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tv   Hearing on U.S. Visa Security  CSPAN  March 15, 2016 8:33pm-10:21pm EDT

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terry alford. the abram bham lincoln symposiu. officials from the state department and the department of homeland security testified at a senate hearing on the security of the u.s. visa program. they talked about how interviews and background checks are conducted and the vetting of asylum seekers. this hearing of the senate homeland security committee is an hour 45 minutes. >> good morning. this hearing will come to order. i want to first of all thank the witnesses for your time and your testimony. and appearing here before us today. we do have representatives from
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the state department, the u.s. citizen immigration services, the u.s. immigration customs enforcement. you have uscis and ice. you will hear that. a lot of acronyms in this business. mr. john roth, the inspector general for the u.s. department of homeland security. the hearing is about the security of our u.s. visa systems and programs. i think the potential vulnerabilities came to light certainly in the public's awareness with 9/11. the fact that so many of the terror i haists that killed ames were here on student visas. we became aware of the fact of the overstays. so we started understanding the vulnerabilities there. back then, we obviously had the state department involved in granting and application -- or
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the acceptance and granting of visas. but you also had immigration and naturalization services. you had one agency. after 9/11, we kind of took that apart, set up the department of homeland security. now we have different agencies. i think it's a legitimate question to ask, are these agencies working together? do we have a shared purpose, shared goal, shared mission to literally keep this nation safe? allow for travel. allow for commerce. but at the heart of it, making sure we can do everything in an imperfect world to keep our nation safe and secure. that's really my primary question and the main purpose of this hearing is are we doing all that we can to screen and vet visa applicants? how effectively are agencies managing their responsibility and working together, sharing information through each step of the process to ensure our
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security? i would ask that my written opening remarks be entered into the record with consent. it has been very kindly granted. with that i will turn it over. >> thanks. i want to welcome everybody. thanks for holding a hearing. thank you for joining us. the three of the folks in front of us are folks who came before us a year or two ago to be confirmed for confirmation hearings. we appreciate very much your service. that's not taking away from you mr. donahue. we don't have jurisdiction over department of state. we're working on it. we're not quite there yet. this hearing is the third in a series we have held to explore whether we're doing enough to address concerns that terrorists might try to exploit international travel to infiltrate our country. in the aftermath of the paris terror attack, this committee first scrutinized the process in place to screen and vet syrian refugees escaping from the carnage in the middle east. we learn that the u.s. refugee
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resettlement process involved extensive security screening. syrian refugees we were told und undergo multiple screenings. the committee next looked at our visa waiver program which allows citizens certain nations to travel to the u.s. for a visit without a visa. once it became clear that the paris terrorists held passports from european country whose citizens enjoy this, fears that this could pose a security threat. we learned that the visa waiver travellers seeking to come to the u.s. endured nearly the same level of security and vetting as other travellers. we learned that when it comes to security, nothing is being waives as the name of the program incorrectly suggests. we learned that for entry into the visa waiver program, countries -- there's 38 of
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them -- must share intelligence with the u.s. they must open up their count r counterterrorism and aviation security systems to our inspectors and they must abide by our standards for aviation and passport security. the visa waiver program is a key counterterrorism tool. what started off as a travel facilitation program ended up having an enormous advantage in terms of protecting our security. we will look at our screening systems for foreigners entering our country. we will examine the depth of security for all forms of visas whether they happen to be for students, for tourists, people here on business or those seeking to make america the permanent home. it's a daunting undertaking. it also involves the coordination of multiple government entities, including the state department, the department of homeland security and others that are not represented here today. citizen the 9/11 attacks there
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have been changes to strength our visa security including adjustments following the attacks in paris and in san bernardino. for example, amid isis growing online presence, the dealt of homeland security is exploring ways to expand its usual of spoes social media. i look forward to hearing about the efforts and the contributions of the visa security program that may help identify threats posed by travellers early on. we need to know if this is adding real security and if so how to expand its reach. as with all of our hearings, i expect we will find almosts ele that we can improve upon. understanding that we can never eliminate all risk and should not turn our back on many of the benefits of trade, travel and immigration. as we continuously improve the security of our immigration system, we must keep our eye on perhaps the even more pressing threat of homeland terrorism, home grown terrorism.
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for all we do to strength our borders and immigration groups like isis know they may bypass security by using online propaganda to recruit people inside our borders. they have twisted propaganda from mobilizing our young people to carry out violence may help combat the threat to the homeland in way aviation screening and watch lists checks can never do. we look forward to our continued work on this committee in both combating homeland -- home grown terrorism and stret strengtheni committees. thank you all for being here. we look forward to this conversation. >> thank you. senator tester, a short -- >> i will make this very short. thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate the flexibility.
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the visa waiver program, as the ranking member pointed, that's important for the economy, but they're of concern. in your opening statements if you could address the security of the programs you have, number one. if you need additional tools that you don't have that would require this committee or another committee to make action. the third thing is do you have man po manpower to carry out the job. if you can do that, you will have answered all my questions. thank you. >> that was under a minute. it's a tradition of our committee to swear in witnesses. if you rise and raise your right hand. do you swear the testimony you will give before this committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? please be seated. our first witness is mr. david donahue. he is the principal deputy assistance second for the
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affairs of u.s. department of states. he is coordinator for affairs at the u.s. embassy in afghanistan. seco secretary donahue. >> good morning chairman, ranking member and distinguished members of the committee. thank you for this opportunity to testify today on the topic of u.s. visa program security. the department of state and our partner agencies throughout the federal government take our commitment to protect american borders and citizens seriously. we constantly analyze and update our clearance procedures. my written statement, which i request be put into the record, describes the rigorous screening regimen that applies to all visa categories. let me begin by saying that the visa program is layered -- is a layered interagency program focused on national security. beginning with the petition to
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u.s. cis, my colleagues here, or a visa application submitted to a consular section, during the interview, prior to travel, upon arrival in the united states and while the traveller is in the u.s., our law enforcement and intelligence communities work together to protect our borders. the vast majority of visa applicants and all immigrants and fiancee applicants are interviews. each officer completes training which has an emphasis or interagency coordination and interviewing techniques. 122 assistant regional security officer investigates at 107 posts worldwide bring additional law enforcement and anti-terrorism expertise to the visa process. all these applicant data are vetted against databases, including terrorist identity databases that contain millions
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of records of individuals found ineligible for vivas or regarding whom potentially derogatory information exists. we collect ten fingerprints scans from nearly all visa applicants screen them against dhs and fbi databases. wanted persons, immigration, violators and criminals. all visa applicants are screened against photos of known or suspected terrorists. when an interview raises concerns that an applicant may be a threat, or the interagency screening process shows potentially disqualifying deg ror tory information, the consular officer suspended processing and submits a request for an interagency security advisory opinion review conducted by federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the department of state. the department of homeland security's patriot program and visa security program managed by our u.s. cis -- ice colleagues
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provide additional protections in certain overseas posts. special agents assigned to more than 20 embassies and consulates in high threat locations provide on site vetting of visa applications as well as other law enforcement support and training to our officers. security reviews do not stop when the visa is issued. the department and partner agency continuously match new threat information with our record of existing visas and we use our authority to revoke visas. we refuse more than a million applications a year for visas. since 2001, the department has revoked more than 122,000 visas based on information that surfaced after issuance of the visa. this includes nearly 10,000 revoked for suspected links to terrori isism based on informat. notice is shared across the interagency in near real time.
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i notice that you also wanted to talk about our view about the security of the vwp program. while that's managed by department of homeland security, we believe it does really enhance our national security. it allows us on places to have staffing and resources in places where we need to look deeply into the threat from travellers. it also provides as was mentioned by senator carper these cooperated agreements with the nations that are sending these travellers to the united states where we have better access, understanding of the threats they are seeing. they are sharing with us and we are sharing with them. an advance stage of that while not part of the program is in canada where we have a very close relationship in sharing deg ror tory information across the border to make sure we have a strong outer border for the united states. mr. chairman and distinguished members of the committee, department of state has no higher priority than the safety
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of our fellow citizens at home and overseas, the security of the traveling public. every visa decision is a national security decision. we appreciate the support that congress has given us as we work to strengthen our defenses. i encourage you when you are traveling overseas to visit our consular sections to see the good work that our officers are doing around the world. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, secretary donahue. our next witness is mr. leon rodriguez. he is the director of u.s. cis at homeland security. prior to this position, served as the director of office of human rights and deputy assistant attorney general at the department of justice. director rodriguez. >> good morning chairman, good morning ranking member, good morning memberless of the committee. this is my secretary time before this committee to talk about
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this subject matter and the sixth time that i have testified before some congressional committee in this fiscal year on this subject matter. i should hasten to say that this committee has become one of my favorites, particularly because the level of discourse has always been a civil and intelligent one. not that the questions are easy. i think the questions we are asked are hard ones that we need to answer for benefit of the american people. but that i really do appreciate the tone that you both have set here. thank you for that. i believe as an article of faith that a healthy and robust immigration and travel system is critical to our economy, critical to the stability of our families and critical actually to the successful conduct of our foreign policy and national security. i also believe that the most funmental responsibility of government is to protect the public safety. i have spent a fair part of my career working at the local
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level. i have learned that every time that we issue a driver's license, we need to make sure we're not issuing that license to someone who may become a drunk driver. every time we issue a building permit, we need to ep sure that that's not a building that will collapse. every time we issue some sort of immigration benefit, we need to do everything we can to ensure the security of our country and to ensure that those who mean us harm or who will become threats to our public safety do not exploit the immigration system. in particular, uscis, my agency, bears responsibility for screening refugees who will -- who are seeking admission to the united states. since september 11th, we have admitted nearly 790,000 refugees. i would hasten to add that about 120,000 of those have come from iraq. in that time, not a single admitted refugee has actually engaged in an act of terrorist violence against the united
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states. there have been a number relatively small number of terrorist plots or attempts to affiliate with terrorist organizations that have been successfully disrupted by united states law enforcement. the reason why we have been successful is the robust screening process that already exists to screen those who are coming to the united states. it is a multi-layered process involving a multitude of both agencies, law enforcement agencies, involves intensive interviews conducted by several agencies, in particular by my officers who are intensively trained and briefed to do the work that they do. nonetheless, recognizing evolving threats, particularly those posed by lone wolves, inspired by terrorist organizations, we continue to look for opportunities to intensify and strengthen the quality of the work that we do. one area of particular recent
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focus has been our review of social media, particularly of those seeking admission as refugees, in order to determine whether there is any derogatory information contained therein. we have undertaken simultaneously several pilots to identify automated tools and processes which will further enable us to do this work, but we have not waited for the conclusion of those pilots to in fact begin actively using that as part of our work, and in those cases, where individuals have been flagged as of concern, particularly among certain refugee streams, we have already been analyzing social media to determine whether any such information exists. we will continue to add capacity in this area. we will continue to strengthen our ability to do that and we will add more volume based on our assessment and our intelligence community partners' assessment of where the highest levels of risk are. now, to respond in particular to
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your question, senator tester, we are working to get to the point where we actually can answer your question, where we can identify the resources and personnel that we need. needless to say, our agency is a fee-funded agency so the majority of this work is actually funded by our fee-paying customers. but a lot of that work is also done in concert with various tax-based partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities and we will be looking forward to another conversation should we identify needs as we develop these processes. finally i look forward to addressing the concerns raised in the i.g.'s report. i would note a couple of particular findings. one is that 93% of our customers in the early going of our i-90, our replacement green card launch, reported that they were quite satisfied with the service that we provided. i would also note that the i.g. recognizes that after july 2015
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the conclusion of the audit window, we undertook a number of improvements and what i would ask is both for the i.g. to come back but also to be able to engage with this community, with this committee, rather, about those improvements so that we can give you the confidence that in fact, our automation process is successful and is poised for even greater success in the future. thank you again for having me here today. >> thank you, director rodriguez. our next witness is director sarah saldana. director saldana is director of u.s. immigration and immigration enforcement, i.c.e., at the u.s. department of homeland security. director saldana previously served as united states attorney for the northern district of texas. director saldana. >> thank you. good morning, chairman johnson, ranking member carper, other members of this committee. senator tester, i'm still having nightmares from seeing that was it a buffalo or bison head in your office.
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i'm sure i will get over it. i will say in all seriousness that i appreciate the opportunity to talk today about this very important subject. i absolutely agree with my colleagues here with respect to the importance of this issue and these issues. appreciate what we hear from the inspector general with respect to our programs and improvements that are recommended and obviously to your questions and suggestions with respect how we can do our jobs better. as you know, congress authorized our role in this process back in 2002, where we were told to assign agents and diplomatic posts to review visa security activities and secondly, to provide training and other assistance to our state department colleagues. this effort is led by the investigative side of immigration and customs enforcement, homeland security investigations, with the involvement of our enforcement and removal operations folks or
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ero. and has accomplished the program that's been referred to as vsp, visa security program. under this program, we have analysts and agents working at 26 issuing -- visa issuing posts in 20 countries to identify terrorist criminals and other individuals who are ineligible for visas, prior to their travel or application for admission to the united states. this fits right in with i.c.e.'s larger responsibility to detect, disrupt and dismantle trans-national criminal organizations and -- but in the visa security context, obviously, we are trying to stop threats, deter threats before they reach our nation's borders. as a result of the additional congressional funding in fiscal year 2015 for which we are very thankful, i.c.e. was able to expand vsp operations to six new issuing posts. the largest expansion in the program's history. we are looking forward to adding four more posts before the end of this fiscal year.
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as my colleagues have said, the process begins and ends obviously with the department of state, with the significant involvement of citizenship immigration service, but this process also presents the first opportunity to assess whether potential visitor or immigrant poses a threat to our country and that's where i.c.e. comes in, our law enforcement folks. i.c.e. actions complement the kons lar office's screening applicant interviews and reviews of applications and supporting documentation. patriot which the principal deputy assistant general just mentioned begins our visa screening mission by conducting first a take, automated screening of visa application information, against our vast dhs holdings. all the information we have from not only dhs agencies but the intelligence community as well. this step occurs before the applicant is even interviewed for the first time. patriot takes a risk-based approach and uses inter-agency
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resources from i.c.e., cbp and the state department, to identify potential national security and public safety threats. where vsp differs from most other government screening efforts is that it leverages the fact that we have agents posted at those visa screening sites, at the visa sites that the state department has, and those agents are able to investigate these -- information that comes up in the applications, actually supplement department of state's interviews of those applicants and identify previously unknown threats. so we are very pleased to have those people actually on site in those 20 different countries. in fy 2015, vsp, our agents, reviewed over two million visa applications, over two million, and we determined there, identified 64,000 of them for further review. this is a flag that goes up that perhaps something there is indicating to the agent who is very well trained and versed in
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intelligence and criminal activity and other derogatory information. actor in-depth vetting, the next step, we determine the existence of a little over 7,000 of 23,000 cases in which we saw derogatory information to have some nexus to terrorism. resulting in our recommendation to the department of state to refuse visas to approximately 8600 last year. approximately 850 terrorist data base records were created or enhanced. that is the other complement to this mission and that is the intelligence gathering that we are able to do through our in-depth vetting and screening. while i'm extremely proud of what our i.c.e. personnel do to screen the visa applicants on the front side, we also actively work to identify and initiate action against over-state violators senator johnson mentioned earlier. this vetting helps to determine if an individual has overstayed or departed the u.s. in the last two years, i.c.e.
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has dedicated approximately 650,000 special agent hours, each of those two years, to overstay enforcement. i.c.e. prioritizes immigrant overstay cases through risk-based analysis through our counterterrorism and criminal exploitation unit, the ctceu. review many leads and further investigate them and refer them to others on the ero side if we are unable to do anything with them on the investigative side. we are very proud to include both sides of our house in this effort. i believe we have actually as a side note, have increased the investigative responsibilities of our ero folks and i look forward to working with this committee and with our appropriations committee to discuss some pay reform with respect to our entire i.c.e. work force and i stand ready to answer any questions you may have. >> thank you, director saldana.
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our final witness is inspector general john roth, the inspector general for the u.s. department of homeland security. mr. roth most recently served as director of the office of criminal investigations at the food and drug administration. prior to this he had a 25-year career as i federal prosecutor and senior leader in the department of justice. inspector general roth? >> thank you, chairman johnson, ranking member carper and members of this committee. thank you for inviting me here today to discuss my office's oversight of dhs visa programs. our recent work has involved a number of audits and investigations and i will dus some of our audit results this morning. deciding and administering immigration benefits including visas is a massive enterprise. u.s. cis employs about 19,000 people to process millions of applications for immigration benefits. they are required to enforce what are sometimes highly complex laws, regulations and internal policies, which can be subject to different interpretations. they are rightly expected to process decisions within a reasonable time frame. u.s. cis and the rest of dhs
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accomplish their mission while working in an antiquated system of paper-based files more suited to an office environment from 1950 than 2016. this system creates inefficiencies and risks to the program. to give you an idea of the scope of the problem, u.s. cis spends more than $300 million per year shipping, storing and handling over 20 million immigrant files. this week, we published our sixth report on u.s. cis' efforts to transform its paper-based processes into an integrated and automated system. we undertook this audit to answer relatively simple question. after 11 years and considerable expense, what has been the outcome of u.s. cis' efforts to ought mate benefits processing? we focused on the progress that was made and the performance outcomes. we interviewed dozens of individuals, including traveling to the local field locations and talking to over 60 end users and
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literally stood next to them and watched as they struggled with the system. we found that u.s. cis has made little progress in transforming its paper-based processes into an automated one. previous efforts which cost approximately $500 million to implement had to be abandoned recently in favor of a new system. cis now estimates it will take more than three years and an additional $1 billion to atuomate benefit processing. this will prevent us from achieving national security and customer service goals. currently only two of about 90 different types of application forms are online for filing. we found, for example, that the time to process immigration benefits was twice that of the metrics that cis had established. our earlier report on u.s. ci i.t. systems published in july 2014 reported that using electronic files in use at the time actually took twice as long as using paper files. that report reflected user dissatisfaction with the system
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that often took between 100 and 150 mouse clicks to move among sublevels to complete a specific process. as director rodriguez said, we acknowledge that dhs has recently taken significant steps to improve the process by which new information technology including moving from a traditional development methodology to a new incremental approach called agile will assist. implementation of automation is very much a moving target and u.s. cis may have since made progress on the problem since the time of our field work ended in july of 2015. we will obviously continue to monitor the situation and report back to the committee as necessary. separately in a second earlier audit we compared data bases belonging to i.c.e. and u.s. cis and found that known human traffickers were using work, fiance and other family reunification visas to bring their victims into the country. one important finding we made is that the data systems that cis
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uses do not electronically capture important information which would be valuable in investigating human trafficking. again, this poses risk to the system. we made three recommendations to improve these programs. i.c.e. and u.s. cis are taking actions to resolve these recommendations and we are satisfied with their progress thus far. finally, corrupt and criminal activity on the part of dhs personnel can present a risk to the integrity of the visa process. my written testimony illustrates several examples in which employees or contractors who are in a position of trust were able to compromise the system to provide immigration benefits to those who are not entitled to them. this type of insider threat presents significant risks that can only be countered through continual vigilance. in summary, the size and comp x complexity of the mission coupled with an archaic method brings significant risk. it makes it more difficult for u.s. cis to accomplish its mission. there is also risk to our national security in that we may
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be admitting individuals who do not meet the requirements for a voos. basic information on visa applicants is not captured in electronic format, thus cannot be used to perform basic investigative steps. mr. chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. i am happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have. >> thank you, mr. roth. in my opening comments, i was talking a little bit about missions, goals of the different agencies. in this committee we have a pretty simple one. to enhance the economic and national security of america. pretty all-encompassing. i think one of the problems we have in terms of our visa programs, you literally have the tension of conflicting goals. on the one hand, we want to facilitate travel, commerce, customer service. as director rodriguez was talking about. on the other hand, we want to ensure the security of our homeland and keep americans safe. there is tension there. so i want to first go to
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director rodriguez. does your organization, does your agency, have a pretty simple mission statement like this committee does? can you tell us what it is? >> we have a number of different ways but certainly i have been very clear with our staff in communications to the entire staff that in fact articulate a set of simple principles. that is where an individual qualifies for an immigration benefit, they should get that benefit in an efficient and appropriate manner, subject to first and foremost national security and fraud prevention, that is a key element of our draft strategic plan, subject again to the legal requirements that i mentioned before and subject to operational feasibility. of whatever initiatives we are taking. >> just the way you describe that, the first thing you talked about was providing benefits to your customers.
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so i guess the way i interpret that is that is really the first part of your mission is customer service, providing benefits to immigrants in this country. and again, subject to security. >> right. except for -- right, security, subject to in no small weight to be given to national security and public safety. in other words, our staff clearly understands this is evidenced in the fact that roughly 800, 900 of our staff members are specifically dedicated to fraud, the fraud detection national security directorate that if an individual poses a threat they are denied the benefit. to be very clear about that. >> director saldana, do you have a relatively simple mission statement for your agency? >> comparable to this committee's, that ins sure the national security of our country through the enforcement of
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immigration and customs laws. huge. other 400 statutes implicated by that but we're game. >> it's a big mission. it's a serious undertaking. the results of 9/11 and the commission and what they were talking about, the stovepipes, that continues to be a concern of mine. you've got these cross-purposes, you got two different agencies now split and i think you are always somewhat split under ins as well but i'm concerned about that. director rodriguez, are you aware of what happened at the u.s. cis office in san bernardino on december 3rd following the san bernardino attack? are you aware of the events that occurred there? >> at the u.s. cis office in san bernardino? i'm not specifically -- honestly, no. i'm not aware that anything occurred. >> director saldana, are you aware of that? >> i think you are referring to our hsi office. the subject of a letter that you have sent i believe to the
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secretary which has been sent to me for response. i am aware of it. >> can you describe what happened? because hsi is under your jurisdiction. can you just describe from your standpoint what you are aware of that incident? >> well, with respect to the whole san bernardino -- >> i'm talking about agents showing up at the office of u.s. cis because they were made aware of the fact that enrique marquez was potentially there for an interview the day after the san bernardino attack. you're not aware of that? >> that, i'm not aware of. that he showed up at cis? >> senator, now i'm remembering the incident. i believe if i understand correctly there was a concern about the manner in which we were providing information about the individuals involved in the attack to hsi. in fact, the intent all along among our staff was to provide that information. it was just a matter of
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completing a very short process. >> let me just describe, this is from an internal memo written by somebody contacted our committee. quote, at approximately 12:00 p.m. on december 3rd, the fbi informed hsi and jttf that fbi field interview agents learned that marquez and his wife maria -- i know there's -- were scheduled for a meeting at the u.s. citizenship and immigration services office in san bernardino for noon on december 3rd. hsi contacted the hsi special agent, requesting a team of armed agents to respond to san bernardino u.s. cis office in order to detain marquez until an fbi interview team could be dispatched. the special agent informed the hsi team that the officer in charge of u.s. cis would not let hsi agents in the building.
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so hsi, a special team showed up trying to potentially apprehend somebody who at that point in time thought might have been part of a terrorist plot, and the officer in charge of the u.s. cis office would not allow those agents in the building. the special agent learned that marquez did not show up for the meeting. the special agent requested copies of the file in which u.s. cis refused. the special agent was allowed to take a photo of the photo contained in that a file. it happened on december 3rd. this is getting me the cross-purposes. we had a team armed up, potentially dealing with a terrorist, they had a tip from the fbi that that -- that mr. marquez might be at the u.s. cis office and the agent -- the officer in charge of u.s. cis, wouldn't allow hsi into the building and wouldn't give them the file. that's not indicating a great deal of cooperation between two
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different agencies under dhs who is supposedly the top concern is security of this nation. director rodriguez, can you explain that? by the way, we have been told the decision not to let hsi in came from higher up. >> that much is not correct in the sense that once field leadership had consulted with highers-up, the instruction was in fact to facilitate the actions that hsi wanted to take. you know, unfortunately, this was all as the situations do, was evolving very quickly. ordinarily, we don't normally have situations where law enforcement comes into a u.s. cis office to effect an arrest. >> how can you explain that the officer in charge of u.s. cis wouldn't allow hsi agents in there? they're saying listening, you could have a potential terrorist
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here, somebody who is involved in what just happened yesterday in the slaughter of 14 americans, don't even allow them in the office. how could that possibly happen? >> again, chairman, i think the point here is that we operate according to certain protocols. that individual was seeking guidance from highers-up. the guidance was to facilitate what hsi was trying to accomplish. unfortunately, it all happened so quickly that it was incorrectly perceived that our folks were trying to in some way obstruct what i.ce. was trying to do. do we need to look at our property co protocols to make sure those misunderstandings don't occur, that may be. there was never an actual intent to prevent them from doing what they needed to do. >> sounds like they were prevented. director saldana, can you explain this? what do you now know about it with maybe your memory refreshed? >> i will say in all honesty, senator, that i had a similar reaction when i first heard of the incident. but we do forget the number of law enforcement and other people
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involved in this incident, the confusion, the chaos that was going on in san bernardino. we had immediate conversations when it came to my attention and i'm having a hard time right now remembering exactly, i believe it was the same day, and it was taken care of and clarified immediately and we did get the information we needed. but i am with the director. we can always do things better and if we don't, as i tell my son, learn from lessons from the mistakes we make, then shame on us. but i believe he and i meet fairly often. >> coming from the private sector, i'm just putting myself in the position of individuals at u.s. cis, if i had a day after a terrorist attack and i had a team armed coming into my office and saying we believe somebody who is involved in that terrorist incident is in your building, we want to come in and i would say come on in.
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there wouldn't have been a question in my mind. yet that's not what happened. it's quite puzzling. senator carper? >> my first question is of you, miss saldana. the gentleman sitting behind you over your right shoulder looks very familiar. in the front row. his first name might be jason. i think he used to work here. used to sit right behind us here on this podium, this dais. >> we spend a lot of time together. >> nice to see you, jason. welcome back. thanks for your service. i want a couple of you alluded to one of my favorite aphorisms. if it isn't perfect, make it better. one of those is how do we move from a paper process to an electronic process. i think the inspector general, mr. rodriguez both touched on this, and the i.g. talked about
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a project that was abandoned maybe within the last year, i think, after an investment of i think you said $500 million, and you thought there had been some [ inaudible ] since the july 2015 audit. you mentioned an acronym describing something. help this make sense for me. we know that to the extent we can take a paper process and make them electronic, oftentimes that provides better service, better security, how would this have done that? where did we go wrong? how are we fixing it now? mr. rodriguez? >> so i think -- the question is first to me, is that correct? >> please. >> yes. i think it's well known to just about everybody here, including this committee, in fact there were a number of quite serious and quite protracted false
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starts with respect to our automation process. we were using what was sort of an antiquated development process, the waterfall development process which was directed by one outside entity. we have since migrated to this agile process which essentially has multiple contractors competing against one another and also, shrinks the development steps in such a way that we can develop a particular item, test it, try it out in the field, make corrections as we need and then move on to the next item in standastead of try do everything all at once. to understand the timelines here, the first generation was the waterfall generation, there was a second generation called ellis. we began really the third generation live in march of last year which in other words was about a month before the inspector general's audit began.
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we launched the i-90 which is our replacement green card. that already incorporates a number of critical functionalities which are then going to be used for other applications in the future. we have now processed approximately 300,000 i-90 applications through there and we have also added the immigrant visa payment since that time. so we now have approximately 16% of our overall business on ellis. what we have done so far, certainly from a customer perspective, is working quite well. a number of the concerns that our internal employees had either reflected the older generation of ellis or are things that reflected what that early time was when we first launched the i-90 application. many of those issues have since been not only resolved but resolved well. again, that's why i would like to invite the i.g. to come back to invite this committee to
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scrutinize further what we are doing. by the end of this year, we will have 30% of the business on ellis, including some of our most complex forms. this is where -- >> can i ask you to hold it right there? i have some other questions. thank you for that explanation. inspector general roth, quick reaction to what you are hearing from leon redbone -- excuse me, leon rodriguez. that's my favorite nickname for him. >> what we simply did is went out to where the work is being done and talked to the u.s. cis employees who were actually confronted with the system that they had, and the level of frustration which is reflected as far as sort of the glitches and the hiccups in the rollout of the ellis report were significant. and we were able to isolate that into a few root causes, including that there was a lack of user engagement, that is the folks in the field do not particularly feel that they were being listened to and engaged in
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in the development of this software, that the testing was not done in an end-to-end basis. in other words, the testing was done sporadically of certain elements of the software but it was not done in a complete way, and third, that the technical support was lacking. now, the agile development process means that you put out a minimum viable product, then you improve that product as you go. you basically fix the car while it's running, to use an analogy. here, we thought the testing that was insufficient, that the rollout was too soon, and that the user experience, the folks who were actually using it, were highly frustrated with the system. those issues, that is, user engagement, testing and technical support, were the same things that we had seen in the previous version of ellis, the $500 million one that ultimately had to be scrapped. >> all right. mr. rodriguez has extended an invitation for you folks to come back and maybe do a revisit.
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i would urge you to do that and do it soon. >> that is part of our audit process. we will obviously continue to sort of monitor the situation. we have made specific recommendations, some of which they have agreed with, some of which they haven't. we will continue to monitor and report as appropriate. >> okay. good. we will continue to monitor. thanks for the update. director saldana and mr. donahue, how do your agencies use social media when you vet and screen visa applicants, and what challenges have you encountered in doing so? >> i will begin with our portion of the responsibility here with respect to the vetting and screening. we are first and foremost a law enforcement agency and hsi, homeland security investigations, is an investigative agency. all of our investigations and reviews, we use social media to the extent that the evidence leads us there. so in the visa screening process, in particular, we --
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there is no bar to our use of it. there are occasions where we do, as i mentioned, we go through patriot first, there's a preliminary assessment to whether some indicators for further review, where there is further review, we might actually use social media, review a person's social media in order to determine whether we should have further study or recommend a negative result to the department of state. so we have that under our current authorities and we have no problem using it when the case indicates a need to. >> all right. mr. donahue, same question. how do you folks use social media when you vet and screen visa applicants and what challenges have you encountered as you do that? >> we have used social media for awhile. we have it in our regulation, in fact, we just updated our social media regulations. we use it to -- when again, as miss saldana said, we use it
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when we see there's a reason to look further into the case. we are now doing a pilot program in countries of concern to find out how effective that can be. it's a study program where we are using social media on our ir-1, immigrant visas for spouses and especially any related information we can find in that process. we don't have the results yet. we have used it for a long time on the fraud side of the house. >> okay. thanks, everyone. >> senator sasse? >> thanks, mr. chairman. director saldana, in january, 21-year-old sarah root was called in omaha by an illegal alien. he was street driving while drunk. this is not the first time local police had arrested him for driving drunk. after he was arrested for the incident, he posted bail. prior to being released from jail, however, local police contacted i.c.e. and requested
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that he be detained because of his immigration status. i.c.e. however, refused and said that would not be consistent with the president's immigration executive actions. he was released and disappeared. do you think someone who street races while driving drunk and kills another person is a threat to public safety? if an illegal ail yn kills an american citizen, should i.c.e. let that person go free? >> go free? well -- >> which is what happened here. >> there will be criminal consequences. >> we don't know where the man is. >> right. sir, i don't understand where you got the information with respect to our refusing to deal with this individual. that's not my understanding of the facts. >> this is i.c.e.'s public comment. i.c.e. has said that in response to omaha law enforcement who said they requested that i.c.e. detain him. >> i am i.c.e. and i don't recall making that statement. i would not have said that. what we did do is we look at
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every individual case like we do here with mr. majilla and determine whether a detainer to recommend to local law enforcement is appropriate. as you know, there's been a -- that's been a subject of much conversation. we are working very hard to get all local law enforcement to work with us on it and have made great strides. in this case, i just -- there is not a single injury or death that occurs at the hands of an illegal immigrant that doesn't weigh heavily on me, senator. >> i believe that. i'm going to interrupt because i'm quoting your agency here. this is my letter to you february 29th. i'm quoting your agency's public statement. this is footnote four in my letter. do you have the letter of february 29th? your agency said in response at the time of his january 2016 arrest in omaha and local criminal charges, majila of honduras did not meet i.c.e.'s
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enforcement priorities. as stated by the november 2014 civil enforcement memo issued by secretary johnson. >> i understood you to say that we told local law enforcement we were not going to do anything about him because he didn't meet our priorities. that is a statement of fact. in one person's interpretation. quite frankly, sir, it's very easy to look back and say that person's judgment was incorrect and i have some concerns about that. as i said earlier, every situation we have that results in something as horrific as this, we always try to learn from it and i will be following up to look at the specific individuals involved, how the judgment was formed and why that was done. but i misunderstood your question. i understood your question to mean we told law enforcement that we were not going to do that. >> well, the rest of your statement says your agency statement, not you personally, that he was scheduled -- is scheduled to go before an immigration judge on march 23rd, 2017 but he was released by the police once he posted bail.
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they contacted your agency, asked him to detain him, i.c.e. didn't act. how do you explain that to the family? >> we acted. we tried to act, sir, but i believe there was a matter of hours between the time that we were contacted and the actual release. it is very hard for us to get to every inquiry that is made by law enforcement and unfortunately, you had a horrible consequence here. but we try very hard to respond as quickly as possible. we just can't get to every site within a matter of hours. i think it was four hours here, if i'm not -- >> i don't know that. >> if i'm remembering correctly. but that is a fact is that we try very hard to get and respond to local law enforcement. doesn't do us any good to tell them to cooperate with us if we're not going to respond. >> my letter to you is 16 days ago. can you tell me when i will receive a reply? because it has details on all of these questions. >> yes. i think we will get you a reply within a couple of weeks.
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if that's satisfactory. if you need it sooner i will certainly work to try to get that. >> could we have it by the end of next week? >> yes, you can. >> thank you, ma'am. general roth, in november of 2014 secretary johnson issued a number of memos changing dhs policies on immigration known collecti collectively as the president's immigration executive actions. one changes ic.e.'s detention policy for illegal ail lienalie. khs said it was designed to identify threats to public safety. specifically it says that unless an illegal ail yn has been charged with a serious crime, i.c.e. will not likely detain that person. does that mean i.c.e. does not consider someone a threat to public safety unless they have already been convicted? >> frankly, i was not involved in writing that memo or developing that policy so it's difficult for me to respond to that. >> to your knowledge are i.c.e. officials required to strictly follow the new policy or is it
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used as guidance and there's discretion on a case by case basis? >> again, we have not looked at that in any kind of audit or investigative aspect so i think that's best directed to members of the administration or to i.c.e. >> does the i.g. office have any plans or any current studies of the president's executive actions on immigration? >> we do not. >> director saldana, how should i.c.e. officials implement the new detention policies that were put in place in november of 2014 with regard to case like this? you mentioned the timing point. can you give us a broad sense of how you exercise your discretion? >> well, generally speaking, let me just address the tail end of that question that you had and that is requirement of conviction. i'm happy to share with you this card this we have that we provide to all our i.c.e. officers who are involved in this activity but there are many categories here where conviction is not necessary. if this is a person with a gang affiliation, no conviction is
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necessary. if this is a person with terrorist ties, no conviction is necessary. there are several that do involve a conviction but let me point out to you, sir, i have met with all our field office directors to specify clearly to them that there is always this category which is kind of an umbrella category that says if this does not fit a specific case but you as an informed well-trained officer of immigration and customs enforcement believe that that person presents a public safety threat, you are free to exercise your judgment in the manner consistent with that judgment. >> in this case, sarah root is dead. what if someone kills a u.s. citizen, that doesn't meet the threshold? >> that was after the fact, sir. what you're saying as i understand that that person was injured and had not -- in that four hour period of time, seriously injured but had not passed away until later, again,
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sir, it's easy to look back and say that judgment was poorly exercised and as i said earlier, i intend to learn from this particular incident. i feel terrible for the root family and -- but i can say i wish i had 100% fool-proof method to ensure and to look in the future and ensure whether somebody is going to commit a crime or not. and it's very difficult to do that. i hope you don't -- i hope you take my word that we do the best we can. >> i hear you. but it isn't the case that he was released and then went and had another drunk driving street racing case. this was drunk driving street racing that killed someone, then he posted bond, then the omaha police asked that he be detained, i.c.e. didn't detain him and now he's fled. >> i intend to use this again, i am going to look further into this and use it for lessons learned. if there were serious errors of judgment here.
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but many times, prosecutorial discretion is just that. it is a judgment that's being exercised by the person based on what they see at the time. >> thank you. >> senator peters? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i also want to join to thank the witnesses today for your work. there's no question the most important duty that we have as members of the federal government is to ensure the security of our borders and ensure the security of the citizens of this country. i appreciate all of your efforts in doing that each and every day. it is a difficult job that you have. i'm very proud to represent as all of you know a very large and vibrant arab american and muslim community in the state of michigan. i have heard from a number of my constituents some concerns about the impact the dual national provisions could have on their families as they are traveling to other visa waiver program countries around the world. we know that syria and iran deem
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individuals to be nationals of those countries regardless where they were born or if they have even ever set foot in that country simply because their fathers were citizens of those countries. because the visa waiver program is based on reciprocity, it's possible that a visa waiver program country could impose the same requirements on dual national syrian and iranian americans so i would like your response, it could be from anyone on the panel, is the administration concerned that other visa waiver program countries could impose restrictions on american citizens limiting their ability to travel to participating visa waiver countries without a visa? >> thank you for your question, senator. it certainly is a concern i think for the state department and the department of homeland security. we have been working, our secretaries have been working
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together on the new legislation regarding dual nationals. we are certainly concerned that citizens who have non-meaningful citizenship that they can't remove the effects that that has on their life, they certainly can apply for a visa and travel to the united states. we are still reviewing that and certainly we are concerned that there could be reciprocity from other countries. >> anybody else like to comment? no? also for the panel, i would like to know, just get a better sense of how the united states makes dual national determinations. so for example, would a german citizen who was born and raised in germany and has never traveled outside the country, whose father was iranian, would he be considered a dual german iranian national by the united states? >> again, i think we are looking at that, we have not made a final decision on how we are
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going to manage the dual citizenship. >> okay. i would love to work with you on that as we go forward. obviously we have a situation with a number of folks that are going to be in that category and are just concerned how the process will work. we need to know how the process will work. also, mr. donahue, are there waivers, given some of your concerns, are there waivers that the state department would recommend for classes such as journalists, ngo employees, perhaps certain dual nationals that you could offer? >> yes. the secretary recommended, secretary of state recommended to secretary johnson that -- and secretary johnson said -- agreed that that was a reasonable interpretation of the law, that there be waivers for those who are helping us in the work that we're doing. i think particularly we think about aid workers who are providing food and sustenance to the millions of people who are in camps in countries of concern, syria, for example,
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going forward. again, while these travelers can travel with a visa, it does not affect their travel, it could deter people who want to help us in our work, people who are working for the iaea going to iran to ensure implementation, people who are in business in northern iraq and are helping to -- that country develop. so we are very concerned about that. we are working together. we are looking at those cases, dhs has been building questions as part of the program that screens visa waiver travelers, and no decisions have been made or no waivers have been granted thus far but we do believe that the law was written to allow for waivers. >> thank you. the other area that i think we need to focus on is, i was just
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curious to get some response from the panel as to how your agencies work in an inter-agency basis with other parts of the federal government. a key area is trying to stem the financing of terror networks and the focus on stopping the flow of money back and forth. i'm just curious as to the inter-agency visa vetting process, how it incorporates information about financial crimes that may have been conducted by individuals or they may be part of a terror financing network. the department of treasury is very active in this issue. i'm just curious as to how you work with the department of treasury to identify those individuals who may be engaged in those activities that are seeking to move around the world to continue to further those activities. >> well, i will say that our agency, homeland security investigations, that is exactly up our wheelhouse. we are concerned about illicit tracking, illicit financial
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transactions across trans-national boundaries. so what we do is we build data bases at department of state, cis has access to that communicates information that we may have regarding a target in an investigation or someone who has actually been convicted of a crime. that's available, too, to them. we communicate through obviously the patriot system is that first line of defense with respect to the visa screening process, but what i'm talking about is not only the visa screening process but criminal investigations in general worldwide. that's exactly what homeland security investigations does. >> the one thing that i would add is we have strong relationships running in both directions with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners beginning with our law enforcement partners within dhs, like i.c.e., like cbp, it's critical
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that we receive information from them when we adjudicate immigration benefits. we get that information as we need it. at the same time, we occasionally in the course of our work identify information that is either of law enforcement and intelligence value and we have well-developed pathways to make sure that that information is shared. one example is during the course of refugee screening, if we learn information that is potentially of intelligence value, that information is in fact shared with the intelligence community. >> thank you. >> and we work very closely with treasury when they make a designation as part of the announcement of that designation, anyone who is designated and quite often their family members or anyone that benefits from these actions, they pass those to us and we immediately enter them into our system, review any visas and
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anything we can do for revocations of the visas of anyone who is found by treasury to be in that class. >> great. thank you. >> senator booker? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i just want to say first and foremost how grateful i am for the dedication, work and service the four of you render to our nation. we have an incredible country that the oldest constitutional democracy, we were founded in a way different than any other nation in the history of the earth at that time. we were founded not because we all prayed the same, or because we all looked the same or all heralded from the same genology but because we were a nation of ideals and every generation of this country has aspired to make more real those ideals. one of the things that has sourced the richness and the greatness of this country has been that we are a nation that has people from all over the planet earth. that have brought such strength to our economy, growth, our diversity has yielded diversity of thought, diversity of innovation, diversity of
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accomplishment and i think it's one of the things that makes america great. you every day grapple in an incredibly difficult space where you are balancing our values and ideals with the urgencies of our time. first and foremost amongst them is to keep us safe. so i note how difficult your work is and i just want to say thank you. i know these hearings as i think mr. honorable rodriguez was hinting at can often be difficult in these hearings but please know i'm one of those senators that just appreciates your work. i want to just dive in where senator peters sort of touched on. i have a lot of concerns about this -- the issues that face what was brought forth in the omnibus last year when congress passed a provision that would bar dual nationals from iran, iraq and syria and sudan from using the visa waiver program. i'm very happy that in a bipartisan way, senators durbin and i introduced bipartisan
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legislation, the equal protection in travel act, repealing, seeking to repeal the restrictions on dual nationals while obviously leaving the other changes to the visa waiver program intact. i just find it very disturbing to me that the prohibition on dual nationals applies to individuals who were born in visa waiver program countries but they never even traveled to iraq, iran, sudan or syria. but they are nationals of those countries solely because of their ancestry. it seems to violate, in my opinion, really the values of this country as we have seen throughout our history. so my colleagues and i support the tightening of the visa waiver program but singling out people based solely on their ancestry or national origin does not i believe make us safer. it is inconsistent with what i love about our country. and the interests -- it invites in my opinion retaliation or discrimination against american
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citizens who are also dual nationals. so my point maybe i will start with you, mr. donahue, is just very plain. do you believe that the dual national restrictions i just described enhance our national security? >> we certainly are always reviewing where we need to put more emphasis. we want to be sure we -- every visa interview is used effectively to protect our borders. but we also realize that the visa waiver program by its very nature has allowed us to move resources to those places where we need to look more closely. >> so, somebody from britain or france who has ancestry that's iranian or syrian or sudanese, does barring them from the visa waiver program make us safer, in your opinion? >> i think, you know, all things being equal, not knowing the individual, not knowing, you always have to do these on a case by case basis, but i agree with you that that is not in and
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of itself an indicator -- >> i appreciate that. >> -- that this person is a higher threat. >> in the senate whenever i hear those words i agree with you, i get very happy and i appreciate that. so mr. rodriguez or honorable saldana, do you think we gain any additional security benefits by barring individuals based on their national origin or heritage? >> well, as a general proposition, no. >> okay. thank you. mr. rodriguez? >> let me be very clear. no, we don't, and no, we don't do that. we scrutinize people perhaps differently in situations where they come from conflict zones, particularly conflict zones where organizations that are actively promoting violence against the united states -- >> clearly. clearly. clearly. >> but no, we don't and i would never operate an agency that operated that way. >> the omnibus that passed last year called for us to do those
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things and i'm very happy that again, a bipartisan group of senators is saying we should not do those things. you are saying to me that we don't do them now, nor does it add to our national security. >> certainly not in the manner in which my agency does any of its work. i don't operate the visa waiver program. my agency doesn't operate that. we do other things where we make decisions based on -- >> right. but you don't think, what i described, what was in that omnibus -- >> not my lane. i wouldn't opine on that process. >> you're a smart man to stay in your lane. honorable saldana, you don't think it makes us any safer? >> as i said, as a general proposition, again, in our role as investigators we are going to look at every aspect of an individual's facts and circumstances pertaining to their application and there may be some reason to explore further but as a general proposition, of course not. not just solely based on a remote relationship with someone from a particular country.
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>> i'm grateful for that response. let me shift it to your lane, sir. wai it was very clear to me after the horrific attacks in france that many of those people who participated in that could have used a visa waiver program to come to our country and by the way, walk into a gun show, buy a trunk full of weapons and commit those crimes here just as easily. and so one of the aspects of the visa waiver program which is important to me is our coordination and cooperation with our european allies specifically in sharing information and working against terrorism. so my final question in my remaining few seconds is i worry that our european allies and others might not be doing enough to help strengthen our security, to share information, to up their procedures and policies to the point where we could effectively rely on them. so what are we doing to help
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europe strengthen its border security entry procedure so they are effectively documenting the refugees coming into their countries? if that's a new signal for my time almost being up, it's very effective. go ahead. >> yeah. what i do know, we work those issues primarily through our u.s. intelligence community and law enforcement partners. i do know that they are actively engaged with their counterparts in europe, throughout the english-speaking world. i just two or three weeks ago spent a lot of time with our partners from australia, england, canada, exchanging information and talking about sort of common goals in this area. we are going to continue doing that on a multilateral basis to make sure that we are supporting one another in what's really this very critical mission. >> mr. roth, are you satisfied we're doing enough in partnership with our european allies to strengthen their
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policies and procedures to make our country safer? >> we haven't looked at that specific issue of information sharing with our foreign partners. i would say, though, that any time you have a risk-based system, particularly in the current terrorist environment in which you have functionally popup terrorists, people who aren't on anybody's list, or unknown, that the kind of individual scrutiny that is required for the visa waiver program really is sort of the stopgap for that. >> mr. chairman, thank you. thank you for holding such an important hearing. >> thank you, senator booker. i want to talk a little bit about the problem of overstays. i don't quite understand it. i do, but i don't. so we are often cited the statistics about 40% of the people in this country illegally are here on overstays. the best estimate, 11 to 12 million people in this country illegally, that puts the number between 4.4 and 4.8 million people here that are overstaying a visa.
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let me start by asking, does anybody know which visas are primarily abused? start with director saldana. >> i would defer that to the state department with respect to the overall picture. >> secretary donahue, you got the football thrown to you. >> i'm not sure i have seen a figure on any particular area. i really don't know. >> why wouldn't we know that? the article i'm looking at still today, about 523,000 visa overstays per year. why wouldn't we be tracking that? >> we do track at all of our posts, we do this through a validation study, we will check to see for instance if people from a certain country are coming to the united states and staying on a certain type of visa. different kind of visas have --
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it's harder to track. for instance, a visitor is in for a certain amount of time, six months usually, or three months if they are a visa waiver person. astudent, that's a long-term admission and it's hard to determine at what point they become. >> aren't we working with the schools and aren't there requirements of the schools to keep us up to date and if somebody drops out, not paying tuition, we can report that so that i.c.e. can potentially enforce? >> yes, and, of course, with respect to category, this is an educated i think guess and that is the most visas we have are b-1s and b 2s. travelers for business or pleasure. i would think there would be some correlation between that and the number of overstays. but absolutely, we have, you know, we're responsible for the sevp programs, student exchange visitor program. we have the database of information in the see vas
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database that relates to all 8,000 universities that have students placed there. and we do have leads that are provided to the ctceucy i mentioned earlier with respect to overstays. we evaluate, once again, so much of what we do is risk-based. so we're looking at the large universe of overstays and trying to determine which one of these folks could potentially pose a danger or a public safety threat. and in our -- the information we've got at least i can give you there, sir. we've got about a half a million, 489,579 leads that were provided to ctcu where there is a flag with respect to business and pleasure travelers, the b-1 b-2 visas. that is the largest category of individuals that we're running down. so i think that correlation is supported by that number.
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>> i realize there are tens it of millions of people that come and go out of the united states. in today's information technology age, i don't understand what's so hard about keeping track of this. everybody that comes in here legally has a passport and has a number attached, correct? >> yes. >> that goes into a database. what is so hard and have that passport attached to a particular visa, shouldn't we just have the information on this thing? again, i'm an accountant. so i'm kind of into numbers and kind of into information. but when we take a look what we can do in other areas of our economy, whether it's tracking numbers with shipments, that type of thing, what has been so hard about us developing that database, where we know exactly who's come in, who hasn't gone, tie it to a visa, and just note with great deal of certainty pretty much a push of a button on a computer? why is that? >> we do know with some degree of certainty what the principal
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deputy was mentioning earlier. >> you weren't able to answer me under what visa program, again, i understand the vast majority of visas are a certain category so you assume. it's not like you have ready information in terms of no, this is exactly how many people were granted a visa. haven't checked out in time. there's an overstay. that should be potentially subject to enforcement. general roth, can you speak to this. >> what you're referring to is a biometric system for exits so you can understand who it is who's left the country so you're able to compare those two sets of date tum. >> first of all, let me -- it's just numbers. it's actually easier than that. unless i'm missing something in terms of people coming in with a passport and a visa, those -- that's numerical information easily loaded into a database. where they set time that a visa expires. we don't have a record of this person leaving.
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to me, that's an incredibly simple database to manage. why don't we do it? >> as my most recent report shows, the challenges in the federal government and building these kinds of information systems is very, very difficult. i think there has been some effort to try to get an exit system that has not been successful. so i think tas a federal government, we are aware of the problem but not have been able to do a solution. >> would you agree with me in the private sector, this would almost be like falling off a log in terms of developing a database like this? >> yes. >> which begs the question, why can't we do this after ten years in the federal government? unbelievable. i'll go to senator earns stf. >> thank you, mr. chair and for i.c.e. director, please. a number of my colleagues have already spoken on this. senator grassley in a floor speech and last night and also
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senator sasse here in this forum this morning asked a question and raised the case of tragic death of i wan sarah root who was killed by a drunk driver who was reportedly in the country illegally and has since posted bail and absconded. if it is the case that is i.c.e. refrain in lodging a detainer on mejilla because his arrest for felony motor vehicle homicide "did not meet isis enforcement priorities" would you agree with me that i.c.e. needs to take another look at its so-called enforcement policies? >> well, we do that every day. we train and we respond to evolving situations on the basis of things we've experienced and seen. so that prosecutorial discretion as i said a little earlier is just that. it's a person's judgment in looking at all the information in front of them as to whether or not they lodge a detainer or not.
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we do it on a case by case basis. and as i said earlier, senator, this is a terrible instance where we will look at it and learn from than situation. but prosecutorial discretion could have been exercises a different way here. that's us looking back. i want to look forward so that we don't have that situation arise again. >> well, but the way we look forward though, director, is also by learning from mistakes of the past. and this is not an isolated incident by any means. and as priority should be to ensure that people who enter our country illegally and kill american citizens are deported and never an you lots to return. and unfortunately in this situation, we have a gentleman who has done exactly that and i am guessing is still here in the united states somewhere. >> and we'll be looking for him, senator. that doesn't end there. >> i certainly hope so.
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there is a family that demands answers as we do. and to be clear, just to be clear, if he is apprehended today, would mejilla fit the president's enforcement priorities? >> absolutely. >> okay. and i look forward to continuing discussion on this. this is important, but again, it's not an isolated incident. and we have to make sure that all of our agencies local and federal, are working together on these issues. and i think we all can learn from this incident. >> i agree. >> thank you for your time. thank you, mr. chair. >> senator carper? >> thanks, mr. chairman. i want to go back to visa overstays and we have every state has its own medicaid program. we are told that one of the cost drivers in medicaid is people have an appointment but don't show up. oftentimes moms, dads, young children and so they will do a
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lot of things to try to make sure people show up. one of the things that we do in delaware and some other states, as well and i think we got this idea from johnson & johnson, the other johnson. >> good name. >> and it's called text for baby. text for baby. and what we do is we send -- i should say text messages are sent to parents who need to make sure that their child has appointment and actually show up. and they do there maybe a week before, they do it like a day before. even the day of, i think. and it seems to me that that's an idea that and it's actually helped. makes more certain that people actually show up for their appointments. save some money for medicaid. make sure people get the health care they need. i'm wondering if a similar approach might be helpful for folks that come to this country,
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most of the people that come to this country come here legally. overwhelmingly so. but a bunch of them overstayed their visas, as you know. and i think it might be helpful in they were just getting pinged as like the countdown to the date that their visa expires. and say you've got two weeks to go, you got one week to go, you got two days to go. you got 12 hours to go. and that's the kind of thing that is easily automated. and most people come to this country have cell phones. and i think i always like to look to the -- in this case a private sector for a solution that might work for a public purpose and actually the other is sort of a public purpose, as well. just react to that please. >> it's a very interesting idea, senator. obviously, everything that we hear here we take back and talk to our folks about. we have a massive number of
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students in the system, and as the principal deputy said earlier, they're on different programs that -- and i understand what you're saying is, do account ping at the end of the term of the visa whether or not they're finished with their program. so right now, as i said earlier, we are on a risk-based analysis with respect to these overstays. who presents a risk in those overstays and it's a matter of resources and trying to direct them to the area where the greatest risk is. but that's certainly an interesting idea. i think it would require a tremendous number of additional resources than we have now to ping millions of people but that's certainly something i can study further. >> i was sitting here listening to senator johnson shaking his head saying no, it wouldn't. >> no, it wouldn't require additional resources, is that what you're saying, sir? >> not a tremendous amount. >> just think about it. i'm going to ask you to do more
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than just think about it. >> absolutely. >> we'll put you in touch with the text for baby people and you can -- your folks can doodle and figure out how they do it. >> are you saying baby. >> b-a-b-y. >> b-a-b-y. bring back my baby to me. >> all right. let's see where -- a question for director sol dana and mr. donahue. you're a good couple here. and as i understand it, i.c.e. uses an automated system called patriot to conduct the screening of visa applicants for all visas that are processed at overseas posts where i.c.e. visa security teams are present. what is holding i.c.e. and the state department back from requiring this automated system to be used for all incoming visas? is it simply a matter of resources?
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>> i wouldn't say simply but that's certainly a factor. and actually, senator, we are undergoing a pilot right now under patriot, a patriot expansion pilot that's looking at three additional countries to try to do all that are not necessarily among these 20 or 26 posts that we have visa screening. but looking at expanding that and what it would take and how much time is being consumed so we're actually undertaking an evaluation and study of that because if it's possible, it's certainly something we'd like to do. but right now i'm not in a position tell you absolutely that can happen. i think our study wraps up in may. so i'll be able to report back to you on my thoughts and ideas on what we've learned from that expanded patriot project. >> would you do that. >> absolutely. >> thank you. mr. donahue, any thoughts on this one? >> i think we're also working with i.c.e. on for countries
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where we -- the physical presence would be good but is not possible because of resources or other reasons of having some of the patriot functions computerized fudgeses done domestically and then advising posts of the response to the patriot checks. so that will also expand their ability to expand it to more countries. >> okay. of this is a question for everybody and i'm done. question, since 9/11, one of the key themes of our homeland security efforts have been information sharing. the testimony today references a lot of different programs and different databases used to screen applicants before they come to the u.s. can you just take a moment to reflect on how well integrated these resources are? and what barriers remain. and how much of this sharing is automated and how much requires time and initiative by an
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individual officer. >> let me just, i can begin from our side. >> please. >> i've seen a revolution in the information sharing since 9/11 and especially in my 32 years in doing this kind of work. i think one of the most remarkable things is that today, someone can be interviewing an applicant for a visa in mali. that person's visa will be checked by my colleagues and the interagency, law enforcement's intelligence community, response will come backing to that officer whether there's anything to be concerned about in addition to whatever he or she has been able to find out in the interview. then that person can get on a plane today, arrive in atlanta and at the port of entry, the officer there will have all the information that was used in making that decision back in mali, you know, just in the time
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less time than the flight. so that kind of information sharing where we can look into and for instance, our major database, there are more dhs users than there are state department users so people fellow why we issued a passport, why we issued a visa. that's made us all much more effective. >> anyone else, just very briefly? mr. rodriguez. >> sure. i think as this committee knows, i spent most of my career in law enforcement and very early on was an organized crime prosecutor. back in the late '80s and early '90s where what was considered our organized crime database was actually rose and rows of filing cabinets that would fill this room. we've certainly come a long way from that time. we will now have uscis, a very well automated process to ping law enforcement, intelligence community databases to determine whether an individual seeking an immigration benefit presents a threat to the united states. that will never in my view be a
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substitute for the human judgment that is required on both ends to make an intelligence community judgment, hen for us to make an immigration judgment with that information. so that will always continue to be part of it, but in terms of the information moving, we really have reached a pretty good point these days. >> thank you. miss saldana, same question just briefly. >> and i agree. we can always improve and always do better. we've heard one or two instances where the sharing broke down a little bit. but it is -- the visa security program itself is an extraordinary example of that information share. we've got in our dp hs loadings that we bounced the patriot inquiry against has so many different contributors, fbi, obviously, state, other law enforcement. and that is an example of the progress that we've made, we're always working on this to make it better and internationally with our allies and our
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countries out there that we are in. >> thank you. general roth, the last word. >> well, thank you and with apologies for being the contrarian or the skeptic in the room. i will have to say. >> no, be yourself. be yourself. >> several of our -- it is an occupational hazard, senator. several of our audits note sort of the difficult with the paper based system. for example, when we compared i.c.e. data with cis data with the regard to human trafficking victims where what we found is the perpetrators of trafficking, people that i.c.e. had investigated, were in fact, using the visa system to bring their systems into the country. and one of the reasons that's occurred is because cis still has a paper-based system. i'm sympathetic to director rodriguez's challenges in this area, but for example, an individual who applies for a t visa, the individual who is a victim of human trafficking, submits a statement as to what occurred to that person that
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allows them to be receive a t visa. that is not digitized in any way. there can be names and identifiers of perpetrator of human trafficking that simply get lost in the system. so while i agree with in many ways there are systems in place that allow for this kind of information sharing, there's much that can be done to improve that. >> all right. thank you. thank you for being the contarian in the room and for each of you for your testimony and your efforts. your leadership. thank you. >> thank you, senator carper. i think we should work together on some piece of legislation to facilitate using really private sector skills that are out there and technologies and go to any business involved in logistics, fedex, u.p.s. or any trucking company, these programs exist for tracking. it's a similar type of process. almost off the shelf. i would suggest maybe you know,
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getting some of their i.t. experts in your agencies and let's get this program done. it should not take years and years or billions and billions of dollars. we've done the private sector. it's unbelievable what they can track and the information just from a desktop, a customer can obtain in terms of a package being transferred from this truck to another truck. we ought to be able to do the same hinge in terms of tracking visa overstays. i do want to ask a couple more questions about resource capabilities. this is kind of going to what senator tester was talking about, are go to you mr. donahue. again, i'm an accountant so i like numbers. as best i can determine, somewhere between 20 million and 32 million, 33 million people go to consulates, go to embassies and have to do an interview to get a visa to come to the united states on an annual basis. that kind of roughly about the right numbers? does that sound about right to you? >> it's closer to about 13
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million that come in, 13.5 million that come in for a visa. the visa waiver program is conditional to that. >> okay. you've got about 1800 foreign service officers that do those interviews. so based on your 13 million number, it's going to be less. but if you talk about you know, 13 million people divided by 1800, i mean, we're talking about just a few minutes. you know? probably less than 15 minutes per interview. that's not a whole lot of time, is it? >> well, i think if you take into connecticut entire package that the person has already gone through data biometric and biographic database checks, they've completed a very long visa application form that asks a lot of information that we check against. we do have fraud units. we do have our i.c.e. visa security units. and like any other business,
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you're a businessman, you expedite the easy and you spend time on what needs to have time spent on it. so a person walks in and everything's clear. you do a quick interview. the person you believe because of your training, and knowledge, this person just as you see it the ports of entry, that this person is doing what they say they're doing. the next person comes in and you've got concerns. and you can stop the interview and send it to your fraud unit. you can are or go to one of our colleagues in dhs. can continue the interview as long as you need to. so you know, while one may take one minute, another may not be cleared for weeks. >> so your sense from around the world really, the foreign service officer who are in charge of this don't feel pressure. you feel they feel they're adequately resourced for the task at hand? >> they feel certainly people would always like to have a few more officers but i think we've used business practices to make us as organized as possible to
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make sure that the time they spend at the window is the most effective. we would certainly like to keep all of our fees because we're a fee-based organization so that we could plow all that into make our business work more efficiently for our customers and make sure that we have all the security collection in there. but i think most officers using good business practices and their training and putting the work in those few people who come to the united states to do us harm really focusing on those, you know has proved effective. >> by the way, you talked about fee-based service. it's again that tension between security and customer service. i come from business background. you're generating revenue for your organization. you have an incentive for generating more revenue which is what of a cross purpose trying to run more people through versus security. so it does concern me.
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director rodriguez, president obama announced an you louing 10,000 additional syrians into the country. that's about a 20% increase in the number of refugees. i'm concerned a little bit about taking any short cuts in the process. normally takes 18 to 24 months to review those files. do you believe you're adequately resourced to have a 20% increase in the number of refugees you fully vet? >> i would point out that that's still even that increase is a relatively small part of our overall business. we have 8 million cases that we handle in any given year across our 19,000 employees. let me also be very clear that we will do our job with respect to the refugees that we screen. no corners will be cut. we'll do what we need to do. >> that's really what i kind of view our responsibility to make sure we don't take any shortcuts. i appreciate your comments
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there. let me just wrap up. there are a number of points we did want to make and i want to be respectful of people's time. i mentioned the december 3rd incident in the san bernardino, inspector general roth, i'd appreciate if you'd investigate exactly what happened there. and that does show that will potential breakdown of agencies cooperating. again, can i find it pretty disconcerting to say the least. k 1 visa, i.c.e. is really responsible for verifying those marriages. you come in, k 1. you're supposed to be married within 90 days. again i don't think we're really verifying those things which is a potential vulnerability. inspector general roth, you talked about the port added collection information sharing that resulted in human trafficking coming across our borders. i appreciate you keeping an eye on that and you know, everybody being aware of that. i have not yet received an
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answer for a letter i've written. we had i.c.e. agent taylor johnson in one of our hearings involved in government whistleblowers and the retaliation against them which is really prevalent in the federal government. it's jaw dropping. so director sol dana, i'd appreciate if you would respond to that because now apparently agent johnson has been terminated and the process hasn't really gone through office of special counsel, inspector general. i'm really concerned about that will particular case. >> we have that letter and we're preparing a response, sir. >> again, the oversight of st student viz sas. i will try if we've got to produce some legislationings to facilitate the computer system, the i.t. systems to do this. coming from the private sector knowing what's available out there, this shouldn't be that
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hard. it's a critical step we have to take. so again, i do want to thank all of you for your service to this nation. you know, i realize this is tough. there's no perfect system. you have a serious responsibility. i know you take those responsibilities seriously. thank you for your service to this nation, for taking the time for your thoughtful testimony and answers to our question. with that, the hearing record will remain open for 15 days till march 30th at 5:00 p.m. for the submission of statements and questions for the record. this hearing is adjourned.
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