Nothing Good Left Untouched: Senate Bill Puts National Security, Public Safety at Risk

By W.D. Reasoner on May 2, 2013

I've been closely reading the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill introduced into the Senate (the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act"). And I have to admit the more I read, the more I feel sullied. To say it is deeply flawed is a sad understatement, like describing a catastrophic category-5 hurricane as a "bad storm".

There are a number of key national security failings of the bill, but here I want to address Section 2104(d), obtusely titled "Effect of Failure to Register on Eligibility for Immigration Benefits". This title is misleading; in point of fact, it is a forgiveness clause that excuses failure to register by aliens from certain special interest countries. It does so by gutting the relevant portion of the federal regulations directing the registration. Designated "special interest countries" are those placed on a list out of concern that they are breeding grounds of extremism, and whose nationals merit more scrutiny. The regulation was the backbone of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) implemented after 9/11, amid concern over the likelihood that other dangerous individuals might be living in the country illegally or traveling in and out. When nationals from designated countries arrived or departed, their activity required registration. Such registration was to ensure that their movements in and out of the United States could be tracked.

Note I'm using the past tense here. Although the Senate bill would gut the regulation, in May 2011 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — whose primary mission is to protect the homeland against terrorism — took the enlightened step of eliminating the list of countries whose nationals required registration. I know it's hard to believe in a post-9/11 world, but it's true. Take a look at the DHS webpage.

Now the Gang of Eight want to ensure that no list can ever be resurrected by future administrations, by statutorily killing the underlying regulation. This is a puzzling position for the conservative members of the Gang of Eight —particularly Sens. Graham (R-S.C.) and McCain (R-Ariz.) — to take. I don't get it.

But that's not all. I've been reflecting on the three fellows now charged with obstructing justice by helping Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, get rid of evidence. One, Robel Phillipos, like Dzhokhar himself, is a naturalized citizen originally from Ethiopia. (I have commented recently about our flawed naturalization process, and the harsh reality that background checks aren't very effective and we should therefore be wary of admitting huge numbers of immigrants, so I won't say any more on that.)

It's the other two that interest me more. Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19 years old, are from Kazakhstan and came to the United States on student visas, but apparently were here illegally. Kadyrbayev flunked out of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth at the end of the fall semester, thereby forfeiting his student visa, but stayed in the United States anyway. Tazhayakov's visa had been "terminated" in January, but for some unexplainable reason, he was allowed to re-enter the country anyway. The media reported several days ago that, even before being charged criminally as Dzhokhar's accomplices-after-the-fact, they had been arrested by federal immigration officers for violating their status.

Here's the thing: Had Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev not belatedly been sussed out by the FBI (apparently they were indiscrete in their use of text messaging), these two young men would be eligible to stay in the United States as "registered provisional immigrants" under the amnesty provisions of the Senate bill, because they entered before December 31, 2011, and fell out of status, with only "brief, casual, and innocent" departures from the country (as the bill would define it).

Related Topics:

For more on the dozens of other, equally preposterous provisions embedded in the bill under obtuse or deceptive titles, see Jesssica Vaughan's blog "Senate Bill Rewards & Protects Lawbreakers, Undermines Law Enforcement".

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people out there just like Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev. What can we really say we know about them? Do we trust background checks to tell us what we need to know? Why should we risk, on an enormous scale, the public safety and national security of our citizenry, by going along with a broad-based amnesty that rewards criminal behavior and ignores fraud? What else is going to get overlooked along the way? How many more radicals will be given the right to stay and do us harm?

I'd call the bill a "Little Shop of Horrors" but at 800-plus pages, there's nothing little about it. Some people say God is in the details; others say the devil. Having gotten to know and understand the details of this bill, I can say with certainty there's nothing heavenly in it.