Townhall, July 26, 2021
Jihadist hate for Jews allegedly inspired 24-year-old Egyptian Khaled Awad on July 1 to viciously stab Boston-area Rabbi Shlomo Noginski outside a Jewish day school. Suffolk County authorities are planning to charge the Egyptian chemical engineering student with domestic-terrorism-related hate crimes, and the father-of-12 rabbi is recovering from his eight stab wounds.
But this latest attack should not yet fade from public view without note that it squarely underscores a Biden administration move less than a week later that almost surely will condemn more Americans to Rabbi Noginski’s fate.
Fox News disclosed that the Egyptian was in the United States illegally on an expired student visa known as an “F-1”, granted in 2019 and maintained even after he was implicated in an earlier anti-Semitic attack less than a year later on a Jewish University of Florida roommate. Awad remained in the country after he eventually dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he found opportunity to strike.
This was the latest of far too many foreign students from Muslim-majority nations who, once allowed to enter the front gates on their F-1 visas, attacked or plotted since one of the 9/11 hijackers paved that same way in.
Almost without media notice less than a week after the Rabbi Noginski attack, on July 6, the Biden Department of Homeland Security withdrew a September 2020 regulation from the Federal Register that would have subjected F-1 visa holders from Egypt and many other countries of well-founded national security concern to badly needed oversight and security vetting.
Proposed Rule 2020-20845 prominently cited the threat of violent Islamic terrorism — and also an outbreak of Chinese espionage by researchers granted cultural exchange J visas — as justification for requiring student visa holders of 59 countries to renew them every two or four years and to check that they are still in good standing at universities. The most valuable part of the process would have had DHS agents conduct eyeball-to-eyeball interviews with renewal applicants. The agents also would collect biometric information, spot-check progress at academic institutions, and double-check that original claimed purposes remained valid.
This periodic regimen would have made sure not only that F-1 visa holders from those countries were keeping their end of the bargain, but provide opportunities for suspicious activity referrals to the FBI. It would have amounted to the first real government oversight on programs whose beneficiaries worldwide always enjoyed open-ended, self-reporting schemes that allowed for indefinite years of visa renewals largely free of close oversight or security vetting opportunities.
But just when the regulation was on the cusp of approval, the Biden administration cancelled the whole reasonable repair.
In its official explanation, the Biden administration pointed out that 99 percent of those who commented on the regulation — a great many of them likely the affected foreigners, school administrators, and exchange visitor programs — just didn’t want to go through all the bothersome rigmarole for their generous host nation’s security interests. The regulation, opponents most frequently complained, “would significantly burden” them with extra cost and time, would discriminate based on nationality, and would deny them access to “immigration benefits.”
That’s weak soup, taking into consideration past attacks and plots involving F-1 visa holders, like El Mehdi Semlali Fathi of Morocco, who got in on one in 2007 and drew an FBI counterterrorism arrest and 2014 federal prosecution for immigration fraud after plotting to fly drone bombs into Harvard University and federal buildings. Or Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a Bangladeshi student visa holder connected to overseas al Qaeda operatives and who plotted to detonate what he believed was a 1,000-pound bomb at the New York Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan.
Or Saudi Arabia citizen Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, caught in February 2011 buying the final component chemicals for bombs he planned to use in service of global jihad. Aldawsari had gotten in on an F-1 to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University, but failed out and switched to another school in violation of his visa, a fact that went unnoticed.
Plenty more fill the ranks.
Continued Vulnerability to Chinese Espionage, Too
In spiking the regulation, Biden’s administration also opened the nation to another major national security threat that would have been reduced: China’s continued exfiltration of America’s most important and cutting-edge defense research.
For nearly two years now, the FBI has nabbed dozens of Chinese Communist Party spies who, while posing as graduate students and research scholars at top academic institutions, siphoned out America’s national defense knowledge for untold years. The spies, many secretly members of China’s military services, had to get in close to do this grave damage and found an unguarded path through the F visas, but also the cultural exchange “J” visas.
Trump’s regulation was good, apolitical governance that America sorely and obviously needed.
All of the arrested Chinese spies used the visas to relieve top American research institutions and their naïve professors of their most sensitive and prized national defense research. (See this, this, this, this, this, and this.)
The now-dead regulation put all of this simply: “These changes would ensure that the Department has an effective mechanism to periodically and directly assess whether these non-immigrants are complying with the conditions of their classifications and U.S. immigration laws, and to obtain timely and accurate information about the activities they have engaged in and plan to engage in during their temporary stay in the United States.”
What could be so terrible in any of that?
The sad probable truth is that a life-saving piece of governance died of petty political avarice over one fact about it: that Trump was the one who proposed it.
Those who see that as bad for America must keep Proposed Rule 2020-20845 in a back pocket until circumstances allow for its reintroduction.