23 July 2003
Securing U.S. Borders, by U.S. State Dept.'s Maura Harty
Op-ed column by assistant secretary of State for
(This column by Maura Harty, who is assistant secretary of State
for consular affairs, was published in USA Today July 23 and is
in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Screening Will Be Thorough
By Maura Harty
Stopping dangerous people from entering the USA is our top priority.
But the State Department must also efficiently document the millions
of legitimate visitors who come to our country for business, school,
family visits and exchange programs. There is both a tension and
a balance between our need to provide for both secure borders and
open doors. The eye of a trained officer on a case, making use
of the language skills, country-specific knowledge and counterterrorism
training he or she has received is a crucial element of our adjudication
process. Access to information from other agencies of the U.S.
government is also invaluable.
While security has always been a priority, visa screening in the
aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, has become an essential element in
our counterterrorism arsenal. We need to focus our resources, however,
where they can be most effective.
Starting Aug. 1, we will require that most foreign visitors explain
their proposed travel to a U.S. consular officer, who will have
reviewed their visa applications beforehand and may have relevant
questions to ask. While increasing the number of interviews may
delay some applicants, we intend to take this measure in conjunction
with others, such as increasing consular staffing abroad and streamlining
certain data-entry procedures, to ensure timely processing of legitimate
travelers. Our goal is to work with our partners throughout the
U.S. government to give each applicant the scrutiny in an interview
appropriate to his or her circumstances, no more and no less.
Most applicants will be able to establish quickly their qualifications
for a visa.
Others will be refused due to legitimate concerns that they should
not be allowed to come to the United States, either because of
security issues or because they do not qualify for a visa under
other aspects of U.S. immigration law.
Our Foreign Service officers are highly motivated and trained
to do this work that is both our privilege and our duty to perform.
(Maura Harty is assistant secretary of State for consular affairs.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs,
U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)