Invitation to Terror: How Our Immigration System Still Leaves America at Risk (2002)
As the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States approaches, the American public has an interest in knowing what actions have been taken to prevent other attacks from occurring and what remains to be done to protect our homeland security. This report evaluates what has been accomplished in the year since foreign terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, parts of the Pentagon, and four jetliners and took the lives of some 3,000 innocent people.
This status report looks at the legislative and administrative changes that have been made to our immigration policies since September 11, 2001, and finds that serious vulnerabilities remain. While it will never be possible to eliminate the terrorist threat entirely, an examination of what our political leaders have accomplished in the year since the attacks finds that they’ve fallen inexcusably short.
While some progress has been made, much of it has been spotty and haphazard, and many of the improvements won’t be fully implemented for years. A year after the most devastating attacks in our history, our immigration system is still woefully shoddy and in danger of reverting to business as usual. America remains at risk.
Visa Issuance Process & Information Sharing
The first failure that contributed to the attacks of September 11 was the ability of the terrorists to get visas to come to the United States. Since September 11, steps have been taken to shore up the glaring weaknesses in the process that allowed the terrorists to walk right through our front door.
Congress passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2001, and the legislation has been signed by the President. Significant reforms include:
Requires creating a computerized entry-exit system, an electronic database of foreigners who enter and leave the U.S.
Requires machine-readable travel documents and visas, including biometric identifiers that conclusively link them to the bearer.
Requires data sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies and consular offices that issue visas.
However, full implementation of these reforms is not required until 2005, leaving America dangerously exposed for several years.
The second glaring failure that led to the disaster of September 11 was the lack of interior immigration enforcement. That has not changed, and there is still virtually no possibility that foreigners residing in the U.S. illegally will be detected, apprehended, and removed.
A mere 2,000 agents are assigned to look for an estimated 8-11 million illegal aliens living in the U.S.
More than 300,000 illegal aliens who have deportation orders pending cannot be located, including some 6,000 from countries that support terrorism.
Enforcement of employer sanctions policies, all but abandoned during the Clinton Administration, remain nonexistent.
Further hampering interior immigration enforcement are a series of legislative proposals that encourage illegal aliens to enter and remain in this country. Among the ideas that have promoted illegal immigration since September 11 are:
Efforts to extend the Section 245(i) loophole that allows illegal aliens to become permanent legal residents without undergoing a thorough background check. Among the previous beneficiaries of the 245(i) program was the terrorist who attacked the El Al counter at LAX on July 4, 2002.
Efforts to implement a sweeping amnesty program for illegal aliens. Both the White House and congressional leaders continue to promote the idea of amnesty for some or all of the 8-11 million people living here illegally. (Amnesty efforts have thus far been unsuccessful.)
Domestic Document Security
Directly related to the lack of interior enforcement is a lack of control over access to, and the integrity of, vital identity documents. In spite of widespread public support for increased document security and compelling evidence that this situation constitutes a serious vulnerability to homeland security, serious efforts to move forward have not been undertaken.
Standardized criteria for issuing driver’s licenses and securing their integrity have been proposed by the nation’s DMV administrators, but no legislative action has been taken.
Several states have taken steps to curtail issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal or temporary residents, but others continue to maintain such policies and in some cases have even begun intentionally issuing valid licenses to such people.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has stopped issuing new numbers to people who are not legal residents of the U.S. but admits that hundreds of thousands of valid numbers have been issued to illegal residents over the past several years. No plans have been announced to rescind or invalidate these SSNs.
The SSA has begun systematically informing employers when invalid numbers appear on their records.
Acceptance of the Mexican Consular ID card as a valid identity document in this country has proliferated.
Federal-Local Immigration Law Enforcement Cooperation
Even before the September 11th attacks, Congress recognized the inability of the federal government to fully enforce immigration laws and established a provision to train state and local police in this area of law enforcement. That program remains largely unimplemented, further hampering interior enforcement efforts.
Several local jurisdictions, including the states of Florida and South Carolina, have expressed a desire to participate in federal-local enforcement of immigration laws.
Other jurisdictions maintain affirmative non-cooperation policies in the area of immigration law enforcement without incurring any negative consequences for refusing to aid federal authorities.
The bottom line is that very little has been accomplished in this regard, even though implementation of federal-local enforcement cooperation could be accomplished relatively quickly, for a modest cost, and without a large-scale investment in new technology.
Asylum Abuse and International Cooperation
Both the September 11th terrorists and other terrorists have exploited weaknesses in the political asylum policies of the U.S. and other countries to gain access and residence. These abuses of asylum policy are of concern to U.S. homeland security, as they allow terrorists greater freedom of movement. Of particular concern are the policy weaknesses in Canada, with which we share 4,000 miles of largely unguarded border.
Bilateral discussions with Canada (and other countries) have occurred since September 11, but little, if any, concrete action has been taken.
Homeland Security Department and INS Reorganization
The repeated and glaring malfeasance of the INS, and the role of those failures in the September 11th attacks, has finally resulted in congressional action to reorganize the agency. In addition, the reorganized INS seems destined to fall under the purview of the soon-to-be-created Department of Homeland Security. Placing INS within the new department would be a positive step, setting homeland security as the agency’s first priority. No assessment of the contribution to greater national security resulting from this evolving plan can truly be made at this point.
September 11 exposed the serious breaches in our immigration policies and laws that could be exploited with relative ease and deadly consequences. While some progress has been made to close these windows of vulnerability, in many more areas political and bureaucratic foot-dragging continue to expose Americans to unnecessary risk.
Both Vice President Dick Cheney and FBI Director Robert Mueller have publicly stated that it is not a question of if there will be subsequent terrorist attacks against the United States, but rather a matter of when. If the same urgency that was felt in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, does not continue to drive efforts to address the weaknesses in our immigration policies, future terrorists are certain to exploit them in their war against our nation and our way of life.
The full report is available in PDF.