The morning of the 9/11 attack I was the Assistant Director for Investigations (ADDI) of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in San Antonio, Texas. I was a long way from New York, but I felt like the rest of the nation that what happened was in our backyard and it was personal. As someone who oversaw a program that was responsible for finding and arresting those who were illegally in the United States, I also sensed a point of failure.
Given the fact that the past and still current terrorist threat to the United States comes primarily from foreign-born individuals, enforcing our immigration laws in a meaningful way can and should make a difference. Of course, no immigration system can be completely beyond manipulation or abuse, but it does not have to be. However, there must be at least an attempt to wisely enforce our immigration laws to secure the homeland and protect the people of this nation.
While 9/11 was the most destructive in American history, the attacks of last September were not the first carried out by foreign terrorists on U.S. soil. We can all agree that part of the problem was, and is, the mismanagement of temporary visas, such as those issued to students and tourists, because all of the 19 hijackers were originally allowed into the country on temporary visas. Others have argued that there is a problem with illegal immigration, because at least three of the hijackers — four, if Zacarias Moussaoui is included — had overstayed their visas and were illegal aliens at the time of the attacks.
Terrorists have used almost every means of entering the country; however, we must attempt to close any loopholes that exist that make it easier for a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer to gain access to the homeland.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have made great strides to close many of the vulnerable areas but the need to secure the homeland has also been politicized to the extent that larger vulnerabilities have been created. This is where I think many politicians “have forgotten”.
The creation of databases such as the No-Fly List, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), etc., along with the various Joint Terrorism Task Forces and efforts like the Visa Security Program have all added some security and overwatch of those who want to do our homeland harm, but the politics of immigration enforcement has created vulnerabilities that make all those efforts less effective. If you are someone in this world who wants to come to the United States to do us harm and there exists any derogatory information on you or your affiliates, it’s more unlikely that you can get a plane ticket to enter the U.S. or a visa to enter.
“We must attempt to close any loopholes that exist that make it easier for a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer to gain access to the homeland”
The politicization of immigration enforcement at our borders has created a great vulnerability. The current Biden administration along with their open-border agenda has created a nightmare for those who spend their lives trying to secure the homeland. Again, those who want to do us harm will find it more difficult to get to the U.S. on a plane or with a visa, but they can easily enter the U.S. illegally through our southern border. So far this year, Border Patrol has arrested five individuals on the terror watchlist but what is more concerning is that there have been well over 300,000 got-a-ways. These are people who entered the U.S. illegally without arrest based on camera, drone, and sensor traffic. The Border Patrol says over 300,000 that they know of. The actual number is much higher.
If you are a terrorist, a gang member, a drug smuggler, you are going to take advantage of the current crisis and the fact that border agents are overwhelmed with this humanitarian crisis and cross undetected because at least 40 percent of border agents are not on the line because they are processing and caring for families and children. Yes, if you are a terrorist and want to get to the U.S. undetected you will cross the southern border like 20 million others did over the past decades. You will cross just as the 300,000 did and enter the U.S. and onward to your destination. For those that say there is no evidence of terrorists coming across the border, I say you are simply ignoring the data. For example, we know that over 100 Known or Suspected Terrorists (KST) have been encountered at the Darian Strait in Panama by officials working with Homeland Security Investigations. Most of them had a final destination of the U.S. Luckily, our enforcement relationship with Panama is good and many got deported from Panama. How many didn’t get arrested in the Darian Strait? We may never know.
Add to the fact that our border is more vulnerable than it ever has been because of politics, the fact that ICE has been crippled from enforcing interior immigration laws. ICE can no longer prioritize the arrest of any illegal alien for simply being in the U.S. illegally to include those with a final order of removal issued by a federal judge. The current ICE priorities as dictated by the Biden administration speak of recent border entries, those of national security concerns, and those who have been convicted of a serious aggravated felony. The vast majority (90 percent) of those ICE arrested last year, even though more than 91 percent were convicted criminals or pending criminal charges, are no longer a priority under the current administration. Of special note, none of the 9/11 hijackers would meet the current priorities. It’s now acceptable to be in the US illegally and overstay a visa because the current administration has halted enforcement actions against that population also.
And finally, add to those problems the fact that politicians have created sanctuary jurisdictions where local and state law enforcement are not allowed to work with ICE, we have created the perfect recipe for disaster. Again, politics that dictate these types of non-enforcement policies add to our national security vulnerabilities. The 9/11 Commission found that law enforcement should always work and share information with other law enforcement. These politicians forgot that also.