The recent terrorist attack in New York City, which took the lives of eight people, and was perpetrated by an Uzbek Uber driver, in the United States on diversity visa, has led to the latest heated reexamination of our immigration system. President Trump accused Democratic minority leader and New York Senator Chuck Schumer of masterminding the diversity visa, which helps bring in random people, and he asked Congress to drop this type of green card lottery admission, in favor of a merit-based system. Others take issue with the family reunification visas that allow family members of citizens and permanent residents to apply for visas, under the premise that families should be kept intact, because families build stronger communities and support each other through difficult times in their new home. What’s missing from the evaluation of various types of visas on security grounds is the most obvious point: any type of visa can be exploited by frauds, criminals, terrorists, or spies if there are no proper vetting procedures in place.
Clifford Smith of the Middle East Forum, writing last summer, suggested that screening for ideology, particularly Islamism, which presents as much of a threat to today’s Western societies as Communism once did, would help prevent the exploitation of these visa structures by clever actors with ulterior motives. The Middle East Forum’s analysis of more effective screening procedures have made their way into a proposed immigration bill. I would suggest that such commissions should stay away from theological discussions on what constitutes “radical” or moderate Islam, and focus instead on three objective security criteria: the actor’s past activities and associations, ideology (i.e. proclivity for violence, attitude towards women and minorities), and goals.
Such an objective scheme would do away with any chance for personal bias, and could also apply in a wide variety of circumstances, not just with respect to any particular ideology, religion, or worldview. As we know, threats shift, ideologies evolve, and religious fervor rises and falls as other movements replace it — and our immigration system and national security apparatus should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever is the most troublesome at the moment. The good news is, such a screening approach would work well with any type of visa, so that in the future consideration of various types of visa, security could be taken out of the equation as a distinct consideration, and other goals of the immigration systems could be reexamined and addressed dispassionately.
Others argue that no amount of background research can work without behavioral screening, which has been particularly successful in Israel. Specially trained airport agents examine people of all backgrounds for consistency in response to a variety of questions, developed by experts. Notice that terrorist attacks in Israel come from the domestic context rather than from terrorists flying in from outside. Knowing what to look for and situational awareness as to suspicious behavior or lying has managed to screen out many a bad apple. I would argue that whichever system or combination of systems one prefers, the central concern is as much about who is doing the screening as who is being screened. Unfortunately, the discussion not currently on the table is that the State Department is not necessarily sending well trained and aware professionals to stamp passports and grant visas.
This dilettantish approach to security results in many “good people” getting stuck in places they really don’t want to be, whereas clever manipulators familiar with the systems know just what to show and to say to get by — and sometimes don’t even have to go so far. Overwhelmed, low level consulate and embassy workers are frequently unfamiliar with the languages, culture, or unique security issues of many of the countries they work in and simply lack the skills for high level “extreme vetting.” There should be nothing extreme about taking common sense factors into consideration. Fair screening ideally involves a high degree of professionalism, education, familiarity with the issues, as well as skills for dealing with all types of people, rather than the minimal general briefing these consulate workers frequently get. That means, however, a long overhaul of the entire State Department system and culture, for which there is a need of a devoted high level administrator, situational awareness of all the factors involved, and how they appear, and most importantly, political will.
And political will is the factor that is currently lacking. A prime example of that is the death by inaction of the effort to reform the controversial EB-5 investor visa. The requirements for the visa are as follows:
To qualify as an immigrant investor, a foreign national must invest, without borrowing, the following minimum qualifying capital dollar amounts in a qualifying commercial enterprise: $1,000,000 (U.S.); or. $500,000 (U.S.) in a high-unemployment or rural area, considered a targeted employment area.
EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. USCIS administers the EB-5 Program. Under this program, entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if they:
• Make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and
• Plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
This program is known as EB-5 for the name of the employment-based fifth preference visa that participants receive.
Congress created the EB-5 Program in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. In 1992, Congress created the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as the Regional Center Program. This sets aside EB-5 visas for participants who invest in commercial enterprises associated with regional centers approved by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth.
To put it very simply, the idea is that if you invest a substantial amount of money into the U.S. economy, you get an automatic path to citizenship. This concept was developed in the 1990s as a way to boost the flailing economy, gained a great deal of backing in the 2000s, and fell into disfavor in the last few years, as a host of economic downsides and security problems came to the surface. Some of the factors that brought forth skepticism about this visa on efficacy and security grounds from such people as Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, included:
• A tendency for uneven investment, with some of the poorer areas of the country getting no attention, whereas big urban centers getting the bulk of the profit.
• Exploitation by frauds thanks to malleable and amorphous language in the body of the screening forms.
• The fact that up to 84% percent of these visas in recent years went to Chinese nationals.
• The discovery by the Department of Homeland Security of a number of Chinese and Iranian individuals with links to intelligence in their countries utilizing these visas for the purpose of espionage, active measures, and other activities undermining U.S. national security.
The State Department’s tendency to favor investment considerations over other factors led to what may be a widespread mismanagement of the system. To date, this is the only type of visa for which there is no accounting of how many people and from which countries are granted the green card annually. We simply have no idea who and how many of such people are in the U.S. thanks to EB-5. Perhaps the State Department keeps track of everyone who is granted this visa, but this information is not available to the public, and makes any sort of study of individuals taking advantage of this opportunity nearly impossible.
As a result of heated discussions between more critical lawmakers like Grassley, and strong supporters, such as the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, there was some limited consensus towards reform of the system, which would include more effective screening procedures, a higher security threshold, a quota restriction by country, and other such measures. However, with the uncertainty of a heated presidential election, it was decided to wait for cues from the next administration, which, as we now know, shifted the focus of the discussion towards other immigration reform issues, such as the crackdown on illegal immigration, the renewal of DACA, refugee admission policy, temporary immigration restriction on a country basis, and restrictions on the work visas.
In light of the recent renewal in discussing the placement of a better screening system for immigrants, it is time to return to this EB-5 question. Danger to our country’s security may come just as much from educated engineers, such as highly ideological 9/11 terrorists, as from poor Uber drivers. And the danger can be as immediate and violent as a terrorist attack and as imperceptible as the building of IRGC-linked Shi’a “cultural centers” and mosques by wealthy Iranian investors in California, where individuals are brainwashed into supporting positions counter to U.S. interests. Let’s face it, a country in which all the wealth is distributed by the government, like North Korea, and the yearly salary of an average government employee does not exceed $15,000 per year, who can afford to pay $500,000 to $1,000,000 for a visa? The answer is, someone very powerful, who, without a doubt, is connected to the regime and pursuing goals that further that regime’s agenda. It is our job to push for reexamination of such irresponsible policies, which let in hundreds, if not thousands, of wealthy promoters of the regime’s policies who “invest” in our country’s economy by sponsoring anti-American education or building gathering centers for extremists, and to go back and scrutinize anyone who came into the country under such a visa, provided the State Department has not already “expunged” these records.