Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - An immigration think tank says previous Congresses and administrations, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service, are to blame for terrorists gaining easy access to the United States prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
"They used almost every conceivable means of entering the country," said Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research for The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and author of a report entitled "The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered and Remained in the United States, 1993-2001."
"They have come as students, tourists, and business travelers. They have also been lawful permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens," he said. "They have snuck across the border illegally, arrived as stowaways on ships, used false passports, and been granted amnesty."
The report identified 48 "radical Muslim terrorists" who were either charged with, convicted of, or admitted to being involved in terrorist acts on U.S. soil between 1993 and 2001.
Of the 48 individuals:
- 16 (33 percent) entered the U.S. on temporary visas, primarily as tourists;
- 17 (35 percent) were lawful permanent resident aliens or naturalized U.S. citizens;
- 12 (25 percent) were illegal aliens; and
- 3 (6 percent) had pending applications for asylum.
In addition to the 12 illegal aliens identified by Camarota, his research found that nine of the remaining 36 terrorists had committed "significant violations of immigration law" that should have made them ineligible for admission to the country, including two who engaged in false marriages to obtain permanent resident alien status.
One of the individuals who participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had been rejected for asylum, but was never deported following that rejection.
The report does not, however, place blame for the failure to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the U.S. on the agency that most critics have identified as being at fault.
"It's become traditional to, sort of, kick the INS as the problem," explained Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS. "It's the Congress and successive White Houses that have allowed this situation to develop and the INS is, in a sense, left holding the bag."
Poor enforcement of laws that could be effective at preventing terrorists from crossing into the U.S. is the result of a "schizophrenic view of immigration," according to professor Jan Ting of Temple University, who served as assistant commissioner of the INS from 1990 to 1993.
"I think we have to recognize that there is a constituency in the United States that favors loose enforcement of immigration laws, that really doesn't want the immigration laws enforced," Ting said.
He cited examples of colleges, universities, and trade schools lobbying against the foreign student tracking provisions of the 1996 immigration reforms passed by Congress, as well as opposition from business groups to eliminate the visa waiver system.
Under that program, visitors from certain European and Asian countries are allowed to enter and remain in the country for up to 90 days with no scrutiny by U.S. Foreign Service officials. They simply show a passport from a visa waiver country, and get on a plane to the U.S.
"Who is the customer?" Ting asked rhetorically, indicating that the question should drive immigration enforcement decisions.
"Isn't the customer the American people?" he continued. "And isn't the obligation of our Foreign Service officers and our INS to protect the American people as their customer, not the applicant [trying to enter the U.S.]?"
The report recommends four "general reforms" to facilitate better enforcement of immigration laws:
- More vigorous background checks and interviews of visa applicants by State Department personnel before applicants are allowed to enter the U.S.;
- Strict enforcement of immigration laws within the U.S. to catch illegal aliens and punish those, including employers, who help them;
- Significant improvements to border enforcement efforts; and
- Reducing the number of both temporary and permanent immigrants allowed into the country to a level that can be adequately screened and tracked by immigration officials.
Ting says there is one thing very wrong with the CIS report - that is was prepared and released by a private think tank, not a government agency.
"Why isn't the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Justice, which has access to each of these [48 terrorists] files and could assemble this report very quickly, why aren't they releasing this information?" he asked. "If one were a conspiracy theorist, one would think that the government has a certain inertia in defending the status quo."
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