Liberalizing Religious Worker Benefits Erodes National Security

By Dan Cadman on July 30, 2015

As my colleague David North has recently noted, the agency responsible for handling immigration benefits, U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), has decided to liberalize its policies for granting green cards to religious workers through another series of legally dubious interpretations of statute, that amount to a mini-amnesty. One can see the heavy hand of the administration once again pushing against the heads of the bureaucracy to achieve this result.

The question is, why do this? It is well known within the community of immigration adjudicators, as well as agents and officers of the allied agencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that the programs dealing with religious workers are fraught with fraud and abuse. A 2006 study by a division of USCIS itself found that one out of three cases involving religious worker benefits indicated fraud.

There are also national security implications to liberalizing the grant of green cards—a huge milestone on the way to naturalization. By way of example, federal authorities this month initiated denaturalization proceedings against the Muslim cleric who leads Portland, Oregon's largest mosque, apparently based on a running string of misrepresentations about his past, including dealings with Maktab-al-Khidamat, a defunct terrorist support group organized in Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden.

The Somali-born cleric, Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, was also convicted in 2003 of misrepresentations stemming from committing financial fraud on the Oregon Health Plan using a bogus social security card. Yet despite all this, there is a distinctly sympathetic air to the way he's being depicted in many media accounts. It's a puzzle to me, although it's also troubling that it's taken so long to initiate denaturalization; Kariye obtained his citizenship in 1998. But the fact of the matter is that almost no one is ever denaturalized. As the articles indicate, Kariye's own immigration lawyers admit they not only have never handled such a case, they don't know anyone who has.

Kariye is not the first controversial Muslim cleric federal authorities have dragged their feet about acting against. There also was "the blind sheikh", Omar Abdel Rahman, a hate-spewing demagogue who remained free for years before finally being convicted as one of the masterminds of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks that presaged the 9/11 attacks, despite a running series of misrepresentations (and government screw-ups) stringing from his first entry on a tourist visa in 1990 through obtaining his green card, to a last-ditch effort to remain in the United States by claiming asylum. Upon conviction in 1996, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Even now, after many years of serving time in solitary confinement, he inspires Islamists and radical jihadists worldwide, who rabble-rouse for his release.

Then there was the case of Anwar al Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-U.S. citizen born in the United States to foreign-student parents (and a poster child for the argument that birthright citizenship is a very poor idea ). Al Awlaki hated the land of his birth, hated the west, hated infidels, and became renowned for the vitriolic nature of his recorded and oft-reproduced "sermons", which inspired a generation of terrorists including the "underwear bomber" and Major Nidal Hassan of Fort Hood massacre infamy. Al Awlaki ultimately left to go to Yemen – without official action of any kind having been taken against him, despite his clear espousal of violence and terror – where he continued to inspire jihadists worldwide until being killed in a drone strike. Even now, he inspires from beyond the grave through his sermons.

I have chosen these two additional clerics intentionally, though there are many lesser-known instances involving either malfeasance or inspiration to violence or both. It is to show clearly that a single charismatic individual's influence can be outsized and lead to generations of hate and violence.

We should not fool ourselves into thinking that government vetting alone will help separate the chaff from the wheat. It didn't in more scrupulous adjudicative times in the past, and it most certainly won't now, in an agency whose officers are under huge pressure to grant-grant-grant benefits.

A linked pair of stories at Breitbart.com make this abundantly clear, as if it weren't already evident in dozens of other examples. Breitbart tells us that USCIS granted "executive action" amnesties to six illegal aliens whose files were flagged as "security risks". Of another 10 similarly flagged, only seven have yet been denied. USCIS's response? "Each case was individually vetted and deconflicted with the appropriate law enforcement agency, and each request was considered on its individual merits." But an accompanying videotaped Fox News interview with the head of the USCIS union, who represents the beleaguered adjudicators there, puts the lie to that notion.

To conclude, let me repeat myself: Why? Why open up a program already riddled with fraud to further abuse in ways that put the American people at significant risk? Isn't that what the mantra of the Department of Homeland Security and its subordinate organizations, USCIS, ICE and CBP, say they're all about – "Risk management"?

The new approach to religious workers isn't risk management, it's risk abandonment. But I suppose that's just all in a day's work at the USCIS, the little engine that never says no.