To hear recent broadsides by Muslim advocacy groups, there is almost nothing that the Bush administration can do to improve visa controls that isn’t motivated by a desire to discriminate against Muslims. When the Bremer Report was submitted to Congress in 2000, Hala Maksoud of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee criticized its most prescient recommendation, the tracking of international students, as “facilitating abusing behavior by the government.” A little more than two years and 3,047 innocent lives later, the practice of tracking foreign nationals is still criticized as discriminatory.
The National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) became effective on September 11, 2002. By it, the United States joins Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and the famously tolerant Netherlands in having a system of inspection that identifies visitors and requires them to alert immigration authorities of their whereabouts. It requires Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Libyan and Sudanese nationals to provide fingerprints, a photo and an itinerary upon arrival in the United States, and if their stay exceeds 30 days, to check in with the INS each month. These five nations were selected because they make up the bulk of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Saudi Arabian nationals are not, as a class, subject to mandatory NSEERS inspection.
Although NSEERS considers race not at all, Cyrus Mehta of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York complained, “This system … will certainly lead to racial profiling.” Also, “This decision is an affront to Iranians,” said Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, who threatened that America “will suffer for such an approach.” James Zogby of the Arab American Institute resorted to the old saw of comparing the United States to the Soviet Union. Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs issued a warning to Canadian citizens born in Middle Eastern countries, telling them to avoid travel to the United States.
But it was Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, who demonstrated how fully most of the world misapprehends U.S. law. He said, “These are discriminatory measures against citizens of Arab and Islamic countries,” and then went on to say, somewhat amazingly, that the Arab League was “conducting a legal study on those discriminatory procedures.”
If the “legal study” Mr. Moussa promised was actually conducted, it couldn’t have taken much time. In 1798, Congress claimed for itself the power to control immigration, and since then only citizens have possessed a plenary right to enter the United States. It’s because any other person who wishes to enter may do so only under conditions set by Congress that it is not legally possible for the United States to have an immigration policy that is, in the popular sense of the word, discriminatory. If Congress wanted to exclude blondes from the United States, it could do it.
Some cannot see NSEERS for the rational step it is because we live in an environment in which charges of discrimination are presumably valid, even those that lack legal support. Flawed though it might be, criticism that nationals of those five countries are unfairly singled out by NSEERS is more persuasive than Saudi complaints that their nationals are not exempt from the program. It bears repeating that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. And while most of the five nations now subject to NSEERS tend toward secularity, Saudi Arabia is as close to a militant theocracy as has ever existed.
Wahhabism is a creature of the House of Saud, which owes its existence as a ruling family to the 1744 pact between Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad bin Abdi al-Wahhab. Even today, the Saudi government functions as a coalition between the royal family and Wahhabi clerics. It promulgates a curriculum whose textbooks contain such chestnuts as “Jews and Christians are the enemies of believers, they will never approve of the Muslims, beware of them.” Saudi government money caused Wahhabism’s explosive growth, and if you credit the assertion that Wahhabism, with its requirement that the faithful Muslim destroy nonbelievers, inspired the September 11 attacks and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt about that then Saudi Arabia is a sponsor of terrorism.
Saudi nationals are not, as a class, required to submit to NSEERS inspection. But they are not exempt, and Saudi males posing an elevated national security risk are photographed, fingerprinted, and required to check in with the INS. Within weeks of NSEERS’ implementation, the Saudi government decided that it was important to fingerprint arriving Americans. In an Oct. 15 interview, the Saudi interior minister admitted that this was a response to the denial of a complete NSEERS exemption for Saudi nationals.
Saudi efforts to subvert American aims are more pernicious than the intolerance taught in schools. Last October, U.S. peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo raided the offices of the Saudi High Commission for Relief to find equipment to forge State Department security badges. We are asked to believe that the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United states had no suspicion that several thousand dollars she gave, which passed through only a small number of hands, would fund men who carried out the September 11 terror attacks. So when individuals in the Saudi government take a stand on a complete NSEERS exemption for Saudi nationals, America should do more than resist. It should ask why.
Matt Hayes, a columnist for Fox News, is author of the forthcoming textbook “The New Immigration Law and Practice.”