By Stephen Dinan
September 18, 2014
Islamic State militants could come to the U.S. through the front door, using America’s “loose and lax” legal immigration system to gain a foothold here, the president of the union that represents immigration case officers said Thursday in a scathing letter.
From “loopholes” in the asylum system to failing to go after immigrants who overstay their visas, the government has left security vulnerabilities, said Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council.
He said visa overstays are prime targets for recruitment by radical elements such as the Islamic State, which also goes by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL.
“In addition to the extremely real and serious threat that ISIS has already or will soon slip across our porous southern border, it is also essential to warn the public about the threat that ISIS will exploit our loose and lax visa policies to gain entry to the United States,” Mr. Palinkas said in the letter.
The U.S.-Mexico border has received significant attention in recent weeks after some social media posts suggested Islamic State terrorists could cross into the U.S. and conduct operations here.
Republicans have said it’s more evidence of a border security problem in the southwest, while Obama administration officials have said it’s a reason to be vigilant, though they said there’s no concrete evidence terrorists are looking to use the southwest border to gain entry.
But Mr. Palinkas’s warning letter said America’s front door may be a bigger problem, and he said potential bad actors may already have used it.
“The 9/11 hijackers got into the U.S. on visas and now, 13 years later, we have around 5 million immigrants in the United States who overstayed their visas — many from high-risk regions in the Middle East,” he wrote.
He said his fellow caseworkers at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that approves legal visa and immigration applications, are not allowed to do the kinds of investigations that could keep bad actors from gaining entry.
“Applications for entry are rubber-stamped, the result of grading agents by speed rather than discretion. We’ve become the visa clearinghouse for the world,” he said.
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