August 22, 2002
Thank you for your letter concerning immigration issues. I appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.
One of America's greatest strengths is its diverse population. Our Nation was founded by citizens from many countries who brought with them their vibrant cultures, histories, and traditions. To further this rich heritage, we must ensure that new Americans are welcomed as neighbors and valued citizens in our communities. We must be responsive to those seeking to immigrate to this country and to those who have immigrated and seek citizenship. We are also committed to improving U.S. immigration law enforcement, ensuring the security of our borders, and protecting Americans from terrorism.
For this reason, I recently proposed establishing a permanent Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to unite essential agencies that must work closely together, including the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new Department of Homeland Security will be charged with controlling our borders and preventing terrorists and explosives from entering our country.
As my Administration seeks to improve the system that welcomes legal immigrants, the United States must also continue its efforts to combat illegal immigration. I signed the Department of Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2002, which provides funding for 570 additional INS agents. I have also issued a Presidential directive that will improve immigration policies and practices, making it much more difficult for terrorists to enter or remain in the United States. This directive creates a new foreign terrorist tracking task force to neutralize the threat of aliens who may be terrorists, and orders a thorough review of all student visa policies.
My Administration is committed to building and maintaining an immigration system that provides timely and accurate assistance, while emphasizing a culture of respect. We must improve the INS, focusing on customer service and reducing the delays in processing immigration applications. I have directed the INS to implement a six-month standard for processing these applications. In May 2002, I signed into law the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001. I expect to continue to work with the Congress to ensure the passage of Section 245(i) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, which would allow qualified immigrants, eligible to become legal residents, to obtain residency in the United States without being forced to leave the country and their families.
My Administration also supports the establishment of intelligence units along the northern and southwestern borders of the United States. These units will collect, analyze, and disseminate information to identify and stop illegal entrants to the United States. They also will monitor and deter potential terrorist activity and smuggling operations.
Thank you for writing about this important issue.
George W. Bush
September 20, 2002