|For Immediate Release
May 11, 2011
Contact: Jessica Baker, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement
Hearing on H.R. 1741, the Secure Visas Act
Chairman Smith: In light of Osama bin Laden’s death, some believe the “war on terror” has ended, and that the threat posed by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups has diminished. This is far from the truth. In the words of bin Laden himself, “I can be eliminated, but not my mission.”
The 19 hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks applied for 23 visas and obtained 22. These terrorists began the process of obtaining visas almost two and a half years before the attack. At the time, consular officers were unaware of the potential indicators of a security threat posed by these hijackers.
Recent events underscore the need to strengthen and improve visa security. We know terrorists use loopholes in our immigration system to enter the United States.
After receiving a B2 tourist visa, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a plane on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Thankfully, his attempt was thwarted and hundreds of innocent lives were spared.
Although he failed in his attempt to murder innocent people, Abdulmutallab never should have been allowed to board the plane to Detroit. Despite warnings from his father about his son’s possible Muslim radicalization, the U.S. visa issued to him in 2008 was neither identified nor revoked.
More recently, Khalid Aldawsari, a 20-year-old who entered the United States from Saudi Arabia on a student visa, was arrested on February 24, 2011, on terrorism charges, including attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.
While Aldawsari was screened by the visa security units, he had never come to the attention of law enforcement before because he was a “lone-wolf” actor and he never demonstrated any harmful or criminal tendencies.
Authorities only learned of him on February 1, 2011, when a shipping company and a chemical supplier called authorities to report a suspicious attempt to purchase a large quantity of Phenol, a chemical that can be used to make explosives.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 authorized the placement of Department of Homeland Security Visa Security Units at “highest-risk” U.S. consular posts. This was an effort to address lapses in the current system, increase scrutiny of visa issuance, and prevent terrorists from gaining access to the United States. Visa security units ensure that thorough background checks are conducted on all visa applicants, not just a select few.
The intent of the visa security units is to ensure that national security, and not meeting the demands of foreign nationals for visas, is the number one goal of our visa issuing process.
Unfortunately, since 2002 neither the State Department nor DHS has put a high enough priority on the establishment of visa security units. Visa security units exist only in 19 consulates located in 14 countries. Meanwhile, there are close to 50 countries that have been designated as “highest-risk.”
Last week, I introduced legislation to make the visa process more secure. H.R. 1741, the Secure Visas Act, requires placement of Visa Security Units at all U.S. consular posts in highest-risk countries such as Algeria, Lebanon and Syria.
H.R. 1741 also grants the Department of Homeland Security Secretary the authority to revoke a visa in cases like that of the Christmas Day Bomber and to delegate that authority to appropriate agency officials. These are common-sense steps that ensure no one who seeks to harm our country is able to enter and stay in the United States.
In addition to making it harder for terrorists to enter the U.S., the Secure Visas Act allows U.S. officials to remove suspected terrorists and others with revoked visas who are already in the U.S.
Under current law, an alien terrorist in the U.S. whose visa has been revoked can remain in the U.S. to fight their deportation in federal court and force the government to release classified information. Giving litigation rights to terrorists makes no sense. The Secure Visas Act closes this loophole and allows the terrorist to be removed from American soil without threatening the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods.
Many national security officials warn of future attacks. We don’t need national security officials to simply predict attacks. We need them to prevent attacks. That means we must prevent terrorists from entering this country before they act. This legislation allows us to do just that.
Visa Security is critical to national security. Terrorists will continue to enter the U.S. legally if we do not improve and secure our visa process.
The September 11th hijackers, the Christmas Day bomber, and the Texas university student terrorist serve as proof that the war on terror continues and that radical jihadists are as committed as ever to killing Americans. America must be equally committed to stopping them.