On September 10th, 2001, I was at the Tucson Border Sector. A retired agent had promised to give me a personalized tour of the nation’s busiest sectors “in both illegal alien apprehensions and marijuana seizures.” At dusk, we left the agent’s heavily guarded home—for his personal safety, he told me—and drove for hours along a mostly unprotected border. Whatever wire or wooden fencing once may have been built had long been knocked down or cut through. The few scattered agents we met along our drive confirmed that their sector was a hotbed for illegal crossings and drugs. I finally got to bed around 4:00 a.m. and slept only briefly before my wife called. “Turn on the television,” she said. From that moment, and for the 20 years that followed, I’ve been committed to convincing Congress to support immigration policies that work on behalf of, instead of against, Americans.
For a day or two after 9/11, when terrorists commandeered four commercial airplanes for a suicide attack on the United States, some in the patriotic immigration reform movement saw the potential for some good to come out of the overwhelming tragedy. As terrible as the nearly 3,000 lost lives in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., and the thousands of injured at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (not to mention the approximately $2 trillion in property, job, tax and airline revenue losses), it occurred to us that the event might finally awaken Congress from its long snooze fest of immigration malfeasance. After all, Dr. Steven Camarota, the Center for Immigration Studies’ Director of Research, found in his report, “The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered the United States, 1993-2001,” that:
[F]oreign-born militant Islamic terrorists have used almost every conceivable means of entering the country. They have come as students, tourists, and business visitors. They have also been Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) and naturalized U.S. citizens. They have snuck across the border illegally, arrived as stowaways on ships, used false passports, and have been granted amnesty. Terrorists have even used America’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming those seeking asylum.
Our cautious optimism was promptly dashed, however. Nothing changed. Common sense should have led Congress to agree that, post-9/11, given the enabling role that immigration abuse played in the nation-altering event—the deadliest attack of its kind in human history—the time for an immigration reset was at hand.
Two decades after 9/11, Congress has welcomed between 15 and 20 million lawful permanent residents. Hundreds of thousands of employment-based visa holders—officially temporary, but many overstay—have been added to the low- and high-skilled labor market, while tens of thousands of refugees, asylees, and visa lottery winners have been put on a citizenship path. During his tenure as the FBI director, Jim Comey testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that out of 2,000-plus “violent extremist investigations… about 300 of them [15%] are people who came to the United States as refugees,” a warning Congress consistently disregards.
Although mandated as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), both Democrat- and Republican-controlled Congresses have refused to pass a biometric entry-exit program that would allow immigration officials to know who’s coming in, and even more importantly, who isn’t departing pursuant to their visas’ expiration dates. Of particular importance are those overstayers who wish America harm. The same IIRIRA legislation also introduced E-Verify, an online program that would identify who is legally authorized to work in the U.S. E-Verify would help Americans and legally present immigrants keep their jobs, and discourage illegal immigrants who come seeking employment.
Instead of implementing these long-awaited and much-needed efforts, in the 20 years that have passed since 9/11, Congress has done nothing to protect Americans from another tragedy, and has instead, under the Biden administration, made it easier to attack the vulnerable homeland.
BIDEN IS THE OPEN BORDERS MAN
President Biden has thrown all caution to the wind, and opened the border to all comers—an estimated 2 million illegal immigrants this year. At the same time, the President has initiated a helter-skelter Afghan evacuation plan that almost guarantees criminal incidents and threatens the safety of Americans. The combination of an estimated 2 million illegal immigrants, a minimum of 50,000 Afghans, and the Comey-cautionary-advice-be-damned probability of an increase in the FY 2022 refugee admissions cap (the one that President Biden promised to raise to 125,000 from former-President Trump’s 15,000) dramatically increases the probability of terrorists entering the U.S. No one in the administration has a clue who’s coming in, where they’re going, or what their intentions may be.
Instead of secure vetting, the administration has told its supervisory officers to ‘go with their gut feeling’ when evaluating the worthiness of an Afghan refugee’s qualifications to enter the U.S.
The Departments of State and Homeland Security frequently assure the nation that the Afghan evacuees are carefully vetted, and that many hold Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). Closer to the truth is that most of the evacuees have no visa, and are, at best, SIV applicants. Most have been given parole by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a privilege normally granted on a case-by-case basis, not doled out wholesale to planeloads of unvetted Afghans. Once paroled, the Afghan refugees are free to roam—again, with unknown intentions. The Afghans may have just arrived on U.S. soil, but they’re savvy enough to call Uber when they get wanderlust, as a number of them did when they bolted from El Paso’s Ft. Bliss. But look on the bright side-—perhaps those traveling Afghans will encounter some of the missing 1,500 migrant border children lost in Biden’s immigration Danse Macabre.
The undisclosed reality is that obtaining an SIV is a nearly impossible two-year process. In its second-quarter FY 2021 report that recounted SIV issuance procedures, the State Department found that the processing time is 703 days—meaning U.S. officials cannot possibly have properly vetted most of the 24,000 already-arrived Afghans. Moreover, data from State and Homeland Security Departments for January through March showed that Afghan SIV denial rates hit 84%: 137 SIVs were approved, while 728 were denied. Rejected were those whose service doesn’t meet the SIV bar, many who then appealed. The State Department said that of the 713 appeals filed during the second quarter, 601 were denied again.
Now, instead of secure vetting, the administration has told its supervisory officers to “go with their gut feeling” when evaluating the worthiness of an Afghan refugee’s qualifications to enter the U.S. For Americans concerned that another 9/11-type attack may be around the corner, “gut feelings” set a dangerously low bar.
FAILURE TO PROTECT THE HOMELAND
Instead of protecting the homeland in this dangerous post-American era, President Biden and his cabinet have elevated the risk we face, showing a remarkably high tolerance for immigration-related crime. Drug and human traffickers have profited greatly from a nonexistent border and equally nonexistent interior enforcement. Estimates for traffickers’ profits are $14 million daily. Trafficking minors for sexual exploitation is a lucrative $32 billion annual industry for criminals, but of no concern for the Biden administration. And should unsuspecting migrants be killed in their attempts to illegally enter the U.S., as more than 20 have during August in Texas alone, well, the Biden team would prefer to change the subject.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the news about homeland security should be more encouraging.
Since the Biden administration accepted drug and sex trafficking as routine, it will surely be indifferent to an Associated Press report that adult Afghan evacuees brought young girls with them who they identified as their brides. The girls, however, claimed they were raped and forced into marriage in order to escape Afghanistan. Child sex trafficking is a federal felony, and rape is a serious crime that 50 states universally punish harshly. Given its track record for accepting even the most egregious crimes as par for the course, the Biden administration may overlook those crimes on the grounds that they’re considered by some as culturally acceptable in Afghanistan.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the news about homeland security should be more encouraging. But when only about 10 of the 536 congressional representatives can be counted on to vote yes on pro-America legislation that includes diligent border and vigorous interior enforcement, a more heartening update would be dishonest.
Consider my example of the uphill battle Americans face versus entrenched establishment elites in the quest for a sound, pro-America immigration policy: on the evening of 9/11, and as previously scheduled, I met with about 25 Arizona ranchers. Each of them had spent years calling, writing, and faxing their U.S. representatives and their then-U.S. Republican senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, urging federal assistance in coping with the migrants who trespassed on their property, harmed their livestock and, when armed, frightened their families. At best, the ranchers received form letter responses, but too often, no reply.
Finally, one of the ranchers grew disgusted, took a plane to D.C., went directly to McCain’s office, introduced himself to the Senator’s secretary, and requested an appointment. Sen. McCain, the rancher was told, couldn’t see him that day. On the next day, then on the following day, and on the third day, the Senator was still unavailable to meet with the distraught rancher. Recognizing that McCain was indifferent to his constituent’s trials and tribulations with illegal border crossers, the rancher returned home, more frustrated and disheartened than ever.
For 20 years, the message from those elected to represent Americans to their immigration-anxious citizens has remained unchanged: “We don’t care about your opinion or your wish for enforcement. Our lax immigration policy will not change, regardless of what might happen.”
This article is part of a Human Events Opinion Special Collection released September 11th, 2021: “9/11: A Twenty Year Retrospective.” You can read the other pieces in the collection here.