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Tattle on terrorism, get US visa

Tattle on terrorism, get US visa

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 30, 2001
Washington - The United States is dangling offers of visa and citizenship to foreigners who bring in useful information on terrorism.

The US Justice Department on Thursday announced the "Responsible Cooperators Program", under which it will offer immigration incentives to non-US citizens, including illegal aliens already in the country and aspirants living abroad, who come forward with credible information on terrorists.

"It is designed to say to people that if you would like to have an improved visa status for your own presence in the United States and a pathway to citizenship, one of the ways you can do that is by providing reliable and useful information about terrorism," Attorney General John Ashcroft said while disclosing the programme, which is an upgraded version of an existing scheme

Under the existing program, the US currently issues a 3- year "S" visa every year to noncitizens who provide "critical and reliable information" concerning a terrorist organization. But number of visas is restricted to 50 and the criteria to qualify for an "S" visa require the applicant to have placed his or her life in danger as a result of providing that information and to be eligible to receive a government reward.

The new programme will have fewer restrictions although the numbers being considered is not yet known. In an effort to entice potential informants into coming forward, Justice department officials they would focus would be on the terrorism-related information the visa aspirants provide and not on their status.

The upgraded programme kicked off a furious debate in immigration circles with questions about its validity, desirability and ethics. Justice Department officials defended the move saying potential immigrants might have valuable information because of their language skills, especially if they were coming from their "home countries". Federal prosecutors would decide whether the information provided meets the standard, they added.

Although it was not explicitly mentioned, the lure of a US visa appears aimed mostly at aspirants from Islamic countries. More than 600 people are still under detention following their arrest in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, most of them on immigration violation charges. Among them are 20 Indians. But the maximum number of detainees -- around 250 -- are from Pakistan.

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