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BY TOM MITSOFF
Three strikes and you’re out, right?
If that’s so, then the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is standing in the batter’s box with a beaten-up, weathered bat ready to face the foreign enemies of our country, who have read the scouting report and are ready to pitch to our weaknesses.
Last week, the government agency charged with regulating immigration in this country notified a Florida flight school that visas were approved for two of its students -- more than a year and a half after the students had already received training!
The INS delivered the student visa approval notices for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi six months to the day after they had died -- an obvious indication that tracking of the status of foreign visitors to our country is lacking, to say the least.
Oh, did we mention that Atta and Alshehhi died after hijacking two jet liners on Sept. 11, 2001 and crashing them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, helping to murder more than 3,000 people and destroy a large part of Manhattan?
How did the INS miss that one? It was in all the papers!
One would think that the names of 19 Arab immigrants who were responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would be posted boldly in every INS office as reminders of what went wrong. And even if they aren’t posted, wouldn’t it stand to reason that managers and employees of that agency would have some knowledge of those individuals and some knowledge of the fact that they had received flight training in Florida in 2000 which enabled them to turn three airliners into flying bombs?
This would be akin to someone in the Bush administration hiring Monica Lewinsky as a personal assistant. Anyone would say that such an individual would have to be completely asleep at the switch and have no business being in a government office or position.
Enter the INS.
This agency is charged with reviewing applications for immigration into the United States by people who are not citizens of our country. Once those individuals have entered, the INS is supposed to have some knowledge of their whereabouts and status. That is not to say that an immigrant who wanted to elude the INS and other agencies couldn’t do so. We have learned that one of the benefits of living in a free society is that people of all ethnicities are treated as equals with equal rights under the law. We don’t detain people on the streets or even in airports only because they fit a certain profile.
But even non-police states need to protect themselves and their citizens. It appears obvious that the INS not only is not equipped to do that, but is so lacking in effectiveness that the names of two murderers of over 3,000 people on American soil did not raise a red flag anywhere within the process of notifying their flight school that they had been issued student visas.
President Bush’s response was that “we’ve got to reform the INS, and we have to push hard to do so.” He reacted angrily and called the blunder “inexcusable,” but if we could look inside the man, we would bet that he was scared as well.
Remember all of those so-called “sleeper cells” of terrorists that are supposedly still here in the country, waiting to be activated by a signal from al-Qaeda leadership? If they are here, they are probably not shaking in their shoes waiting for the INS to find them.
However, law-abiding American citizens should be scared. Let’s just hope Saddam Hussein doesn’t apply for a visa.
This column was written March 16, 2002, and published in several print and web publications across the country.
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