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Janice Kephart '86

Tightening the country's porous borders
Writer: 
Eric Larson
August 1, 2007
Janice Kephart '86
Christine Morden Photography

In 1997, two illegal aliens from Palestine were arrested and charged with planning to detonate pipe bombs in the New York subway system. A senator asked Janice Kephart, a staff lawyer for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Government Information, to investigate how the men were able to remain in the U.S. as long as they had.

But when Kephart asked immigration officials details of their national-security policy, she received blank stares. They told her that stopping terrorism was the domain of the FBI, not the INS. Kephart remembers feeling incredulous. "Nobody ever thought to put immigration and national security together," she recalls. Then 9/11 happened—and everything changed.

Appointed as a counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Kephart researched all the contacts the hijackers had had with the immigration service before the attacks and became a chief author of the commission's monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel. She has testified before Congress on border issues more than a half-dozen times since then. Her mantra: The U.S. government must be able to verify the identity of those who enter its borders. The biggest obstacle to secure borders, Kephart believes, isn't so much politics as bureaucracy.

"It's a huge frustration for me to see how the system discourages respect—and encourages disrespect—for the law," she says.

After majoring in political science and history at Duke and earning a law degree from Villanova University, she worked for a law firm in Philadelphia helping to bust racketeers. Her interests began to change in 1993, when car bombs in a lower parking garage of the World Trade Center exploded, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand.

Her brother-in-law was on the fortieth floor of one of the towers. "It was about 7:00 p.m. that night that my brother-in-law was able to call to say he'd made it out," recalls Kephart. "I never forgot what it felt like to wait for that phone call."

In 2006 Kephart founded 9/11 Security Solutions LLC, a business that sells advice to companies whose security products and services align with her goals for sound national policy. She advocates for states to comply with the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, which, among other things, creates federal standards for driver's license identification.

Some states have more lax standards than others in what they require of applicants, Kephart says, citing one blatant example: The nineteen 9/11 hijackers had thirty driver's licenses among them, and seven had obtained their licenses illegally. The ability of applicants to obtain multiple licenses is just one of several loopholes Kephart would like to see closed, a step that would also make it harder for identity thieves, convicted drunk drivers, deadbeat parents, and I.D. counterfeiters to skirt the law.

Kephart supports standardized identity documentation at U.S. borders (including Canada) and a tightening of reciprocal arrangements with countries that allow visas to be waived for their nation's travelers. "It's important that you get some form of vetting before arriving at our port of entry," she explains.

Kephart has appeared on CNN and other major networks and published op-ed pieces in The Washington Times. As a keynote speaker at the Security Document World 2007 Conference and Exhibition in London in May, she argued that security measures taken now, though initially expensive, can pay off in the long run.

"When you build integrity into the system, you have a decrease in problems. They are not huge costs compared to the cost of not doing them."