Ashcroft Urges Stricter Laws to Jail Alien Suspects Longer

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price

Attorney General John Ashcroft says that new terrorist attacks on the United States are likely, and that Congress needs to pass legislation that keeps illegal aliens with ties to terrorists in jail.

"We've arrested and detained almost 500 people [since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks], and we do that for people who are out of [immigration] status - they've violated the law. We need the ability to keep them in jail and not have them bonded out," Mr. Ashcroft said in an interview yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."

He made the same argument in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," saying that illegal aliens "who have links to those who are part of a terrorist network . . . pose an increased risk."

"We've got to find a way to keep them in jail . . . we don't want them on the streets," Mr. Ashcroft said.

But members of Congress on both sides of the aisle say they object to Mr. Ashcroft's proposal for what Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, describes as the "indefinite detention of an alien here illegally," and lawmakers are working to find an alternative.

Modernizing anti-terrorism laws is "very important, but there is a problem detaining people without charges and for indefinite lengths of time," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, said on CBS: "We have to have some kind of checks and balances. We don't want to be like countries that hold people who don't know why they are being held."

Mr. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed. "We should have something in effect, like a speedy trial kind of provision, that requires them to be held only a certain amount of time and then released and/or the deportation matter taken care of . . . because deportation can take so long to have them in jail," he said.

Mr. Hyde, who is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Ashcroft detention proposal is "under negotiation right now and probably will be shaped up to be satisfactory to almost everybody."

"As I understand it, they're negotiating over seven days as a definite length of time" for such a detention, he said.

It's uncertain whether the attorney general would find such a time limit acceptable. In both network interviews yesterday, Mr. Ashcroft said that the Justice Department believes more attacks are "likely," and that the risks of further terrorism will "escalate" if the United States retaliates against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 assault.

At issue is a rule change the Immigration and Naturalization Service put into effect soon after the terrorist attacks, which Mr. Ashcroft wants Congress to enact into law as part of a package of statutes for fighting terrorism.

Under the new INS rules, illegal immigrants can be held by that agency for 48 hours, instead of one day, before officials decide whether to charge them. Also, the INS regulation permits illegal immigrants to be detained for an unlimited time in "extraordinary circumstances. …