Se­na­tors may de­lay a vote on DHS pick

Want an­swers on key ques­tions first

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Se­na­tors said Wednes­day they are im­pressed with Pres­i­dent Obama’s choice to head the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, but that Jeh C. John­son’s nom­i­na­tion will suf­fer de­lays and op­po­si­tion un­til he is more forth­com­ing in an­swer­ing key ques­tions.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, went the fur­thest, say­ing he can­not vote for Mr. John­son un­til the nom­i­nee pledges to tell Congress ex­actly what it will take to se­cure the bor­der with Mex­ico — an as­sur­ance Mr. John­son was re­luc­tant to give dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Wednes­day.

Sen. Tom Coburn, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said that he ex­pects Mr. John­son to earn enough sup­port to be con­firmed as the fourth sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity, but that his ap­pli­ca­tion will be held up un­til he pro­vides real an­swers to about two dozen ques­tions that Mr. Coburn said were ef­fec­tively ig­nored in an of­fi­cial ques­tion­naire.

“Un­til those are cor­rected, and we ac­tu­ally have Mr. John­son’s re­sponse, I will not con­sider that his ques­tion­naire has been com­pleted,” the Ok­la­homa law­maker said.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is op­er­at­ing with­out sev­eral lead­ers whose po­si­tions re­quire con­fir­ma­tion, in­clud­ing the sec­re­tary, deputy sec­re­tary and chiefs of two of the im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices.

Mr. John­son has been a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor and lawyer in pri­vate prac­tice, but his chief ex­pe­ri­ence was serv­ing as the top lawyer in the De­fense Depart­ment dur­ing Mr. Obama’s first term.

Late Tues­day, the White House re­leased a let­ter signed by all three pre­vi­ous Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­taries en­dors­ing Mr. John­son as a wor­thy suc­ces­sor.

“Lead­ing a depart­ment the size and scope of DHS is a unique chal­lenge. Mr. John­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence and abil­ity makes him an em­i­nently qual­i­fied nom­i­nee,” wrote for­mer sec­re­taries Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet A. Napoli­tano.

In many ways, though, Mr. John­son’s nom­i­na­tion is suf­fer­ing be­cause of the legacy left by those sec­re­taries.

Se­na­tors re­peat­edly crit­i­cized the sprawl­ing depart­ment for not be­ing more re­spon­sive to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the thorny is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion.

Mr. Coburn said Ms. Napoli­tano, the most re­cent sec­re­tary, failed to turn over bor­der se­cu­rity plans. Mr. McCain added that while he was try­ing to write an im­mi­gra­tion bill ear­lier this year, the depart­ment wouldn’t tell him what re­sources were needed to get to a point where they were stop­ping 90 per­cent of il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings.

Mr. Coburn de­manded Mr. John­son agree to turn over that in­for­ma­tion when con­firmed, but Mr. John­son wouldn’t give an ab­so­lute com­mit­ment. He only said he was in­clined to be re­spon­sive and is wor­ried there might be rea­sons he can’t pro­vide that in­for­ma­tion.

“I think I need to talk to peo­ple at DHS to bet­ter un­der­stand the is­sue,” he said.

Mr. McCain, whose bor­der state takes much of the brunt of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, said that wasn’t good enough.

“I will not sup­port your nom­i­na­tion un­til I get a ‘yes’ an­swer,” he said.

The fed­eral govern­ment is ap­prov­ing ever-more busi­ness and tourism vis­i­tors to en­ter the U.S., rais­ing ques­tions about whether agen­cies are equipped to ap­prove them, mon­i­tor them and make sure they leave when they are sup­posed to.

Much of the fo­cus in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate is on those who come to the U.S. for a work or ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram but don’t leave when their visas ex­pire. Those so­called visa over­stays could ac­count for as much as 40 per­cent of il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

But con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans say there’s a small but grow­ing prob­lem among tourists and short-term busi­ness vis­i­tors, many of whom never have to get a visa in the first place.

The govern­ment in 2012 lost track of at least 14,010 peo­ple who came on non-im­mi­grant visi­tor’s passes, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony from the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, pre­pared for de­liv­ery Thurs­day at a hear­ing of the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form sub­com­mit­tee on na­tional se­cu­rity. A copy of the tes­ti­mony was re­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Crit­ics say the in­creas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors raises con­cerns about how strictly the U.S. is mak­ing its checks.

“I have se­ri­ous ques­tions re­gard­ing fraud in the im­mi­gra­tion process,” said Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz, Utah Repub­li­can and sub­com­mit­tee chair­man. “The pro­ce­dural prob­lems and lack of en­force­ment re­lat­ing to the is­suance of Bor­der Cross­ing Cards and B1/B2 visas is es­pe­cially con­cern­ing. It is im­per­a­tive that we ex­am­ine po­ten­tial flaws within the sys­tem and find so­lu­tions that en­sure a more ef­fec­tive process.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the U.S., the fed­eral govern­ment has grap­pled with how to in­crease se­cu­rity while still leav­ing the coun­try open to busi­ness vis­i­tors and tourists.

One so­lu­tion was to ex­pand use of Bor­der Cross­ing Cards, which al­low tem­po­rary vis­i­tors from Mex­ico to en­ter the U.S. more eas­ily, and to do busi­ness or visit near the bor­der.

The State Depart­ment ap­proved 1.3 mil­lion BCCs in fis­cal 2013, and ap­proved another 5.8 mil­lion non-im­mi­grant B visas, which ap­ply to busi­ness and plea­sure trips.

The State Depart­ment and U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion say they run a num­ber of dif­fer­ent checks de­signed to keep out dan­ger­ous vis­i­tors.

The Con­sular Look­out and Sup­port Sys­tem main­tains a list of 27 mil­lion peo­ple deemed in­el­i­gi­ble for visas or for whom the govern­ment has deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion that would war­rant a deeper re­view.

A new sys­tem, known as Pa­triot, checks ap­pli­ca­tions against Home­land Se­cu­rity data­bases. Pa­triot is un­der­go­ing test­ing at 20 for­eign ser­vice posts.

And at the bor­der, CBP checks a “visa hot list” to see if peo­ple who were ap­proved for a per­mit should still be ad­mit­ted.

Still, the govern­ment has to bal­ance se­cu­rity with re­quests for travel, and long de­lays in pro­cess­ing visas have forced fed­eral of­fi­cials to come up with other plans.

The govern­ment added more coun­tries to the visa waiver pro­gram, which al­lows some vis­i­tors to travel to the U.S. with­out get­ting a visa. There are now 37 coun­tries whose cit­i­zens can qual­ify for short-term travel with­out a visa.

In 2012, the State and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments also be­gan a pi­lot pro­gram waiv­ing in-per­son in­ter­views for visa ap­pli­cants they deemed low-risk.

China, Brazil and In­dia have fueled de­mand for tem­po­rary visi­tor per­mits, the State Depart­ment said.

Over­all, 66 mil­lion tourists vis­ited the U.S. in 2012, gen­er­at­ing $168 bil­lion in rev­enue — up 10 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

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