- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

When President Bush told the American people that "time is not on our side," he wasn't kidding and in more ways than one. Despite fearsome harumphing in recent months over a wholly ineffective visa-tracking system, the New York Times reports that the government is still "at least" a year away from implementing a new system to prevent student visas from falling into terrorists' clutches. And once the computer network ordered up six years ago to keep tabs on foreign students is fully operational, immigration officials say there won't be enough agents to check on visa violators anyway. Meanwhile, nobody in officialdom has a clue about where the 547,000 foreign nationals already holding student visas actually are, let alone what they are doing. This is not good.
Odds are, of course, the overwhelming majority is doing nothing to threaten national security or public safety. But excellent odds didn't prevent Hani Hanjour, a Saudi national who had come here on a student visa to study English in California, from flying American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Or keep Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman under indictment as the "20th hijacker," from roaming the heartland on a student visa until his arrest last August.
This ruse was first exposed when a Kuwaiti named Eyad Ismoil, having dropped out of Wichita State University in 1991, overstayed his student visa long enough to drive the van that carried the bomb in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. That explosion killed "only" six people and wounded more than 1,000, but it led to the first calls to reform a program that had not only enabled a bona fide terrorist to attack the heart of New York City, but was also providing entry to thousands from terrorist-sponsoring nations.
Attracting foreign nationals is simply not a priority in the urgent struggle to bring law and order to a Wild West of a visa system. Smart efficiency is our assignment and it is long overdue.

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