Sometimes the most newsworthy items come out in the most unlikely places. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the appellate tribunal of the immigration courts, has published an opinion sustaining an immigration judge's decision to continue the detention of one Hussam Fatahi, allegedly a native of Iraq and citizen of Syria. The facts revealed by the opinion prove, once again, just how vulnerable the nation's immigration security vetting is.
Let me backtrack for a moment though. In October of last year, I wrote a blog post, "Why Syrian Refugee Vetting Will Be Indisputably Fallible". In that blog, I laid out reasons potential security threats could penetrate screening procedures, including:
Finally, and worst of all, media stories are also replete with articles reflecting the ease with which "migrants", apparently including jihadists, are able to obtain perfectly legitimate Syrian documents they will ultimately present to interviewing refugee officers from every country, including the United States. This is because many Syrian government offices have been overrun in the chaos of war, leaving their trove of blank documents — passports, national identity cards, driver's licenses, etc. — behind for extremist groups and criminal gangs to take advantage of.
Not long after that, FBI Director Comey in testimony before Congress asserted his own concerns about the ability of federal agencies to properly vet individuals pouring out of the remnants of that war-torn and jihadist-infiltrated country — despite which the administration trotted out one Department of Homeland Security (DHS) witness after another in later hearings, to assure members of Congress that things couldn't be better.
Now, thanks to this published BIA opinion, we have proof positive, and it is contrary to all of those assurances. In January 2014, nearly two years before I wrote my blog post, Fatahi (whose identity and nationality are known based solely on what he says—and clearly his word isn't worth much) used just such a blank Syrian passport, stolen when Islamic State jihadists overran passport production facilities, to enter the United States. How it came into his hands isn't known. He's given several equally implausible stories.
Worse, this man entered on a K-1 fiance visa — the very same kind of visa issued to San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik before she and her husband went on their killing spree — which means that his bonafides were allegedly checked on several occasions, by Department of State (DOS) consular officials, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiners, and quite possibly Visa Security Program (VSP) agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Fatahi's phony passport was also scrutinized by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector at a port of entry at the time of his January 2014 admission, and apparently passed muster there too.
So you have multiple officials from DOS, USCIS, ICE, and CBP all involved, and none caught onto the fact that the man's Syrian travel document had been forged from a stolen blank.
In fact, Fatahi wasn't questioned about the passport until two years later, in January 2016, after ICE received a tip. Strangely, instead of being taken into custody, he was permitted to leave the United States for a "scheduled trip to Turkey". (One wonders if he slipped into Syria once he arrived in Turkey, in order to meet jihadists there. One also wonders exactly what kind of travel document he used to leave the United States and travel internationally, since the agents apparently seized the fake passport in order to send it for forensic examination. These questions remain unanswered.)
It was only upon Fatahi's return to the United States from Turkey (or wherever) in February of this year, that he was detained when he attempted to reenter as a conditional resident alien, based on his marriage to a citizen. Since that time, Fatahi has been struggling to persuade first the immigration judge, and most recently the BIA that he should be released on bond. He will probably also file a request with the federal courts asking them to overturn the BIA's decision. Keep in mind that his removal proceeding hasn't even begun, thanks to the slo-mo nature of the nation's immigration courts.
I am puzzled that criminal fraud charges were never filed against Fatahi, given the multiple felonies committed to obtain his K visa, effect entry, and manage adjustment to conditional residence, none of which could have happened without concealing the material fact that his passport was a fake.
Cumulatively, none of what has been laid out in this BIA opinion should be of comfort in assuring ordinary Americans about the safeguards built into immigration vetting systems, the security of our homeland, or the safety of themselves and their families. The whole matter raises more questions than it answers.
Meantime, even in the waning months of its tenure the Obama administration is still finding ways to outmaneuver Congress and the law — this time by trying to circumvent established refugee ceilings through creative "alternative" programs—so as to bring in more Syrians, and Hillary Clinton has promised to increase those numbers fivefold. Anyone feeling safer?