Testimony prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
June 27, 2002
By Mark Krikorian
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
H.R. 5005, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, would add to the president's cabinet a Department of Homeland Security, including, among other things, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Given the stated mission for the department of preventing terrorist attacks within the United States and reducing our country's vulnerability to terrorism, it is clear that the enforcement and inspection elements of the INS must be included in such a new department. After all, the Border Patrol, INS investigators, and inspectors at land, sea, and air ports of entry are America's last line of defense in this new kind of war, where the "home front" is no longer a figure of speech, as it was in the past, but instead the most important front of all.
But what of the other immigration functions, such as adjudicating applications for permanent residency or citizenship or asylum? Should they also be included in this new Department of Homeland Security? The answer must be yes.
That certainly is the view of President Bush, who said in his message to Congress about this measure: "The Secretary of Homeland Security would have the authority to administer and enforce all immigration and nationality laws..." Gov. Ridge likewise told the Senate just yesterday, "To make the system work, the right hand of enforcement must know what the left hand of visa application and processing is doing at all times."
Given his actions on the eve of World War II, it would appear that Franklin Roosevelt would also agree. The precursor of the INS was established in the Treasury Department in 1891 and moved to the new Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903. But in 1940, as war neared, the INS was moved to the Department of Justice, the body then tasked with ensuring homeland security. Immigration scholar Vernon Briggs has written of the move that "It was feared that immigration would become a way of entry for enemy spies and saboteurs," and President Roosevelt himself said the change was made for reasons of "national safety." A history of the INS describes its war-related duties: "Recording and fingerprinting every alien in the United States through the Alien Registration Program; ... constant guard of national borders by the Border Patrol; record checks related to security clearances for immigrant defense workers..." Given the stated intention of Islamic terrorists to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, today's direct threat to our homeland is even greater that the threat posed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan six decades ago, and thus the reorganization of our homeland security effort must not be less comprehensive.
Nor are any of the various proposals to separate the enforcement and service functions of the current INS inconsistent with moving both immigration functions to the new department. As Gov. Ridge recently said of the INS, "If you're going to change the culture, it's not a bad idea to put it in another new department and then bifurcate it." Whether the INS stays unified but simply clarifies its chains of command the Clinton and Bush administrations' original approach or is broken into two separate bureaus within a single department the approach endorsed by this House all its functions can and should move together to the new department.
But why is this important? The central reason is that the provision of what the INS calls "immigration benefits" employment authorization documents, permanent residency, asylum, or citizenship is inherently two-sided. It consists both of a welcome for legitimate applicants and the enforcement of the law against those who do not qualify. Only by placing immigration services within the new Department of Homeland Security will those charged with providing those services be likely to fully appreciate their importance in ensuring homeland security.
This is not mere theoretical speculation. The Center for Immigration Studies has examined the immigration histories of 48 foreign-born al Qaeda-linked operatives who took part in terrorism within the United States over the past decade (the report is on line at http://www.cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/articles/2002/terrorism.html). We found that these terrorists used almost every conceivable means to enter the United States. At the time of their crimes, one-third of these terrorists were here on temporary visas, primarily as tourists, and thus would have little if any interaction with INS's service personnel. An additional one-fourth were illegal aliens, and thus subject, at least theoretically, to INS enforcement activities. However, fully one-third of the terrorists were Lawful Permanent Residents or naturalized citizens, and an additional three were applicants for asylum.
An examination of the history of these enemy agents shows extensive contacts with the INS's immigrant-services personnel and highlights the law-enforcement element of providing immigration benefits. And, in fact, prior last September's attacks, the majority of the militant Islamic terrorists over the last decade had been persons living legally in the United States as permanent residents or as naturalized citizens, and thus had extensive contacts with INS's immigrant-services personnel.
Whom we give citizenship to is a homeland security issue. Citizenship allows an immigrant, as it should, to come and go freely and to work at any job; it forecloses the possibility of deportation and bestows all the protections of the U.S. Constitution. Six al Qaeda terrorists were naturalized U.S. citizens, including some of the worst. For example, El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990 and is one of the earliest militant Islamic terrorists in the United States, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was later convicted as part of the larger conspiracy to bomb landmarks around New York City. Nidal Ayyad, a chemical engineer who provided the explosive expertise for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, was also a naturalized U.S. citizen. Egyptian‑born Ali Mohammed, who is widely regarded as having written al Qaeda's terrorist handbook detailing how to pick targets and operate in the West without detection, and who was involved in terrorism as far back as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is also a naturalized U.S. citizen. And Khalid Abu al Dahab, described as "a one‑man communications hub," shuttling money and fake passports to terrorists around the world from his California apartment, is another naturalized American citizen.
The recruitment of naturalized citizens is a conscious al Qaeda strategy. A report in the November 21, 2001, San Francisco Chronicle quoted an Arabic‑language newspaper account of a confession by Dahab; according to the Chronicle, "Dahab said bin Laden was eager to recruit American citizens of Middle Eastern descent." When Dahab and fellow terrorist and naturalized citizen Ali Mohammed traveled to Afghanistan in the mid‑1990s to report on their efforts to recruit American citizens, "bin Laden praised their efforts and emphasized the necessity of recruiting as many Muslims with American citizenship as possible into the organization."
Whom we grant green cards to is also a security issue. Not only is it a step toward citizenship, it allows one to live and work permanently in the United States with few, if any restrictions. It also allows one to leave and return to the United States without the restrictions that apply to nonimmigrants, not to mention illegal aliens.
Consider the case of Mahmud Abouhalima, one of the leaders of the first World Trade Center bombing, who became a legal resident after falsely claiming to be an agricultural worker, allowing him to qualify for a green card as part of an amnesty passed by Congress in 1986. It was only after he became a permanent resident that he was able to come and go freely and make several trips to Afghanistan, where he received the terrorist training he ultimately used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Had he been prevented from receiving a green card he would not have been able to leave the United States and then return as a trained terrorist. His receipt of a green card greatly facilitated his terrorism and was an important factor in al Qaeda's being able to stage the 1993 attack. In all, 11 LPRs have been convicted or pled guilty to their involvement in terrorism.
The frequent contacts such people had with INS service personnel represented repeated opportunities to uncover their terrorist conspiracies. The vital improvements we seek in gathering and sharing intelligence on terrorists are only likely to reach their full potential if those who consider applications for residency, citizenship, etc., come to see their role as central to homeland security and use those new intelligence tools and that cannot happen if immigrant services are housed outside the new Department of Homeland Security.
The role of INS's services division in tripping up terrorist conspiracies doesn't even take into account widespread immigration fraud by the terrorists. For instance, several terrorists have engaged in fraudulent marriages to American citizens, such as Dahab, as well as Fadil Abdelgani, who took part in the plot to bomb New York City landmarks. Also, terrorists have provided false information on their applications for permanent residence, such as Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who inspired several terrorist plots.
In January of this year, the General Accounting Office reported that such immigration benefit fraud is "pervasive and significant." (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0266.pdf) It found that INS officials were well aware of this problem; anti-fraud officials in Los Angeles said that immigration benefit fraud is "rampant across the country," a Miami fraud unit official stated that fraud is "out of control," while a Nebraska Service Center official told GAO that fraud is probably involved in about 20 to 30 percent of all applications filed.
The acting head of the INS's Immigration Services Division testified before this subcommittee three years ago that immigration benefit fraud had increased in both scope and complexity in recent years and that exploitation of the benefit petition process by criminals and criminal organizations had generated serious concerns. He stated that criminal aliens and terrorists manipulate the benefit application process to facilitate expansion of their illegal activities.
Interactions with the INS's service personnel need to be seen for what they are not only opportunities to grant benefits to legitimate applicants, but also opportunities to weed out terrorists, criminals, and others who mean us harm. This homeland-security aspect of immigration services is essential, and is unlikely to be carried out properly if the INS's functions are split among different executive departments.
Finally, there is the question of whether the quality of service provided to immigrants would suffer if all immigration functions were moved to the new homeland security department. Placing all of INS in the new department makes sense for immigrants and non-immigrants alike. It is very important that those charged with enforcing the immigration law understand the rights enjoyed by immigrants and foreign visitors. But if enforcement is laced in an entirely different executive department from services, it is much more likely that those charged with enforcement might ride roughshod over the rights of non-citizens. There is also the very real danger that immigrant services might not receive adequate resources if they were to be separated so completely from enforcement. Given the large number of al Qaeda terrorists who have violated immigration laws, it is understandable that money would be more likely to flow to immigration law enforcement, but we should not allow the war to become a reason for neglecting our responsibility for the expeditious and professional provision of services to people we have invited to live or visit among us. Separating the two may inadvertently create this possibility.