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The Honorable Saxby Chambliss
United States Senator
Statement for Chairman Saxby Chambliss
In November of 2002, Congress passed The Homeland Security Act to establish the Department of Homeland Security, incorporating the immigration functions of the former INS. The Act also transferred visa issuance authority from the Department of State to the Homeland Security Department. This was a significant transfer of authority, because it clearly envisions visa issuance as a critical stage in border security for our nation. All nineteen of the September 11th hijackers came to the United States on visas. With improved information sharing, we can stop a potential terrorist before he gets to our borders by denying him a visa in the first place.
Just yesterday, the President transmitted a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between the State and Homeland Security on who exactly will be in charge of visa issuance functions. This MOU is a product of months of negotiations between the Departments to spell out the intent of Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act, which covers visa issuance procedures. Importantly, the MOU details the coordination that is necessary between the two Departments when a decision is made to issue or deny a visa. A decision that must be made with a sharp eye towards our homeland security.
A key issue in the passage of the Homeland Security Act was putting control of the visa issuance process specifically under the Border and Transportation Security Directorate in order to keep the functions of immigration services separate from the functions of border security. The old INS system was broken, so Congress split up the agency to make it more accountable. We must keep it that way if our homeland security is to remain vigilant. I know Undersecretary Hutchinson will work with Director Aguirre ("Ah-gear-a") and Assistant Secretary Harty on immigration services. This is important work, but the point is that in a post - 9-11 world, visa issuance must be a border security job.