President Obama will be meeting with congressional leaders and military advisers on Tuesday to frame a strategy for battling ISIS overseas. Better late than never. But Obama still has said nothing about stopping jihadists from bringing their terror here.
It’s up to Congress to act on this urgent issue. Congress should reverse Obama’s dangerous new policy of granting asylum to people with terrorist connections. Federal law bars it, but on February 5, the administration went around Congress and loosened the law to welcome asylum seekers who have provided only “limited material support” to terrorists.
Next, Congress should outlaw visas to “study” at unaccredited institutions, which often are nothing more than visa mills. Finally, Congress needs to crack down on overstaying visas. Five of the 19 9/11 hijackers had overstayed tourist visas, and another was on a student visa. Of course, immigration offers huge benefits to our nation. And not all terrorists are foreign born. But these weak links in enforcement have to be closed to thwart another 9/11. That’s not anti-immigration. It’s anti-terror.
Obama was dead set on loosening rules for asylum seekers. “Dead” is the right word, because there is a long history of asylum seekers killing Americans. The parents of the radical Muslim Boston Marathon bombers came here on tourist visas and then sought asylum. In 1993, Pakistani asylum seeker Ramzi Yousef bombed the World Trade Center. Mir Aimal Kansi, another Pakistani asylum seeker, gunned down two CIA agents in Virginia. John Q. Public has nothing to gain and everything — including his safety — to lose from lax asylum rules.
The “comprehensive” (meaning unread) immigration bill proposed by the Gang of Eight senators last year would have eased the asylum process, though that part of the bill was under the radar. With the bill held up by the House of Representatives, the president acted on his own last February. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., supported lifting the restrictions on asylum seekers because they “resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred” when they may have been pressured to cooperate with terrorists. Barring some of these people may be unfair, but how are you going to investigate their claims?
Student visas from unaccredited institutions are another welcome mat for terrorists. The 9/11 Commission urged Congress to tighten student visas, citing the hijacker who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon after he got into the U.S. on a student visa but never showed up for school.
Since 9/11, another 26 student-visa holders have been arrested on terrorist-related charges. Yet the Department of Homeland Security has allowed the number of student visas to more than double since 2003. The agency admits that at least 58,000 foreign students overstayed their visas in the past year, and it has lost track entirely of about 6,000 overstayers.
A big part of the problem, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., points out, is for-profit unaccredited schools that literally sell visas. Students register claiming to study everything from horseshoeing to hair braiding. Coburn says these schools “are using the system to bring people in, collect money, and not educate them at all.” It’s their gain — and John Q. Public’s risk.
The 9/11 attacks showed that visa overstaying is a big danger to the nation. Yet according to a 2013 General Accountability Office report to Congress, enforcement of temporary visa deadlines is so sloppy that DHS can’t even estimate how many overstayers are in the country now. It’s likely more than one million. DHS is required by law to report the overstay number to Congress, but the agency and its predecessors haven’t done so since 1994 due to lack of reliable data.
In March 2012, a House subcommittee was told about the case of Amine El Khalifi, who was arrested wearing an explosive-packed suicide vest as he attempted to blow up the U.S. Capitol. This terrorist had been in the country for 12 years on an overstayed visa.
At a July 29 hearing, Congress was warned that terror attacks in the U.S. are a clear and present danger. Despite the president’s unwillingness to focus on it, Congress must act to fix this danger right under our noses.
Betsy McCaughey is the author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution” and founder and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths at www.hospitalinfection.org.