Earlier, I noted that the UK at least had begun planning to deal with its hundreds of citizens who went to fight for ISIS while the US and other similarly-situated Western countries have mostly wrung their hands over the issue. The US has a potentially bigger issue, though, in dealing with foreign nationals studying here legally. ABC News reports that the Department of Homeland Security can’t find more than 6,000 people living here on student visas — which sounds awfully familiar:
The Department of Homeland Security has lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who entered the United States on student visas, overstayed their welcome, and essentially vanished — exploiting a security gap that was supposed to be fixed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“My greatest concern is that they could be doing anything,” said Peter Edge, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official who oversees investigations into visa violators. “Some of them could be here to do us harm.”
Homeland Security officials disclosed the breadth of the student visa problem in response to ABC News questions submitted as part of an investigation into persistent complaints about the nation’s entry program for students.
ABC News found that immigration officials have struggled to keep track of the rapidly increasing numbers of foreign students coming to the U.S. — now in excess of one million each year. The immigration agency’s own figures show that 58,000 students overstayed their visas in the past year. Of those, 6,000 were referred to agents for follow-up because they were determined to be of heightened concern.
“They just disappear,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “They get the visas and they disappear.”
We are approaching the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, and it’s apparent that we have learned nothing from the attacks. More than a third of flight schools accepting foreign students still don’t have FAA security certification to prevent terrorists from training for another suicide flight. Congress was supposed to fix the visa system — and not just for student visas — in the wake of the 9/11 Commission report, which emphasized the need for better tracking of overstays and prevention of these kinds of disappearances. Commission co-chair Thomas Kean says that almost literally nothing has been done since:
Thomas Kean 9/11 Commission Co-Chair said the government has yet to address the security gaps the program has created. He said was stunned the federal government continues to lose track of so many foreign nationals who had entered the country with student visas. He noted that, even before the 9/11 terror attacks, federal officials had been aware of the gaps in the student visa program. The man who drove the van containing explosives into the World Trade Center garage in 1993 was also a student visa holder who was a no-show at school.
“It’s been pointed out over and over and over again and the fact that nothing has been done about it yet… it’s a very dangerous thing for all of us,” Kean said. “The fact that there’s been no action on this is very bothersome.”
Bothersome is certainly one word for it. Insane, suicidal, incompetent also come to mind. In part, the issue with visas has been caught up with comprehensive immigration reform, which has delayed any substantial action to fix the problem. The 9/11 Commission cited border security as another crisis that had to be resolved (on both borders, Canada as well as Mexico) after 9/11. All of these efforts have been stalled by political demands to include broad normalization and the lack of independent metrics for triggers to get to it. Congress should put aside the other immigration issues and deal with the national-security threats first, before we have to get taught the same lessons we should have learned thirteen years ago.