Niece-Visa Terrorist?

Another F43 in the news

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 27, 2017

In a post on December 11, 2017, I detailed the entry of Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi national and lawful permanent resident who is facing federal terrorism charges in connection with an alleged attempt to carry out a suicide bombing in a pedestrian tunnel near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan earlier this month. Specifically, I noted that Ullah entered the United States as an "F43 family immigrant", that is, the child of a family fourth preference visa holder, who is a "[b]rother or sister of" a U.S. citizen.

My colleague Mark Krikorian has referred to this F43 in a tweet as the "nephew visa".

As even Krikorian would admit, however, "niece or nephew visa" would be more specific, as a recent federal case makes clear.

In particular, on December 23, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton tweeted that Zoobia Shahnaz, a United States citizen originally from Pakistan who was charged on December 14, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and three substantive counts of money laundering, allegedly to support ISIS, also entered the country originally on an F43 visa.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office succinctly lays out the government's case against Shahnaz:

As alleged in the indictment and court filings, the defendant defrauded numerous financial institutions and obtained over $85,000 in illicit proceeds, which she converted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. She then laundered and transferred the funds out of the country to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ("ISIS"), which has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization. After consummating the scheme, the defendant attempted to leave the United States and travel to Syria.

It is unclear at this point when the 27-year-old Shahnaz originally came to the United States. Because she came on an F43 visa, however, under sections 101(b)(1) and 203(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), she would have had to have entered before her 21st birthday.

Nor is it clear why, if the charges are true, she decided to assist ISIS. NPR reports that she lived in Brentwood, N.Y., and worked as a lab technician in a Manhattan hospital until June of this year. She has pled not guilty to the charges.

Her lawyer, Steve Zissou, told NPR:

As a health care professional, in 2016, Ms. Shahnaz was a volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society assisting other health care providers in delivering lifesaving medical care to Syrian refugees. ... She witnessed the suffering of the refugees firsthand. Her humanitarian efforts then and since were motivated by her commitment to helping alleviate the plight of the people in the Middle East.

Court filings by the government in the case state that:

[D]uring the time she was committing bank fraud and moving money overseas, the defendant accessed ISIS propaganda, violent jihad-related websites and message boards, and social media and messaging pages of known ISIS recruiters, facilitators and financiers. Additionally, the defendant conducted numerous internet searches for maps of and locations within ISIS controlled territory in Syria, and attempted to locate information that would facilitate her entry into Syria.

As early as August of 2015, defendant conducted extensive internet research on making "hijrah" to Syria and joining the ISIS. Hijrah means "migration," and refers to the migration of the Prophet Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina. The term is used by ISIS to describe Muslims from around the world coming to Syria and joining the Islamic State established by ISIS. Example of the websites and social media pages the defendant accessed include titles such as "Hijrah Checklist," "Hijrah Tips and Reminders," "a message to the hesitant one from jihad hijrah," and "what made you join [ISIS]."

In addition, between May and June 2017, she allegedly performed Google searches "for known ISIS recruiters, financiers, and fighters, including those who have urged lone-wolf attacks against American targets;" accessed "ISIS-produced internet magazines, including an issue which featured various suggestions to ISIS sympathizers living in the West for hostage takings and attacks;" and "search[ed] for 'medical students ISIS,'" as well as internet "[a]rticles about women joining and fighting for ISIS, including one entitled 'Islamic State: Who are the Top Female Jihadis'."

In a December 20, 2017, post, I discussed the issues related to chain migration and assimilation in the United States. By all appearances, Shahnaz was fairly well integrated into American society. As noted, she had been working as a lab technician in a New York Hospital, a position that the U.S. Attorney's Office asserts paid her "approximately $71,000 per year", but "[u]nbeknownst to her family" she "obtained a Pakistani passport and quit her job in June of 2017." Despite these facts, however, she is facing federal terrorism charges.

Again, lawful permanent resident status in the United States is a valuable commodity, and one that this country should only bestow on those who have demonstrated an allegiance to our principles and institutions. If the charges against her are true, somewhere along the line, Shahnaz failed that test.