November 21, 2018

Ten years later, terrorists still using immigration loopholes

Terrorism and U.S. immigration policies are closely linked. We have made some progress since terrorists killed 3,000 innocent people in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, but clearly not enough.

All 19 of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country with valid visas. All had backgrounds that should have excluded them from getting visas. Yet 10 years later, the United States still does not conduct extensive screening in many countries with terrorist activities. The United States also still gives random visas through a lottery system rife with fraud.

Congress needs to change these policies. Terrorists have taken advantage of our lax immigration system several times since 9/11.

Currently, the United States only operates the Visa Security Program in 19 high-risk consular posts. The Secure Visas Act, of which I am an original cosponsor, would expand the Visa Security Program to provide more extensive screening in high-risk countries.

According to the Government Accountability Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not implemented its five-year expansion plan or even covered all high-risk posts. The Secure Visas Act would require Visa Security Units to be maintained at the 19 consular posts that already have them and expand these units to the posts that ICE has designated as “highest-risk.”

Some of these “highest-risk” countries include Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, and Algeria. VSUs are critical for national security: At VSU-staffed consular posts, 100 percent of applicants receive additional screening; at non-VSU posts, fewer than 2 percent of the applicants get extra screening.

The Secure Visas Act also would make it easier to revoke a visa.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and kill over 200 innocent people on December 25, 2009, refocused attention on the responsibilities of the Departments of State and Homeland Security with respect to visa revocation.

Abdulmutallab was traveling on a valid visa issued to him in June 2008. The State Department acknowledged that his father came into the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19, 2009, and told State Department and CIA officials that his son had vanished and expressed concern that he had “fallen under the influence of religious extremists in Yemen.” According to news reports, the father’s visit with the U.S. authorities was arranged by Nigerian intelligence officials, who his father had contacted after receiving a call from his son that made him fear that his son might be planning a suicide mission in Yemen.

Despite the father’s visit and the warning he conveyed, the State Department made no effort to revoke the visa.

The case of Abdulmutallab demonstrates that clearly, we need a way to quickly revoke a visa.

I am also an original cosponsor of the SAFE for America Act, which would eliminate the visa lottery program, under which 50,000 individuals a year are chosen completely at random to receive immigrant visas.

The visa lottery, first implemented in Fiscal Year 1995, has long been a subject of concern for those of us who believe it important to have a credible immigration system. The program is riddled with fraud. The State Department’s Inspector General said so in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The Government Accountability Office said so in 2007. During a congressional hearing I chaired in April, we learned that it continues today.

Fraud is a concern because terrorists have already used the visa lottery as a means of entering this country. In fact, the Egyptian terrorist who murdered two Americans at LAX in 2002 was a diversity visa recipient after his wife was selected for the lottery.

In addition, a Pakistani national who received a diversity visa when his parents were selected for the lottery, pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiring to wage jihad by plotting to destroy electrical power stations, the Israeli consulate, and other South Florida targets. He had reportedly told his friends that he wanted to wage war against the United States.

U.S. immigration policy should be based on something more than just luck of the draw.

We will never forget Sept. 11, 2001, or the people who perished in that wanton act of terrorism. We need to strengthen our immigration procedures so it makes it harder for terrorists to attack us again on American soil.

Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in Congress and is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement and Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.