Understanding Immigration

In this episode, we discuss how President Biden and his administration have outright ignored the 9/11 Commission's national security recommendations.

What is Understanding Immigration?

The Federation for American Immigration Reform's podcast bringing you the most important news and information about U.S. immigration.

Matthew:
Hi there and welcome back to episode 41 of FAIR’s understanding immigration podcast this is Matthew Tragesser FAIR’s press secretary and joining me today is Spencer Raley from FAIR’s research department and Preston Huennekens from FAIR’s lobbying department this month marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people on American soil it was undoubtedly the largest and deadliest terrorist attack in our nation's history in the aftermath of 9/11 the federal government issued a security framework to protect the U.S. from another attack like this now key parts of this framework address dangerous deficiencies in our immigration system including securing and managing our borders and forcing and administering immigration laws and also preventing terrorism in general but yet 20 years later many of these 9/11 commission recommendations remain unimplemented in many cases the Biden administration has blatantly ignored these suggested and urgent reforms you look at the crisis at the southern border you look at what it's done to interior immigration enforcement it's virtually non-existent and you look at how it has inadequately vetted Afghan refugees seeking resettlement in our country all this is extremely worrying to say the least so today we'll be focusing this episode on the 9/11 attacks how they happened through our immigration system how the Biden admin continues to undermine the commission's recommendations and what changes need to be made with our immigration policies to enhance our national security so Spencer let's start off with you obviously it's a very tragic day in our nation's history and 19 terrorists hijacked four planes on this day by first obtaining visas into our country a variety of them clearly our government failed to effectively detect these harmful actors and they should have never been allowed entry into our country and they should have been aware of them while they're in our country so can you speak on how these terrorists were able to obtain these visas and perhaps also talk on how they were able to exploit our immigration system?

Spencer:
Right they're really kind of two failures like you mentioned on this whole front the first was how did they get into our country in the first place how did they integrate into society how did they plan and carry out this tragic event and then how are they able to move around within our country why are they able to get on airplanes things like that all questions that need to be answered that's why the 9/11 commission was formed to answer some of those questions now of course I don't want to make this a podcast praising the TSA because let's face it the TSA is largely a joke study after study shows that you can get through almost anything you want through airport security without much trouble and a lot of their other rules are just headshakingly dumb they're put there just to kind of give the guys of some sort of security so that people feel better about flying however there were some very common sense rules that were not in place prior to 9/11. for example people did not have to show a valid ID before flying we didn't scan much luggage and you could actually get all the way up to your gate and in some cases people have gotten on planes already without even having a boarding pass to check some of that stuff after you were on the plane so as much of a joke as the TSA was there's a lot less security required to fly pre-TSA and I was a big reason that these terrorists were able to get onto the plane so that was one aspect of course that the 9/11 commission was supposed to address and they did to some degree but an even bigger enabler for these terrorists was our lax immigration policies for example a number of these terrorists from that day had overstayed their visas and the main reason so many people are able to overstay their visa and especially during that time period is because we were really bad at ensuring people left the country when they were required now to fix this 9/11 commission recommended a biometric scanning system to be put in place for both entry into the country and exit out of the country and some of this has been put into place most airports have some sort of a biometric intake system some of them but not nearly as many have a biometric exit system in fact I believe at this point it's only about 29 airports and 11 seaports that have bio biometric exit scanning equipment and more than 120 have biometric entries so there's still a lot of issues there the Trump administration tried to make headway and implementing these biometric scanning technology into airports so that we could tell whenever someone left the country we had some sort of confirmation and a lot of left-wing groups like the ACLU have been fighting that saying it's a violation of privacy rights and so forth and there might be some valid concerns with that as far as American citizens are concerned there are a lot fewer when it comes to migrants who you are not entitled to those same subjective rights that American citizens are entitled to but even more so in a system where we need to be able to ensure those that come into the country leave the country when they're supposed to whether they're here on a tourism visa or they're here on business student visas something like that we have to be able to ensure that they've left the country additionally the feds aren't cracking down on those that do overstay their visas now that's really concerning to me the according to the latest DHS visa overstay report more than 676,000 individuals stayed beyond the time frame allotted by their visa in fiscal year 2019 and today the Biden administration is doing very little to pursue these visa overstayers in fact almost all of them fall outside of the very narrow apprehension and deportation priorities implemented by the Biden administration which basically means we have no idea who specifically is overstaying their visas and what they are doing in this country concerningly another DHS report showed that nearly 18% of visa holders from Syria overstayed their visas and again this is after this is like doing kind of a postmortem on hey who overstayed our visas we finally a year two or more later tracked them down and we found that 18% of those from Syria overstayed their visas and similarly the overstay rates for Afghanistan Somalia and Sudan were all around 13% for Yemen it was 29% (wow) that's a really troubling figure because all these are countries that have a history both current and in the past of developing and harboring terrorists individuals that want to harm western countries and the United States and we're coming out these reports months and years later saying oh yeah they overstayed their visas we never even knew it so what is going to stop an enemy of the United States from exploiting this loophole from exploiting these weak immigration policies and quite frankly immigration policies that are becoming weaker by the day?

Matthew:
Right I mean those are good points spencer and a lot of this is just reflective of how inept and incompetent our government is or it has been in the last 20 years or so it seemed like in many ways we had ways to prevent these attacks from happening and we didn't we couldn't and obviously this revealed true vulnerabilities within our immigration system within our federal agencies and we have to be able to track those who overstay their visas whether they're harmful actors or just everyday people in some cases with the 9/11 attacks we had our government duplicating licenses for some of these terrorists who were also some of them were already on watch lists and we get duplicating these licenses total mess and then we also one thing which we can talk about a little bit more in depth is a lot of these federal agencies that had information on these actors CIA FBI they weren't effectively communicating this information with each other and they were withholding it and we look back at these attacks and it's like well one agency had this piece of crucial information on one guy and another agency had another piece of crucial information and so it's like you can only imagine what would have happened if we had really a cohesive communication strategy between these agencies now Preston after 9/11 there was this bipartisan commission that met to discuss how to avoid future attacks like this how to mitigate these national security risks and they released a number of recommendations I mentioned this briefly in the in the beginning of the episode but this includes items like securing and managing our borders and enforcing and administering immigration laws preventing terrorism and in all these mission areas seem pretty obvious normal something that any country would should implement should address and yet 20 years later a lot of these areas are still not being addressed in some cases right now the Biden administration is blatantly ignoring them doing the complete opposite so can you talk about how the administration is going against these recommendations and not really fulfilling them right now in just under a year?

Preston:
Absolutely and it's again important to stress that the 9/11 commission had a huge huge huge section on immigration law and how our immigration system really left us vulnerable to these kinds of attacks and so there were three aspects of the commission's findings that argued that we needed to enhance security and management of our borders administer and enforce our immigration laws and then use our immigration laws as a tool to prevent terrorism and enhance national security so I’ll go through each of those really quickly before we move on to the discussion particularly with how President Biden and his administration have really dropped the ball on all of these and I before we do get into this I do want to say that it is not just the Biden administration every administration even including George Bush who lived through this the immigration provisions really haven't been ever put into place they very quickly focused on passing the patriot act and consolidating all of the all these different agencies into the department of homeland security but after that a lot of this was forgotten so while I am going to fault the Biden administration for not following them today we do have to acknowledge that the Bush administration failed at this the Obama administration failed at this absolutely and Trump while Trump was certainly I think the best of those four in terms of trying to get some of this through he did at the end of the day fail in many of these respects right he wasn't able to push a lot of these through congress so this is a failure really of four presidencies but Biden was in the senate when this happened he it's not like the 9/11 commission is some new document to him so right when it comes to securing and managing our border I think President Biden has clearly not only failed at this but has actively worked against this and he stopped border wall construction under President Trump he terminated the successful Remain in Mexico policy which allowed us to hold asylum seeking migrants in Mexico while their court cases occurred in the United States preventing them from just wandering in the U.S. that allows us to get more information on who they are before they come to the U.S. and get work permits he ended asylum cooperation agreements with the northern triangle countries which is really bizarre in my opinion those were going to be very helpful in stopping illegal immigration to the U.S. and stopping people from undergoing this journey to come to the U.S. and to try and claim asylum when most of them won't get it in the in the end and then and additionally under his policies and the policies of his department of homeland security they've released hundreds of thousands of unvetted migrants into the country this has national security implications this has health implications with covid 19 very as we discussed with Representative Ronnie Jackson very few of these people are being tested for covid almost none of them are vaccinated against covid there is a known hesitancy among that population group to get to get covid vaccines and to wear masks and the Biden administration has essentially done nothing just wrapping that up to secure our borders they've done the complete opposite when it comes to administering and enforcing immigration laws unfortunately Biden has been just as bad at that as he has been at securing the border under current ICE policy unless an illegal alien entered the U.S. after November first 2020 unless they're a terrorist or a terrorist threat or unless they've committed multiple violent felonies ICE is not allowed to detain them and put them in removal proceedings so think about that anyone that was here before November 1st 2020 as long as you're not a terrorist and as long as you don't have violent felonies on your record ICE cannot really do anything to detain you and arrest you and that really handcuffs ICE that is the reason why I think the Washington Post reported back in May that only ICE is averaging one arrest every two months think about that is this is one of our largest law enforcement agencies in the country they're in half of their job is detaining and arresting migrants in the interior of the country who have no business being here and they're and they're averaging one arrest every two months that is how that is how much Biden’s policies have crippled immigration enforcement in this country and that's directly from the top that's this is not some sort of thing that has just come about this is a direct initiative undertaken by secretary Alexandro Mayorkas and President Joe Biden to immigration enforcement in this country and this just goes back to the fact that we have some 14 million illegal aliens living in the United States that is growing every month as we see more as we see the apprehension numbers go up and our government really does not know anything about these people the vast majority don't pose security risks that's clear a lot of them are here to just work but the events of 9/11 demonstrate that it only takes a handful of bad actors to lead to tragedy and we know for a fact that there are groups extremist groups that have discussed using the southern border as a way to get people into the United States particularly as airports have become more secure and there are there is more vetting at airports and it's harder for people to catch a flight from Yemen and get to the U.S. and then plan a terrorist attack it's in many ways if you want to be undetected it's much easier to just come in through the southern border pretend that you're claiming asylum and then just go to where you want to go.

Matthew:
Well and that's why or that's how this year so far there's been at least three or four individuals who are on the terror watch list arrested at the southern border I think a few were from Yemen one from Serbia and those are only the individuals that we've caught there are many more thousands per month that we have no idea how they're crossing the southern border illegally and the border patrol doesn't have the bandwidth to apprehend them so yeah it certainly presents risks.

Preston:
Yeah and this that ties in nicely to the final point from the 9/11 commission which was using immigration laws to prevent terrorism and enhance national security and that ties in so you said we've had people that we've apprehended that are on the terror watch list we know that because of their documentation because they're known to law enforcement but there's lots of people who could show up to the border or show up as a potential refugee and claim that they just don't have any documents we're seeing that now with the people that we've flown out of Afghanistan our the Obama administration's handling of afghan refugees was as poorly planned as the military evacuation we evacuated at least 60,000 Afghans to the U.S. it's likely higher only a fraction of these individuals are special immigrant visa holders who helped the U.S. military in some capacity the rest are unknown individuals who just made it into the airport before the evacuation deadline and many of these people have no documentation at all they have no identification at all and what are we going to do are we going to we closed our embassy we closed our military bases there we have no intelligence presence in the country what are we going to do ask the Taliban hey we need to we need to make sure that this person is who they say they are of course not it's so it's ridiculous to think that any of these people are going to be able to be vetted in the way that we probably need them to be and it's just ridiculous that the Biden administration is claiming well we're gonna we're gonna vet all these people and it's gonna be thorough it's gonna be done the way that we do it for everybody but if you just use critical thinking that is impossible yeah that is impossible to vet people without some sort of presence in the country without some sort of ability to look at documents from Afghanistan to engage with people that are still in Afghanistan and ask them about the people who are now in the U.S. on military bases or people who are currently going through the refugee processing process and despite these concerns there's hundreds of thousands of Afghans now that are likely going to that are likely going to be here for those that don't get the SIV visa they're going to either be paroled or Biden could just issue TPS if he wanted to right I mean completely within his right to do that and there'd be nothing that opponents of that could do to stop him and so all anyone any Afghan that made it here is here to stay and I think that simply wraps up the this idea that the Biden administration has completely ignored or gone against the spirit of any of these recommendations from the 9/11 commission.

Matthew:
Right Preston I mean they've had obviously numerous opportunities to fulfill and address many of these 9/11 commission findings and instead it has done virtually the opposite the southern border is as porous as ever we're having unvetted migrants from extra continental and terror prone nations arrive at our southern border obviously you mentioned the lax immigration enforcement now we're shielding dangerous criminal aliens from arrest and deportation I mean that is a major problem and of course the Afghan refugee resettlement approach has brought in thousands of unvetted refugees from quite literally the highest ranked terror prone country in the world according to many studies so this is all a bad combination to say the least now maybe it's not so much doomsday yet there's still a number of opportunities and chances that our country can meet a lot of the 9/11 commission's recommendations whether it's through more pressure on the Biden admin I don't know through congress or maybe even the next administration republican or democrat Spencer what are some items that we would like to see that would help us mitigate or hopefully just prevent any risk of a terror attack not like 9/11.

Spencer:
Well there are really several things we have to do and first of all we need to take those recommendations from the 9/11 commission seriously we have to finally implement mandate and strengthen REAL ID most states have implemented some form of it a few more were in the process and through covid they delayed that by a year or two but even in that even when you consider that you're looking at many states that are giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens the documents that they're given can even get through some of the real ID system so that's been blunted a little bit so we have to strengthen the vetting system even within real ID just to make sure that those who have a document that will allow them to get on an airplane to get on a train to travel freely within the country ensures that they are in the states legally that they are not on any kind of terror watch list don't have a history of any of these kind of acts just to secure who can move about freely within the United States the other thing we mentioned this already is we have to fully implement a biometric entry exit system we have to track those that are in the united states know that they are within the terms of their visa and if they're not we have to pursue them we have to remove them ensure that they leave that's not happening right now so those are some of the legal immigrant systems Preston’s already talked a little bit about the need to vet those especially the Afghanistan situation vet those refugees and even SIV applicants that are coming into the United States we have already seen multiple instances where individuals were flown out of Afghanistan on these evacuation flights that had ties to terrorism and that's not acceptable and we already know that even comparing an Afghanistan to an Iraq we talked about this in a previous podcast it's a lot harder to vet people from Afghanistan but instead of looking at that saying okay we need to tighten up the process we need to slow this whole thing down we've actually removed a lot of the vetting requirements that we had for Iraqi SIV and refugee applicants and are just letting these individuals into the country I mean this even goes beyond national security concerns right now we're looking at a potential national health issue coming up with a number of the refugees that have come from Afghanistan testing positive for measles and that's an extremely contagious and dangerous disease thankfully many people most people in the United States are immune to that they're vaccinated but there are many that aren't many of these most of these migrants probably aren't and now they're being held in close quarters the recipe is perfect for an outbreak in that extent as well so there's just a lot of risk that could just very easily be mitigated with some of these common sense measures the other thing we talked about that needs that we need to work on is the southern border we need to continue to work on the border wall with that we have seen proven effects of that in the areas where Trump built the built or improved the border wall we saw that even prior to the Trump administration the San Diego sector border wall it was extremely effective and it either deterred individuals to try to go through less favorable areas to illegal immigrants in the United States such as the Arizona desert it's a lot hard easier to see people in a desert than in a forest or a mountain or just deter them all together it makes it a lot easier on border patrol to do their job of course we talked about the migrant protection protocols the supreme court has not placed an injunction on that those need to be fully re-implemented to the degree that they were before in order to be effective and just so many other things that we need to we need to continue to work on as well we have to continue our interior immigration enforcement let ICE do their job if someone has overstayed a visa they violated the terms of their visa if they're a criminal let ICE arrest these individuals let's put them through the process and let's send them home there's no reason why someone who is a foreign national should be allowed to stay in our country while they are committing crimes it goes against every tenet of common sense and finally like you mentioned Matthew we have to start sharing information between states the federal government and states within local jurisdictions this whole instance of even cities within states not sharing information because one is a sanctuary city for illegal aliens and the other one's not it's not good it's not good for enforcing state laws it's definitely not good for enforcing federal laws or ensuring our national security when you have cities that are actively protecting individuals for the sole reason that they are in the country illegally again it makes no sense it's dangerous it's based on thoroughly debunked logic this whole idea that well they won't they won't report crimes or something of that sort is based on absolutely no there's no real data to back that up so these are just some things that quite frankly could be implemented today (yeah) many of these things it's perfectly within the delegated powers to the president to use his pen and say hey reimplementing fully reimplementing MPP letting ICE do their job in fact it's easier to argue that it is outside of the presidential delegated authority to tell them they can't do some of these things so it's not like these are going to take massive acts of congress that can't get through a gridlocked house or senate in order to pass these are simple measures and there's really no excuse for not passing them but here we are.

Matthew:
Yeah 20 years later and still really we're still we still have a lot of deficiencies in these systems and as you mentioned I mean there really are a number of ways to help reduce chances of another terror threat a terror attack like 9/11 but I think it's also important to at least acknowledge that not all of our national security threats will be mitigated or prevented by fixing our immigration system and so but starting here would obviously be the most effective practical and literally one of the most inexpensive ways to reduce these risks and without reversing course here the administration poses really unacceptable risks of future attacks to our country it's head scratching as we said like why won't they these don't take large efforts to implement a lot of these solutions that we've mentioned here now Preston going back to you I mean have any of these recommendations been found in any recent legislation are they kind of essentially been forgotten under the Biden administration's leadership have they pressured congress to focus on other areas and is it have these solutions taken really a back seat?

Preston:
Yeah these solutions have definitely taken a back seat they for the most part have been forgotten but I wouldn't put the blame with the Biden administration again these recommendations have been published for over two decades now I mean not almost two decades about but yeah the end of the Bush administration they could have worked with congress to pass these the Obama administration could have done this the Trump administration could so it's not only Biden’s fault that these haven't been put in place but and it also it's almost an issue of inertia right an example of this is real ID this is something that is extremely uncontroversial all you have to do is go to the DMV and essentially upgrade your driver's license or upgrade right yeah you just got it and it's but this is something that has been in the law for years and years and years but every time the deadline comes up successive presidential administrations have extended the deadline for it so now for instance the deadline has been kicked down the road until 2023 I’d be shocked if they don't extend it again because for whatever reason they just love it's almost like TPS right where it's what everyone else did before you so when you're president you're like oh well I guess I’ll just do the same thing (temporary permanent) yeah and so even though real ID is on the books unless you unless you finally say look we are enforcing this and you cannot get on an airplane without one of these then it's just a paper tiger which is essentially what it is now but there's in terms of legislation there's obviously been legislation to address illegal immigration at the border that's a big topic it's a topic obviously that we discuss quite a bit it's a topic that people are interested in but one of the big issues isn't necessarily the border although it is a big issue and we've discussed the national security concerns there but one of the biggest issues are just visa overstays and the way that ICE is set up right now is that they can't their hands are tied in dealing with this we need to hire more ICE agents we need to hire more immigration judges who can adjudicate these cases when they come through we need to allow ICE to crack down on employers who are hiring people because that's also a bit that's a big concern too is that it's a lot easier to do a raid at a chicken plant and arrest the owners of the chicken plant who hired all the illegal aliens arrest all the illegal aliens and prosecute both of them for their respective crimes but ICE isn't doing that right now so it's not an effective use of their resources the immigration courts obviously have a huge backlog so we need more immigration judges and we have to stop some of the just like Spencer was saying some of the simple common sense issues that we have we should not be giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens or any kind of government issued ID.

Matthew:
Yeah I think it's 16 states plus DC now.

Preston:
Right and so there's there are there are there is a bill in the house and the senate called the stop green lighting driver licenses for illegal immigrants act in the house it's got 17 co-sponsors it was introduced by Representative Ken Buck from Colorado and in the senate Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee introduced it with seven co-sponsors but again these really aren't going to go anywhere because republicans don't have the white house they don't have either chamber of congress but there are simple things that we can do to be more in line with the spirit and the letter of the 9/11 commission and I think it starts with entry exit system and empowering ICE more than they already are cracking down on visa overstays getting control of our border and hiring more immigration judges.

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