented his stay in the United States because Federal law prohibits the INS from deporting immigrants whose requests are pending. After receiving a work authorization, Kansi was able to receive a job as a courier and a driver's license, enabling him to purchase the assault rifle later used with such horrible effect.
For many years, we here in America have lived under the illusion that we are safe and secure within our borders. Terrorist incidents that splashed across the newspapers always occurred overseas, in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, in England.
This security blanket was suddenly and violently ripped wide open as a result of these two recent events, that have shocked Americans out of complacency and made us more aware of the everyday dangers of terrorism. A bomb exploding in the business center of our Nation's largest city. A lone gunman walking with impunity shooting at innocent civilians outside the CIA headquarters.
Mr. President, we should not need a tragedy to cause us to act. However, with these recent events, there is now absolutely no excuse for inaction in the face of this serious problem faced everyday by Immigration and Naturalization Officers at points of entry into the United States.
Both of the recent incidents may have been prevented if a more effective immigration screening process had been put into place.
Under the current system, all those who enter the United States, even those with no documents, or blatantly fraudulent documents, are given a full hearing once they claim political asylum. Because of the dramatic increase in the number of aliens claiming political asylum, the current backlog for hearings may be as long as 14 months.
In the meantime, large ports of entry have severe shortages of detention space, and the overflow of aliens are simply let free, on the condition that they will return for a hearing. As you can guess, Mr. President, those with legitimate political asylum claims may actually show up at the hearing, but recent statistics out of New York show that almost 60 percent of those who are released are never heard from again.
Mr. President, the evidence is now overwhelming that foreigners have developed a systematic method of entering and staying in the Untied States that completely circumvents our immigration law. The statistics are alarming. While in 1980, only 500 aliens applied for political asylum, in 1992, that number had increased to over 103,000.
Currently, almost a quarter of a million asylum cases are waiting to be decided. Yet, in 1992, fewer than 12,000 claims were processed. There can be no question that reform to this system is urgently needed.
I have signed on as a cosponsor to legislation introduced by Senator Simpson called the Port of Entry Inspections Improvement Act of 1993. While not a final solution to this problem, this bill would take important steps to expedite the exclusion of aliens who are blatantly attempting to exploit loopholes in our immigration regulations.
Under this bill, those who attempt to use fraudulent documents to enter the United States, or those who produce documents when departing a foreign nation, but destroy them en route, will immediately go before a special immigration officer who will determine if the alien has a credible fear of persecution in their country of departure. Those who have a credible fear will be give a full hearing under our current political asylum laws. However, those without a credible claim of political asylum will be immediately excluded from entering the United States.
Mr. President, the time to change the system is now, before we face another tragedy. I ask Senator Biden, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to pass this bill quickly through committee.