New York bombings raise further concerns over US immigrant screening

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Concerns over US immigrant screening continues to grow following a spate of terror attacks that hit the US in the space of 12 hours in September 2016. Attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota on September 17 – 18 have fuelled speculation that US immigration authorities are failing to identify threats to national security.

As news broke that suspected New York bomber, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was born in Afghanistan, obtained a green card and then became a US citizen, Republicans quickly moved to slam the US government’s immigrant screening process.

Revelations that Dahir Adan - the man responsible for the stabbing spree in Minnesota - was in the US as a refugee from Somalia, led to more concerns about the immigrant screening system.

Sanwar Ali, Editor of News has the following comments to make;

During the Presidential election campaign anti-immigrant statements by certain Politicians has increased.  Trump has used the terrorist attacks as an excuse to make a number of anti-immigrant statements to get votes while at the same time employing many immigrants in his various companies on visas such as the US H-2B visa and H-1B visa.  Trump has support from many extreme Neo Nazi groups that have terrorist supporters.  One of the biggest terrorist threats in the US is actually from members or supporters of US neo-Nazi or “alt-right” groups many of whom seem to be Trump supporters.  For many years it was the case that more terrorist related deaths in the US was due to members of white supremacist groups than due to extreme Islamist groups.   Despite having a daughter whose husband is jewish Trump rarely criticises these Neo-Nazi groups Trump’s campaign which has promoted xenophobic attitudes has made far-right extremist groups more popular.  

In June 2015 the New America Foundation found that since the September 11 attacks (9/11) in 2001, attacks in the United States by white supremacist groups had resulted in 48 deaths compared to 26 deaths due to radical Islamists.   However, in July 2016 since 11 September 2001 it was found that Militant Islamists had caused the deaths of 94 people compared to 48 deaths caused by right wing extremists.

While it is of course sensible to look at ways of combatting the threat from ISIS inspired terrorists it is also sensible to look carefully at the threat from white supremacist terrorists. Otherwise there is a danger that the Trump campaign will make terrorist attacks by neo-nazi groups more likely.

Claims that US government lacks intelligence on immigrant threats

In the aftermath of Ahmad Khan Rahami’s arrest, Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, along with GOP lawmakers, said that the government ‘doesn't know enough about people from countries with terror connections — such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia — to keep justifying their continued access into the US.’

During a presidential campaign stop in Estero, Florida Trump said: “These attacks, and many others, were made possible because of the extremely open US immigration system, which fails to properly vet and screen the individuals or families coming into our country. Immigration security is national security.”

The attacks in New York are the latest in a series of terror related attacks. Less than 12 months on from events in San Bernardino, California, orchestrated by American-born Syed Rizwan Farook of Pakistani descent and Pakistani born Tashfeen Malik, the US has suffered no fewer than 11 terrorist-related incidents including the most recent ones.

The most devastating of these occurred in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016, where 50 people were injured and 53 were killed in an attack on a gay nightclub, Pulse. The attack was carried out by 29-year-old, Omar Mateen, a New York born US citizen of Afghan descent. Mateen worked as a security guard and reportedly swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Senate discusses national security threats

On Monday September 20, Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky, took to the Senate floor to discuss national security threats facing the US from terrorists overseas and those who have entered the country.

Republican senator for Florida, Marco Rubio, said: “The attacks are a reminder that the US needs to enhance the vetting of immigrants to ensure we are not granting citizenship or refugee status to terrorists.”

Meanwhile, Republican representative for South Carolina, Jeff Duncan, said: “The US must ‘indefinitely suspend’ all forms of US immigration from countries classified as terrorist safe havens by the State Department.”

On social media site, Twitter, Steve King, the Republican representative for Iowa said: “The country’s news media will continue featuring terrorist attacks followed by press conferences featuring their enablers.”

Following a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal audit, carried out on Monday, September 20, it was discovered that 858 foreign nationals were ‘mistakenly’ granted US citizenship, despite having outstanding deportation orders pending against them.

The audit slammed the DHS and the FBI for failing to digitalize their entire bank of fingerprint files. Investigators said that this failure had resulted in a number of ‘persons of interest’ being able to apply for US citizenship using fake identities

Claims US Immigration lacking right tools

Michael McCaul, the Republican representative for Texas and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has long argued that the federal government lacks the resources to properly screen people arriving in the US from nations with strong ties to Islamic extremism. He referred to the DHS audit as proof.

McCaul said: “In order to prevent individuals like these from slipping through the cracks, we must quickly digitize old fingerprint cards and bring our immigration process into the 21st Century.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have slammed Trump for constantly scapegoating immigrants, cr his calls to build a wall along the southern border, primarily to keep out Mexicans, and his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US at all.

However, in California, following the San Bernardino incident, Democratic Senator for California, Dianne Feinstein pressed for a bill that would restrict entry into the state, via a special visa waiver, if a person had been to Iraq or Syria in the last five years.

Following terrorist atrocities in Paris last November, with some believing that the attacks were orchestrated by Syrians entering France posing as refugees of war, some Democrats argued that the US should temporarily cease its Syrian refugee programme. Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic representative for New York suggested a ‘pause in the Syrian refugee program to ensure the system was working.’

Clinton supports improvements to the immigrant screening system

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, said that she had ‘long favored improvements to the USA’s ability to screen immigrants.’ Clinton said: “I am absolutely in favor of, and have long been an advocate for, tough vetting.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has vehemently stood in defence of its ability to vet foreign nationals trying to enter the US. Recently, the administration revealed plans to increase the number of refugees up to 110,000, up from 85,000 in the year 2015-2016 and 70,000 in the period 2013-2015.

Over the last 12 months, the DHS has found itself constantly defending the country’s screening system for immigrants. In a recent statement, the Department said: ‘Refugees must undergo in-person interviews abroad and have their names run through federal terrorism and criminal databases. Syrian refugees go through more screening, where federal officials check their backgrounds against classified information, a process that can take up to two years to complete.’

Jeh Johnson, the DHS secretary, acknowledged that the current system could be made better, but in November 2015, Johnson had declared the screening system to be ‘sound.’

Johnson said: “We now do a better job of connecting dots, consulting all the right databases and systems that we have available to us.”