Contact: Steven A. Camarota
How Have Terrorists Entered the U.S.?
WASHINGTON — A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies examines how foreign terrorists entered and remained in the country over the past decade. To provide a more complete picture of the threat, the report examines the immigration status not only of the September 11 hijackers but of all 48 foreign-born, radical Muslim terrorists, almost all of them linked to al Qaeda, who have been charged, convicted, or admitted involvement in terrorism in the United States since 1993.
The report, entitled "The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered and Remained in the United States, 1993-2001," by the Center's Director of Research Steven A. Camarota, contains immigration histories for each of the 48 terrorists. Contrary to claims that foreign terrorists have come only as temporary visitors, research indicates that they have manipulated almost every possible means of admission to the United States: Some have indeed come as students, tourists, and business travelers; others, however, have been Lawful Permanent Residents and naturalized U.S. citizens; while yet others have snuck across the border, arrived as stowaways on ships, used false passports, been granted amnesty, or been applicants for asylum.
The report is on line at www.cis.org/articles/2002/Paper21/terrorism.html.
Among the findings:
"Because every part of our immigration system has been exploited by terrorists, we cannot reform just one area, but must address the problems that exist throughout," said Camarota. "The solution is not to single out Middle Easterners for exclusion or selective enforcement. Instead we need to more carefully check the backgrounds of all visa applicants, better police the borders, strictly enforce the law within the country, and, most important, reduce the level of immigration to give the INS the breathing space it needs to implement fundamental reforms."
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: While no security can be foolproof, if only some of those involved in a terrorist plot can be stopped by our immigration system, then it is possible that whatever conspiracy they are involved in will unravel, as was the case with the Millennium plot. Four general reforms are needed. First, improvements in how visas are processed overseas are needed, including more vigorous background checks and interviews for all visa applicants. Second, the fact that terrorists often flout the law means that strict enforcement of immigration law within the United States could reduce the terrorist threat. Third, there needs to be a significant increase in efforts to police the borders. Improving visa processing while leaving the borders largely undefended is an invitation for terrorists to do as attempted Brooklyn subway bomber Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer did; having been denied a visa, he simply went to Canada and snuck across the border.
The fourth reform that is needed is a reduction in overall immigration, both temporary and permanent. Given limited governmental resources, issuing fewer visas would mean that greater resources could be devoted to background checks on each applicant. It would also mean fewer people to keep track of within the country. Most important, it would give the State Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service the breathing space they need to deal with enormous processing backlogs, now close to 5 million applications, and allow them to undertake necessary reforms. It is simply not reasonable to expect any agency, and especially the INS, to deal with such huge backlogs and take on steadily proliferating responsibilities and at the same time fundamentally restructure itself.
The Center for Immigration Studies is a
non-profit, non-partisan research organization that examines and critiques the
impact of immigration on the United States. It is not affiliated with