George Rafidi was a Ramallah-born Palestinian Arab living and running businesses in Cameroon County, Texas, just across from Mexico, until he got caught up in a federal money-laundering investigation. Rafidi's lies and obfuscations about past terrorism activity against Israelis apparently went unnoticed on a 2012 application for U.S. citizenship and on pre-2008 applications for asylum and lawful permanent residence. Rafidi’s prevarications about membership in the U.S.-designated terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), including an Israeli arrest and prison term for violent activity, were discovered not during security vetting on his 2012 citizenship application, but through a federal money-laundering investigation years later, in 2018.
In 2019, Rafidi was convicted of covering up his PLFP activity and Israeli conviction on all of these applications dating to 2003, as well as for more recent citizenship-disqualifying criminal activities. For instance, ICE Homeland Security Investigations raided Rafidi's home and businesses, charging him and associates for allegedly operating illegal "eight-liner" slot machine casinos. Rafidi defeated national vetting systems three times on applications for asylum in 2000, lawful permanent residence in 2003, and U.S. citizenship in 2012, after the 9/11 attacks led to security vetting reforms. Due diligence checks at any point after 2003 and 2012 (or perhaps even prior to 2000) likely would have revealed Rafidi’s terrorist affiliations, particularly a check with the Israeli government intelligence services.
Federal court records alleged that Rafidi, after flying to the United States on a tourist visa in 2000 and overstaying it so that he could claim asylum, criminally failed to disclose that he served the PFLP from 1994-1996, and also that Israel in 1997 had convicted him of membership in an illegal group and for brokering a weapons purchase. Israel gave Rafidi an 18-month prison sentence, but freed him later in 1997 after only four months as part of a prisoner exchange.
The 2012 citizenship application was still pending when Rafidi came under investigation for operating illegal gambling machines and money-laundering in 2018, prompting an immigration officer to interview Rafidi in Cameron County, Texas. The FBI investigation led to immigration fraud charges and conviction but gained no assistance from immigration security vetting.