A welcome mat for terrorists

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Nation & World 10/8/01

A welcome mat for terrorists Nobody is keeping track of visa holders who are supposed to go home


Hijackers honing their skills at American flight schools. Foreigners breezing past borders despite known terrorist links. When it comes to the intelli- gence and law enforcement failures that preceded the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, perhaps no oversight was as glaring as the lapses in immigration enforcement that let terrorists obtain and overstay simple visas.

But the shortcomings are no surprise to veteran agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The fact is, these agents have long complained, the government has no way to track visa holders once they enter the country or any means to check when, if ever, they leave. The problems have been known for decades–well before the head of a House subcommittee on immigration, Rep. George Gekas, a Pennsylvania Republican, called the INS "the most dysfunctional federal agency around."

The problem is one of emphasis. The INS has long channeled its resources into stopping illegal immigrants at the border. But nearly half of the estimated 6 million illegal aliens in the United States came in through the front door–as tourists, students, or temporary workers–and simply never left. Sixteen of the 19 hijackers in the recent terrorist attacks came into this country legally, and many overstayed their visas. "The public perception that if you violate your visa the INS will come looking for you just isn't true," says a former INS official. "It just doesn't happen."

In Munich's wake. Indeed, gaping holes in the INS monitoring system have been documented at least as far back as 1972, when the agency launched an investigation of suspected terrorists in the United States after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich. In 1979, during the Iran hostage crisis, the INS was unable to locate 9,000 of an estimated 50,000 Iranian students studying in the United States. And in 1993, officials had no idea that Jordanian Eyad Ismoil had violated his student visa until after he drove a bomb-laden truck into the World Trade Center, causing an explosion that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.

The path at the border can be surprisingly smooth, as well. To shorten waits, immigration supervisors–pressured by the airlines–encourage INS inspectors to process foreign travelers so quickly that each inspector spends no more than 30 seconds reviewing a passenger's documents. And that includes matching names against a list of foreigners flagged by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. "Unless the guy comes in with a machine gun," says one former INS officer, there is little chance he will be scrutinized.

Unlike most countries, the United States does not require exit visas–only a form filled out by the visa holder that often is not entered into an INS database for months. An exit visa, critics say, would have helped track Nawaf Alhazmi, one of the hijackers who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Alhazmi received a Florida driver's license June 25. He left the country, then re-entered in Los Angeles four days later. But the INS appears to have no record of his departure.

Authorities also might have stopped hijacker Hani Hanjour, believed to have been the pilot of Flight 77, if student visas had been monitored as intended. Hanjour arrived in the United States last December on a flight from Paris to Cincinnati, student visa in hand. In his application, Hanjour said he was going to an English-language school in Oakland, Calif. Officials had no idea until after the September 11 attacks that he had never shown up for school. It was precisely to prevent such lapses that the INS required administrators to inform immigration authorities of various changes in a foreign student's status. But that pilot program has been scaled back, and universities want Congress to drop it.

Now, of course, the likelihood of that happening is slim. More probable is a reorganization that would split the INS in two, with one division to enforce the law and the other to provide immigration services and benefits. That move alone, critics say, would dramatically boost the agency's effectiveness. "It doesn't matter who runs INS," says Richard Gallo of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. "Under the current structure, [the INS] is doomed to failure."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 01, 2001


The Clinton administration with the help of Senator Spencer Abraham (now Secretary of Energy) gutted this country's immigration laws in the last 10 years. The Clinton administration wanted the "Hispanic" vote (how's that for racial profiling?) and rushed thru permanent residency and citizenship for illegals in the late 1990's. Abraham played to the cheap labor lobby for campaign contributions, and he was cheered on by the Republican leadership. The good people of Michigan had the common sense to "fire" Abraham last election, but President Bush made him Secretary of Energy!

There were Congresspeople who tried to protect, like Lemar Smith, but they were outvoted by our government for sale.

IMHO, these people have the blood to the WTC and Pentagon victims (and all others in this country) on their hands.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), October 01, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ