When in Doubt, Keep Them Out

By Mark Krikorian on January 12, 2010

Monday's Washington Times included a piece echoing Elliott Abrams's NRO article from a couple weeks ago: The State Department needs to get out of the visa business. It managed to hold onto to the visa process after 9/11 only with oversight from DHS, but State has continually fought DHS efforts to tighten up the process and "again and again has sided with foreigners seeking access to the United States." This is why, as my Center for Immigration Studies colleague Jessica Vaughan points out, State didn't even check whether the panty-bomber had a visa after his father's warning, let alone revoke it.

You can almost hear the State Department's unwillingness to turn down visa applicants in an NPR interview with Patrick Kennedy, who's in charge of visas: "There was not sufficient information, in and of itself, from what we were told, to revoke the visa." And this: "Once we have met the threshold of national security, we encourage international commerce including tourism." Actually national-security concerns are only one threshold — under the law (though inverted in practice), visa applicants are assumed to be planning to remain as illegal aliens until they prove otherwise. And the characteristics of a likely illegal alien are also those of a likely terrorist — single young men without much to lose. This is why at least 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists should have been turned down for visas on normal, non-security grounds.

Given that its function is diplomacy, the State Department understandably wants to be the Good Cop with regard to foreigners when it comes to visas. But for that to work there needs to be a Bad Cop, and that has to be DHS, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Then, when the deputy argiculture minister of Equatorial Kundu complains that his son's visa has been turned down, State can honestly say that it's out of their hands because the hard asses at ICE are in charge.