Friday, November 9, 2001

Attention, terrorists: Want a U.S. visa? Worried about America’s so-called immigration “crackdown” in response to the September 11 attacks? Have no fear. If you’ve got cash, your green card is in the bag.
Last weekend, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that federal officials had arrested a Saudi national accused of accepting bribes for U.S. visas. Abdulla Noman worked for the U.S. Commerce Department and issued visas in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An informant told FBI agents that he paid Mr. Noman “approximately $3,178” in 1998 for a U.S. visa. Mr. Noman was nabbed last week during a visa-buying sting operation in Las Vegas. Investigators are probing Mr. Noman’s possible links to the September 11 hijackers 15 of whom received their visas legally in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Noman’s arrest, coupled with new measures to “tighten” the foreign student visa program, may appear to close off easy access to American green cards. But terrorists need not worry. There are plenty of other ways to purchase U.S. visas. These cash-for-visa schemes are advertised widely on the Internet, in international newspapers, and by the U.S. government itself.
Take the EB-5 immigrant investor visa offered by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. It allows up to 10,000 wealthy foreigners and their families each year to buy immigrant visas in exchange for business investments. The law says the down payment must be at least $500,000. But former INS officials-turned-private consultants successfully lobbied for loosened financial rules. Despite recent reforms, the scam continues around the world.
Here is what one immigration firm, Acker Choquette Advocates based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, promises Middle Eastern immigrant investor applicants on its Web site: “Financing is available, with low initial cash investment of U.S. $136,000.00. Minimum physical presence in the U.S. is all that is required, along with the intent to remain a permanent resident.”
We sell visas like used cars: Cheap, quick and sleazy.
Here’s another: The E-2 treaty investor program allows many foreigners (including those from Egypt, Oman and Pakistan) to enter the country without INS approval if they fork over a modest $150,000 investment and agree to manage U.S.-based businesses. The E-2 visas take as little as two days to process and can be renewed indefinitely. Investors can bring their spouses, children and “key employees” with them.
Then there’s the “245(i) provision” of immigration law, which allows visa overstayers to pay a measly $1,000 fee and “adjust their status” without leaving the U.S. Usually, these alien lawbreakers would be forced to leave the U.S. and reapply for visas in their home countries (which involves fresh background checks). Many would be barred from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years. But under 245(i), passed by Congress with bipartisan support, more than half a million foreigners forked over the token fine between 1994 and 1997 and avoided legal hassles.
More than 800,000 additional illegal aliens are expected to pay for cheap “adjustments” as a result of recent congressional extensions on the program. Call it a green-card, blue-light special.
Finally, there’s the “U.S. Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia. Throughout the terrorist-friendly Saudi kingdom, applicants can simply file their visa paperwork through travel agencies and courier companies for a small fee without having to appear in person or submit to extensive background checks. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh brags:
“Applicants will no longer have to take time off from work, no longer have to wait in long lines under the hot sun and in crowded waiting rooms, and no longer be limited by any time constraints.”
It’s such a relief to know that potential terrorists who want to penetrate our borders won’t get sunburns or sore feet waiting for their green cards.
Over the past month, American officials have bent over backward to assure touchy Saudis that we have made absolutely no changes “in determining visa eligibility as a result of the [September 11] attacks.” Visa Express has been expanded. Moreover, State Department employees remain banned from communicating with foreign governments about their citizens’ visa applications making it virtually impossible to verify vital information.
Which is more important: the safety of American citizens or the comfort of wealthy Middle Eastern aliens? Until our embassy officials wipe the sand from their eyes and stop selling American visas blindly to every foreign investor waving cash, homeland security is a pipe dream.

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