By Joe Guzzardi
October 26, 2012
Last week, the nation got lucky when investigators foiled a terrorism attempt. Police arrested Quazi Nafis, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi who entered the U.S. on a student visa. Nafis, who has ties to al Qaeda, allegedly plotted to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Building in crowded Lower Manhattan. Hundreds could have been killed or injured.
His visa allowed Nafis to attend Southeast Missouri State University. Although SMSU is a legitimate academic institution—unlike others involved in various scams — and Nafis’ paper work was in order, the State Department’s folly in issuing visas to foreign nationals from countries known to have terrorist leanings cannot be overstated.
Memories are short. Among those who received visas when they never should have been allowed to enter the country are dozens of jihadists including Mohammed Atta and four other 9/11 murders, 1997 New York subway bomber Lafi Khalil, four of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, 1993 New York landmark-bombing conspirator Fadil Abdelgani, convicted Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and U.S. Capitol bomb plotter Amine El Khalifi. Moroccan El Khalifi, whose tourist visa expired in 1999, went unnoticed for 12 years before he was arrested in February, blocks from the Capitol building, putting on a suicide bombing vest.
The federal government offers more than 25 different categories of non-immigrant visas. Included on the list are visas for fiancées, professional athletes, doctors and students. Most have sub-categories for spouses and children which brings the net total of available visas to greater than 50.
Virtually all of them should be eliminated or severely restricted. Even the tourist visa, while serving as the vehicle which allows foreign visitors to spend billions, also gives the unscrupulous an opportunity to overstay and wreak havoc. Overstayers including tourists account for about 40 percent of the nation’s alien population. The United States has no entry-exit plan to track foreign visitors so the risk of staying beyond a visa’s expiration date is minimal.
Last year GOP House Homeland Security Chairwoman Candice Miller reported a federal backlog of more than 750,000 unvetted visa overstay records. Once inside the United States, terrorists like Nafis, Atta, et al easily blend into society and operate with impunity.
In Nafis’ case, the Departments of State and Homeland Security pointed fingers at each other. The State Department has its own database for vetting visa applications known as the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). Nafis was not among the 39 million records maintained in the CLASS system that lists foreigners who should not be granted a visa.
Upon arrival, DHS assumed the responsibility for monitoring Nafis’ movements through the Student and Exchange Visitor Exchange System.
Blame massive federal ineptitude and a politically correct refusal to get serious about who enters the United States. Even when warned in advance, State can’t get it right. CLASS came under heavy questioning in 2009 when “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab’s father alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was dangerous. A federal court convicted Abdulmutallab of attempted weapons of mass destruction use on a Northwest Airlines flight that, if successful, would have killed 289 people.
Assuming the political will existed, student visas would be one of the easiest to restrict. Obviously, there is no compelling reason for a Bangladeshi to attend a Missouri college—especially to study cyber security. But to SMSU administrators, Nafis’ application had a special appeal. As an out of state student, he paid nearly twice the instate tuition fee, $11,600 versus $6,600. SMSU has more than 1,000 foreign-born students including 44 others from Bangladesh and 100 Saudis who pay the higher fees.
When trying to fathom the whys and wherefores of U.S. immigration policy, following the money will more often than not provide the disappointing answers. Money comes first; Americans’ safety a distant second.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]