by Jim Kouri
The House of Representatives' Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, chaired by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), held a hearing entitled "From the 9/11 Hijackers to Amine el-Khalifi: Terrorists and the Visa Overstay Problem" last week, according to officials from the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP).
"This important hearing examined the track record of the Department of Homeland Security to secure the U.S. borders through the passport and visa system. It also addressed the challenges U.S. law enforcement faces in identifying individuals who overstay their visas -- specifically those individuals who entered the U.S. prior to implementation of post-9/11 reforms," said a Michigan police commander, Maj. George Thompson.
According to a DOJ press statement released last month, a 29 year-old Moroccan man, Amine el-Khalifi, was arrested by FBI agents for plotting to detonate a bomb during a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. El-Khalifi entered the United States in 1999 on a tourist visa that expired later that year, but remained undetected in the United States illegally since that time.
"This hearing gives [committee] members the opportunity to examine how gaps and vulnerabilities in the visa and immigration system have been addressed in the 10 years since 9/11, and review what deficiencies in tracking visa overstays remain," said Rep. Miller in a press statement.
A Government Accountability Office study reveals that U.S. border security efforts have been focused on securing the nation's northern and southern borders. However, more than 40 percent of all illegal aliens do not sneak across the northern and southern borders, but enter the U.S. legally through the front door and then never leave in spite of their visa expiration.
"The recent case of would-be terrorist el-Khalifi, the radical Islamist who allegedly attempted to conduct a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol, is not the first time terrorists have taken advantage of a weak visa system. In fact, he follows a number of terrorists, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, who overstayed their visas and went on to conduct terror attacks," said Maj. Thompson.
"There's so much that must be done to ensure the security of the U.S. visa system, including the ability to identify and promptly remove those who overstay their visa. What is especially troubling is that terrorists such as el-Khalifi lived illegally in the U.S. for more than 13 years before being identified by law enforcement," said New York City police officer Edith Miranda, who has worked on anti-terrorism operations within the vulnerable NYC subway system.
"This hearing examined the progress made since 2003 in identifying overstays, especially those who pose national security and public safety threats. It will also examiner the Department of Homeland Security plans to implement a robust visa exit system that will prevent terrorists from successfully exploiting the visa process," said Rep. Miller.