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Broken By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 08, 2006

While the White House argues with the Heritage Foundation over how many new immigrants will be minted by the administration’s immigration plan, and Congress debates how many miles of fencing they should fund along the Mexican border, no on is paying attention to the real immigration scandal. If left unattended, this one could cost the lives of millions of Americans, not just their livelihoods.

Even as we speak, tens of thousands of illegals from terrorist-sponsoring states are roaming the streets of America, according to a stunning new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

Although the report was completed by mid-April, DHS did not to release the 52-page indictment of our nation’s immigration system until May 19, three days after DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff briefed the press on the administration’s immigration reform plan.

Just to make sure the report received little attention, it was released on a Friday, when Congress and most newshounds had left for the weekend, and did not merit even a press release.

It should be required reading for anyone seriously concerned in immigration reform – which may be why you’ll have a hard time finding it on the DHS website. You can download it here.

The report reveals that 45,008 aliens from countries on the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terror (SST) or from countries that protected terrorist organizations and their members (SIC) were released into the general public between 2001 and 2005, even though immigration officers couldn’t confirm their identity.

Even worse, “it is not known exactly how many of these SIC and SST aliens were ultimately issued final orders of removal and actually removed, since such data is not tracked” by the Detention and Removal Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the report said.

The report estimated that 85% of those released aliens “will abscond,” even if deportation orders are issued.

Do the math. That means that more than 38,000 individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, whose identities could not be verified and who could be working for terrorist groups, are today roaming the streets of America.

And if they’re smart – and undoubtedly, they are – they have already acquired new identities and have melted into American society.

“The release of these OTMs [Other Than Mexicans] poses particular risks,” the Inspector General report said. The report cited a recent U.S. intelligence assessment indicating that “terrorist organizations… believe illegal entry into the U.S. is more advantageous than legal entry for operations reasons.”

But the scope of the problem goes way beyond these 45,008 illegals from terrorist-sponsoring and harboring nations.

At an April 6, 2006 hearing of the House International Relations subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, Rep. John Culberson (R, Tx) said he recently confirmed with FBI Director Robert Mueller that “a number of individuals from countries with al Qaeda connections are changing their identities. They’re changing their Islamic surnames for Hispanic surnames, adopting false Hispanic identities… and hiding among the flood of illegals coming over our border and disappearing into the country.”

In other words, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a clue how many potential terrorists have gotten through our porous borders and have simply changed their names.

This should be our absolute, number one top priority when it comes to immigration reform. If we can’t tell who’s coming across our borders, we will not be able to prevent the next terrorist attack.

The Inspector General report notes that from 2001 through the first half of 2005, 605,210 Other Than Mexicans were arrested for violating U.S. immigration laws.

But a lack of beds at detention facilities and other factors compelled the government to release 51% of them into the general population, while awaiting an immigration hearing on their final status. And in many cases, the government was never able to verify the identity of the people it released.

“It is not clear the extent to which decisions to release OTMs  are being made on a risk-based versus resource-based manner,” the Inspector General report stated. “Even if risk is considered, the high release rate could undermine the public’s confidence in the department’s ability to secure our northern and southern borders.”

Sometimes you just love the understatements that flow from a skilled bureaucrat’s pen.

Also testifying at that April 6, 2006 hearing was Michael J. Maxwell,, who had recently been squeezed out as the top security official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Maxwell’s story, which I relate in more detail here, is absolutely hair-raising. He told the committee of missing criminal files, and of being ordered by his superiors to lie to Congress about his agency’s failings. He detailed an open illegal immigration corridor from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico and into the United States that was ripe for exploitation for foreign intelligence agencies.

But most troubling were his assertions that corrupt immigration officers were providing documents to alien smuggling rings, that could wind up in the hands of terrorists.

“It is not only USCIS employees who have been corrupted,” Maxwell said.  “Written allegations set forth by USCIS employees, interviews conducted as recently as yesterday with USCIS line employees and high-level managers, internal USCIS communications, and external investigative documents prepared by independent third agencies, compiled and delivered to this Congress over the last year, make it abundantly clear that the integrity of the United States immigration system has also been corrupted and the system is incapable of ensuring the security of our homeland.”

Our immigration system is so broken it cannot be fixed.

Forget the numbers game. Forget the November elections, and the lobbyists. Forget the finger-pointing. It’s time for an extreme make-over.

Congress knows what needs to be done. Here are just a few top priority items:

  • We need to hire thousands of new federal officers in each of the three branches of the immigration service. (CIS, which handles immigration applications; ICE, which does enforcement; and Customs and Border Patrol, which stands at our borders).
  • We need to institute reliable biometrics in a U.S. government identity document issued to all resident and non-resident aliens. (President Bush came out in support of this earlier this week).
  • We need to break down the institutional barriers that prevent immigration officers from accessing intelligence information to do background checks on aliens.
  • We need to actively prosecute corrupt officials, rather than cover-up their activities because they are politically embarrassing.
  • And most importantly, we need to stop the rush to rubber-stamp new immigrants so the new system can be put in place before more potential terrorists slip through.

The slow-down in the immigration processing is going to make people angry. But the alternative is explosively clear.

Just as we can’t make our ports 100 percent terrorist-proof (or child-proof, for that matter), we will never manage to construct an immigration system without flaws.

But we can raise the costs for terrorists to the point where they will seek some other way of penetrating our system.

That is what the Bush administration has done successfully with maritime security over the past four years – notably, through the Container Security Initiative and the installation of radiation detection devices.

It’s time to treat immigration as the goal line of our national security system, because the terrorists are on the five yard line and the ball is in play.

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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