Inviting Catastrophe Through Our Ports of Entry

The deadly threats to the homeland posed by the legal immigration system.

For many years most people assumed that any discussion about immigration needed to focus on illegal immigration and the supposed “four border states” along the U.S./Mexican border.  

My July 6, 2014 FrontPage article, “Border Security and the Immigration Colander: Why the breakdown of the Southwest border is only the tip of the iceberg” explained that our immigration system has many components and that not only must the U.S./Mexican border be secured, but that all elements of the immigration system must possess integrity if we are to be protected.

On February 5, 2015 FrontPage Magazine published my article, “The ‘Secure Our Border First Act’ Deception: Why it’s no solution to the immigration crisis.

The official government report “911 and Terrorist Travel: Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” focused specifically on the ability of the terrorists to travel around the world, enter the United States and ultimately embed themselves in America as they went about their deadly preparations. 

Page 54 contained this excerpt under the title “3.2 Terrorist Travel Tactics by Plot”:

Although there is evidence that some land and sea border entries (of terrorists) without inspection occurred, these conspirators mainly subverted the legal entry system by entering at airports.

In doing so, they relied on a wide variety of fraudulent documents, on aliases, and on government corruption. Because terrorist operations were not suicide missions in the early to mid-1990s, once in the United States terrorists and their supporters tried to get legal immigration status that would permit them to remain here, primarily by committing serial, or repeated, immigration fraud, by claiming political asylum, and by marrying Americans. Many of these tactics would remain largely unchanged and undetected throughout the 1990s and up to the 911 attack.

Thus, abuse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were unwittingly working together to support terrorist activity. It would remain largely unknown, since no agency of the United States government analyzed terrorist travel patterns until after 911. This lack of attention meant that critical opportunities to disrupt terrorist travel and, therefore, deadly terrorist operations were missed.

My recent article, “What Are You Really Willing to Do to Stop Terrorists From Entering the U.S.?” addressed many of the failures of the immigration system that undermine national security.

Today, with heightened awareness and concerns about the threats posed to America by terrorists, especially those affiliated with ISIS, there is, understandably, growing opposition to the administration’s plans to send tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to the United States due to the lack of ability to effectively screen them and ISIS threats to carry out attacks on the homeland.  

This issue of vetting refugees is not new.  On November 20, 2013 ABC News reported, “Exclusive: US May Have Let ‘Dozens’ of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees.”  This is not an issue of illegal immigration but of failure of a component of the legal side of the immigration equation.  

The Visa Waiver Program is of particular concern because it enables aliens from 38 countries to enter the United States without first applying for and receiving a visa.  This is particularly worrisome in that terrorists are often citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

In point of fact, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the leader of the horrific terror attacks in Paris, was a citizen of Belgium who could have entered the United States without first applying for a visa.

My March 10, 2015 article for FrontPage Magazine, “Ignoring the 911 Commission’s Warnings: Even as terrorists expand operations in Europe” addressed many of the vulnerabilities in the immigration system that were identified by the 911 Commission (to which I provided testimony) that the administration has failed to address. 

An effectively administered visa program pushes the borders of the United States out to the U.S. embassies and consulates where visas are issued.  I made that point in arguing that a congressional hearing that was to be conducted by the House Immigration Subcommittee on May 18, 2004 into alien smuggling, needed to include visa fraud as an additional tactic exploited by smugglers.

I testified before that hearing.  My concerns about visa fraud were reflected in the title of that hearing, “Pushing The Border Out On Alien Smuggling: New Tools and Intelligence Initiatives.”

On May 11, 2006 I testified at a hearing conducted by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations on the topic, “Visa Overstays: Can We Bar The Terrorist Door?

Here is a list of six ways in which the visa process can be helpful to law enforcement and bolster our national security and public safety that, under the Visa Waiver Program, are lost:

1.  The Visa adjudications process screens airline passengers flying to the United States, enhancing aviation safety.

2.  The inspections process conducted at ports of entry by CBP is supposed to be conducted in one minute or less. The visa requirement requires aliens to be vetted overseas helping to provide  more integrity to this process.

3. The application for a nonimmigrant visa contains roughly 40 questions and biometric identifiers that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide intelligence as well as investigative leads. 

4. False statements on the application for a visa constitute “visa fraud.” The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail and go to a maximum of 25 years in prison when the visa fraud is done to support terrorism.

5. The charge of visa fraud can enable law enforcement authorities to take a “bad guy” off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism. 

6.  When an application for a visa is denied, the application and the biometric identifiers remain available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence from that application.

The 911 Commission was adamant about the need to tighten up on the process by which visas are issued. Incomprehensibly the Visa Waiver Program was not terminated. 

Page 45 of the 911 Commission Staff Report reported on the CIA’s findings about the nexus between visas, immigration and terrorism under the heading, Terrorist Entry and Embedding Tactics, 1993 to 2001:

The relative ease with which the hijackers obtained visas and entered the United States underscores the importance of travel to their terrorist operations. In this section we explore the evolution of terrorist travel tactics and organization. We begin with terrorist plots in the 1990s and conclude with the 911 attack. 

Among the millions of illegal aliens in the United States who have gone missing inside our country are tens of thousands who are citizens of countries that sponsor terrorism.

On May 31, 2010 I was interviewed by Casey Wain of CNN for a news report titled “Tracking Down Visa Violators.”

On September 2, 2014 ABC News reported, “Lost in America: Visa Program Struggles to ‘Track Missing Foreign Students’.”

Here is how this report began:

The Department of Homeland Security has lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who entered the United States on student visas, overstayed their welcome, and essentially vanished – exploiting a security gap that was supposed to be fixed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The article went on to say:

ABC News found that immigration officials have struggled to keep track of the rapidly increasing numbers of foreign students coming to the U.S. – now in excess of one million each year. The immigration agency’s own figures show that 58,000 students overstayed their visas in the past year. Of those, 6,000 were referred to agents for follow-up because they were determined to be of heightened concern.

“They just disappear,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “They get the visas and they disappear.”

Concerns about foreign students go back further.  On March 19, 2002 the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims conducted a hearing, at which I testified, into this monumental screw-up.  The title of the hearing was: “INS’s March 2002 Notification of Approval of Change of Status for Pilot Training for Terrorist Hijackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi.”

Every member of Congress should be required to watch the C-SPAN video of that hearing.  None of the promises made at that hearing to remedy the failures of the immigration system have been kept.

The Deferred Action-Childhood Arrival (DACA) program that has provided hundreds of thousands of illegal alien “DREAMers,” as old as 31 year of age, with lawful status and identity documents without interviews or field investigations.  They simply have to claim they entered as minors.  The approval rate is in excess of 97%.  I addressed this lunacy and others in my January 23, 2015 FrontPage Magazine article, “Sleeper Cells: The Immigration Component of the Threat.”

Sanctuary cities, as I noted in my recent article for the Daily Caller, “Sanctuary Cities: No Peace And No Justice,” further undermine national security by providing safe havens for terrorists, not only endangering the residents of those cities, but all Americans across our nation.  

On March 10, 2005 the House Subcommittee on Immigration hearing on the topic of Interior Immigration Enforcement Resources noted, “No American city is safe if any American city is attacked.”

Never forget that on September 11, 2001 just 19 young terrorists caused more casualties than did the Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.