State Dept. Seeks to Roll Back Visa Security to 9/10 Standards; DHS Stays Quiet

By Janice Kephart on September 20, 2011

Secretary of State Clinton is now lining up with Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano in quietly continuing the border security backslide to September 10, 2001, standards. None of what you read below will be in press releases. The secretaries are well aware that their policies continue to add to a profusion of amnesty outlets, and now Secretary Clinton is working in tandem with the White House too, where President Obama is pushing for a pullback on any policy pertaining to border security unless a known terrorist is involved. Amnesty policies mean that the consistent, routine examination and vetting of all immigrants, travelers, and illegal entrants is no longer occurring. Such trends embolden terrorists, criminals, and illegal aliens who know that if they can avoid being included in any sort of watchlist, they have not only entree into the U.S. but a high probability of staying as long as President Obama is in the White House. An administrative amnesty was unilaterally decided by the White House two weeks ago, covering essentially all illegal immigrants except for convicted criminals (above a misdemeanor) and known terrorists.

Perhaps some Americans recall 9/11 and the issues with the 9/11 Commission's findings that 15 of the 19 hijackers received 18 visas in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia became the country of choice for a hijacker's visas, as these applicants were not interviewed in person and Saudis were not likely to illegally overstay in the U.S. As a result, even though Saudis needed visas, the U.S. consul general had put in place a policy that Saudis could apply for a U.S. visa through a liaison or travel agency. As a result, near all the Saudi hijackers were never interviewed about their intentions to come to the U.S. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the key facilitator with bin Laden and operational lead Mohamed Atta, obtained a U.S. visa at a U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia while living in Pakistan and submitting an alias through a travel agency.

In the aftermath of 9/11, one of the few things the 9/11 Commission did not have to bludgeon the State Department about for long was the absolute importance of visa interviews to enable Foreign Service officers to ask more direct questions to determine true intent in seeking a U.S. visa. For the past 10 years, the State Department has been conducting interviews much more thoroughly, and hundreds of terrorists have been identified and stopped from coming to the U.S.

Now, the State Department is lobbying DHS to be permitted to go back to skipping interviews. State must consult DHS, as the Homeland Security Act of 2002 gives DHS the authority to make visa policy. State cannot stop the interview process without DHS's approval, but we have heard not one word of pushback from Secretary Napolitano to date. Instead, State is attempting to quietly obtain support. State, I am told by reliable sources, is lobbying Capitol Hill, briefing Senate Democratic staff on its proposal to start waiving whole classes of aliens from the visa interview requirement.

In April 2011, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services David Donahue set the stage, testifying that foreign visitors added $134 billion to the economy in the prior five months and visa issuance was up 13.4 percent. These statistics argue that enhanced security for those seeking to come to the U.S., including the visa process, is supporting a healthy economy. Moreover, we are safer through a combination of more stringent visa interviews, immigration enforcement agents supporting consular officers, and a stronger watchlists.

Nonetheless, Donohue in April began the process of requesting that Congress support a rollback on the visa interviews:

Eliminating some categories of applicants from the personal interview requirement would help cut wait times and staffing costs. Under INA sec. 222(h), the Secretary of State has the authority, subject to certain limitations, to waive the personal interview requirement on the basis of a U.S. national interest or if necessary because of unusual or emergent circumstances. We are considering whether there are limited categories of low-risk applicants from low-risk countries for which the Secretary might exercise her interview waiver authority without compromising the security or integrity of the visa process. This is a step forward we will take only with concurrence from our law enforcement partners and with your support.

Today, State is actively making the request to DHS, and the request is much bolder: basically, to not interview applicants in almost all non-immigrant visa categories from the 36 countries participating in the visa-waiver program. Need we remind Congress and DHS yet again, that the U.S. non-immigrant visas obtained by three of four 9/11 pilots were issued in Germany, a visa-waiver country?

The State Department's short memory for such facts would qualify it for the role of Dory in government's production of Finding Nemo. And here I thought DHS was a slam dunk for the part.