Of Terrorists, Failed Immigration Vetting Systems, and Running to Catch Up

By Dan Cadman on February 28, 2014

The media and blogosphere have been alive with the story about a convicted terrorist who was working as a "navigator" for the Obamacare website maintained by the state of Illinois.

Given the controversy over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the official name for the statute giving birth to Obamacare — it is perhaps inevitable that many are focused on that portion of the story.

But, at least to my way of thinking, that's just a sideshow. The real cause for alarm is that this terrorist of Palestinian origin, Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, managed to emigrate to the United States and ultimately naturalize, despite having spent many years in an Israeli prison after being arrested and convicted for participation in a bombing that took two lives.

Worse, reports indicate that Odeh, a member of the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a designated terrorist organization, had participated in more than one bombing and attempted bombing. According to the National Review, the act that killed two university students was in fact intended to be two bombs set off serially, about five minutes apart.

This type of bombing, called a "double-tap" in law enforcement and intelligence circles, is particularly pernicious because after the first bomb has taken its victims, the second is timed to explode so as to kill those responding to provide aid: good Samaritans, police, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel. In this case, the police managed to defuse the second bomb before it exploded.

During a television documentary made while she was serving a life sentence, Odeh was interviewed and said, "I am not the person responsible, the [Israeli] occupation [of Palestine] is." Despite the life sentence, she was later released as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for captured Israeli soldiers.

So here we have an unrepentant woman whose values are completely at variance with those of a civilized society, and who clearly was a person of notoriety. Yet, despite all that, once again we see an egregious failure of our immigration benefits-granting system to actually suss out someone who should never have been permitted entry, let alone granted resident alien status and then citizenship.

It's not clear who finally blew the whistle on Odeh, who now stands accused of the federal felony offense of withholding the material fact of her terrorist affiliations and actions when applying for naturalization.

Speaking at a news conference about the arrest and charges, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent in charge said, "An individual convicted of a terrorist bombing would not be admitted to the United States if that information was known at the time of arrival." Well, of course not. That begs the question entirely, though, doesn't it?

The key question is this: How in the world could this woman's notorious and clearly well known past repeatedly slip past the reiterative "background" checks that accompany each and every application and petition for a change from one immigration status to the next? Doesn't speak well for the vetting process, does it?

One also wonders: Did she claim and receive asylum at entry? We can only be grateful that once here, unlike the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston Marathon bombing infamy, Odeh chose to hunker down and try to obtain a measure of invisibility.

I'm sure the facts will come out in the fullness of time; certainly I hope that the relevant congressional committees will ask hard questions about the case. What I have little hope of, though, is the capacity or willingness of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the immigration-benefits granting agency, to undertake the kind of post mortem such a case cries out for.

This case follows the same pattern I recently discussed in the criminal naturalization fraud charges filed against Jorge Sosa, a Guatemalan human rights abuser: An individual works his or her way through an entire panoply of immigration benefits, culminating in citizenship before the government catches up with its mistakes many years after the fact.

If this is the best that the American public can expect from background checks undertaken as a part of the immigration benefits regimen, why should we invest confidence in seeing that process repeated millions of times as the result of a broad-based amnesty? How many more terrorists, war criminals, or gang members will be given the right to stay?