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Case Study On Passport Visa Issues Concerning Terrorism

Kevin M. Carter

University of Maryland University College

HMLS 302

In 2002, President George W. Bush initiated his National Strategy for Homeland Security. In this he stated that the U.S. government has no more important mission than protecting the homeland from future terrorist attacks. The strategy called for preventing the entry of foreign terrorists into our country and using all legal means to identify; halt; and, where appropriate, prosecute or bring immigration or other civil charges against terrorists in the United States. Though this was an initiative and strategy that began with much thunder with the “terrorist storm” that was brought to our country on September 11, 2001…it faded and has lost much of its backing (Feingold, 2012). Analysis has indicated that the U.S. government has no specific written policy on the use of visa evocations as an antiterrorism tool and no written procedures to guide State in notifying the relevant agencies of visa revocations on terrorism grounds (Alden, 2008). State and INS have written procedures that guide some types of visa revocations; however, neither they nor the FBI have written internal procedures for notifying their appropriate personnel to take specific actions on visas revoked by the State Department. State and INS officials could articulate their informal policies and procedures for how and for what purpose their agencies have used the process to keep terrorists out of the United States, but neither they nor FBI officials had policies or procedures that covered investigating, locating, and taking appropriate action in cases where the visa holder had already entered the country. As recently as of September 2014, it was reported that the Obama administration is unable to locate 6,000 foreign nationals who have entered the United States on student visas which continues to raise concerns about the government's ability to track potential terror suspects who may already be in the country. According to Peter Edge, head of Homeland Security Investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "My greatest concern is that they could be doing anything. Some of them could be here to do us harm." In a recent ABC News article, it was reported that the U.S. immigration officials had had difficulty keeping track of the escalating number of foreign students entering the United States. From October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014, 58,000 students overstayed their visas. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 26 student visa holders have been arrested in the United States on terrorism-related charges, ABC News reported. According to the The 9/11 Commission Report, recommendations were made that the student visa program be tightened to combat future threats but the system continues to remain vulnerable to abuse. Despite repeated concerns raised by Congress, federal immigration officials have also continued to grant schools certification to accept overseas applicants even if the schools lack accreditation, state certification, or any obvious measure of academic rigor (Malkin, 2002). There are now more than 9,000 schools on the government approved list. The list includes such top flight American colleges as Harvard and Yale, but it also includes 86 beauty schools, 36 massage schools and nine schools that teach horseshoeing. Foreign students can enter the U.S. on a visa to study acupuncture, hair braiding, or join academies that focus on tennis and golf. Once the student arrives in the U.S., it is up to the schools to keep track of the visa-holder’s whereabouts -- and report to the government if they repeatedly miss class. One school on the approved list, MicroPower Career Institute, licensed by the state of New York, continues to have four campuses on the approved list, even though five of the school’s top officials -- including its president -- were indicted on charges of visa fraud in May. According to a recent ABC News report, 80 percent of the foreign students enrolled at MicroPower had delinquent attendance, putting them out of compliance with their visas. But the school did not report them. The MicroPower case is one of several that touch on broader questions long raised about the student visa program. When asked about the issue with student visas, Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission Co-Chair said the government has yet to address the security gaps the program has created. He said was stunned the federal government continues to lose track of so many foreign nationals who had entered the country with student visas. He noted that, even before the 9/11 terror attacks, federal officials had been aware of the gaps in the student visa program. It was reported that the man who drove the van containing explosives into the World Trade Center garage in 1993 was also a student visa holder who was a no-show at school. “It's been pointed out over and over and over again and the fact that nothing has been done about it yet... it's a very dangerous thing for all of us,” Kean said. “The fact that there's been no action on this is very bothersome.” In 2012, the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the ICE office received damning remarks such as that the agency had failed to adequately police for visa fraud and has since taken steps to address the issues. An example is that it has undertaken a new program to deploy field representatives around the country to personally inspect schools that had been approved to accept foreign students. So far, 15 field representatives have been hired, with a plan to ultimately employ 60 around the country. The effort to expand options for foreign study appear to be prevailing. According to figures gathered by congressional investigators, the number of foreign nationals obtaining visas to study in the U.S. has grown from 662,966 in 2003 to more than 1.2 million in 2012. According to Peter Edge, he believes his agency has accepted that those numbers represent a continued challenge for the Department of Homeland Security. “Our work has only begun,” he said. “We have a lot more work to do in this space.” The lack of formal, written policies and procedures may have contributed to systemic weaknesses in the visa revocation process that increase the probability of a suspected terrorist entering or remaining in the United States. In a recent review of 240 visa revocations, some serious areas of concern were found. Some of note were: (1) appropriate units within INS and the FBI did not always receive notification of the revocations; (2) lookouts were not consistently posted to the agencies’ watch lists of suspected terrorists; (3) 30 individuals whose visas were revoked on terrorism grounds entered the United States either before or after revocation and may still remain in the country, and (4) INS and the FBI were not routinely taking actions to investigate, locate, or resolve the cases of individuals who remained in the United States after their visas were revoked. For instance; in a number of cases, notification between State and the appropriate units within INS and the FBI did not take place or was not completed in a timely manner. For example, INS officials said they did not receive any notice of the revocations from State in 43 of the 240 cases. In another 47 cases, the INS Lookout Unit received the revocation notice only via a cable, State’s backup method of notification. However, these cables took, on average, 12 days to reach the Lookout Unit. Numerous reports and committees for Terrorism have suggested an avenue to fix these problems. The most popular is to have the State should notify its consular officers at overseas posts, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI at the time of visa revocation. State should notify its consular officers so that they would ask for a security advisory opinion before issuing a new visa to the person whose visa had been revoked. In addition, State would have to provide notice of the revocation, along with supporting evidence, to Homeland Security and the FBI. This would allow Homeland Security to notify its inspectors at ports of entry so that they could prevent the individuals from entering the United States. It also would allow Homeland Security and the FBI to determine whether the person had already entered the country and, if so, to investigate, locate, and take appropriate action in each case. Depending on the results of the investigations, appropriate actions could include clearing persons who were wrongly suspected of terrorism, removing suspected terrorists from the country, or prosecuting suspected terrorists on criminal charges. To many, it would seem such suggestions are too time consuming and would cost too much to dedicate personnel to do such tasks, but we would have to look back at the attacks of 9/11. One of the more frightening aspects of the Sept. 11 attacks is that the hijacking suspects were men who were living and learning in the United States, using student visas to hide in plain sight while they plotted an attack. Among those granted student visas: Ahmed Alghami and Hani Hanjour, two of the Sept. 11 hijacking suspects. Alghami's had expired before avenues that let terrorists travel at will, anonymous among the 7 million foreign citizens who are allowed to enter the United States each year. The immigration debate has historically focused on economics, and jobs. Now Congress is looking at it as a national security issue, weighing a variety of new border measures, including bulking up security at the largely unprotected Canadian border, reviving systems to track foreign visitors and boosting funds devoted to improving coordination between law enforcement and the State Department.

Conclusion Our past history and accounts of terrorist attacks has shown that those responsible have used the visa and passport program to their advantage and as a weapon in our war against terrorism. Steps have begun to be put in place, but those procedures must be retooled and reassessed to ensure all avenues are covered. Too many times, foreign students or those using the guise of a foreign student get lost or fall through the cracks and either stay in our country illegally or long enough to do harm. Correcting these problems and initiating better solutions will be like most areas of Emergency Management. We must plan, respond, recover (from any incident) and mitigate.

References
Alden, E. H. (2008). The closing of the American border: Terrorism, immigration, and security since 9/11. New York, NY: Harper.
Buchanan, P. J. (2006). State of emergency: The Third World invasion and conquest of America. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press.
Feingold, R. (2012). While America sleeps: A wake-up call for the post-9/11 era. New York: Crown Publishers.
Malkin, M. (2002). Invasion: How America still welcomes terrorists, criminals, and other foreign menaces to our shores. Washington, D.C: Regnery Pub.
McDermott, T., & Meyer, J. (2012). The hunt for KSM: Inside the pursuit and takedown of the real 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.
Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security (Washington, D.C.:
July 2002).

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