Immigration and Terrorism – It’s About More Than Vetting Refugees

Published on November 26th, 2015

Until recently, most of our leaders and journalists made the issue of security along the U.S.-Mexican border the focus of failures of the immigration system. They ignored the fact that it has been estimated that some 40 percent of the illegal aliens present in the United States were aliens who violated the terms of their admission by overstaying, working on jobs they were not legally authorized to do, failing to attend schools for which they were admitted to attend or committing serious crimes.

Consider that page 45 of the “9/11 and Terrorist Travel Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States included this excerpt about the CIA's findings about the nexus between 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 9/11 attack.

The terror attacks in Paris, the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner in Egypt and the threats of terror attacks in the U.S. have elevated the concerns about the administration’s plans to admit tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who cannot be vetted, causing many Americans and American politicians to demand that this ill-conceived plan be halted. These concerns are more than justified and hardly a new problem. On November 20, 2013, ABC News reported, “Exclusive: U.S. May Have Let ‘Dozens’ of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees.”

While the refugee program would lack integrity and thus undermine national security, there are many other components of the immigration system that similarly lack integrity and have, in the past, been exploited by international terrorists and transnational criminals.

Motorists understand the need to find the easiest and quickest routes to their destinations. They listen to traffic reports on their car radios or have GPS systems installed in their cars that alert them to traffic jams so they can detour as needed.

Terrorists similarly seek the easiest way to enter the U.S. that exposes them to the least risk of identification and capture. Even without a fatally flawed refugee resettlement program, there is no shortage of alternative means for terrorists to enter the country and embed themselves.

There must be integrity to the entire immigration system. My recent article for FrontPage Magazine, “Border Security and the Immigration Colander,” compared all of the vulnerabilities of the immigration system to the holes in a colander.

The Visa Waiver Program represents a gaping hole. It provides aliens from 38 countries the ability to bypass the screening process conducted when visa applications are adjudicated at our embassies and consulates, which provide our first contact with aliens seeking admission into the U.S. There are at least a half-dozen enhancements to national security to be found in an effectively administered visa adjudications process that are lost when aliens are not required to receive a visa before seeking to enter our country. I addressed these in detail in my March 10, 2015, article for FrontPage Magazine, “Ignoring the 9/11 Commission’s Warnings – Even as terrorists expand operations in Europe.”

Additionally, the staff of attorneys and federal agents who were assigned to the 9/11 Commission issued a report known as the “9/11 and Terrorist TravelStaff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that focused specifically on the ability of the terrorists to travel around the world, enter the U.S. and ultimately embed themselves here as they went about their deadly preparations. Page 54 under the title “3.2 Terrorist Travel Tactics by Plot” contained this:

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 9/11. This lack of attention meant that critical opportunities to disrupt terrorist travel and, therefore, deadly terrorist operations were missed.

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?”

To the issue of plugging all holes, consider that it only takes one hole in the bottom of a boat to cause it to sink. The solution to the hole in the bottom of a boat is to plug that hole and not drill more holes hoping the water will magically flow out of the additional holes.

Our leaders must strive to not just make our immigration system water-tight, but air-tight, considering that our national security and lives of Americans hang in the balance.

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