- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

Have we already forgotten the black comedy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reissuing Mohammed Atta's visa six months after he crashed an airliner into the World Trade Center? It appears that we have. For too long, too many foreign visitors have legally entered the United States on visas that never should have been issued. It is bad enough that our porous borders enable many to enter illegally, but there is no excuse now almost 10 months after September 11 for the lack of adequate controls on legal entry.
President Bush's Homeland Security Department is supposed to include the INS and tackle this widespread problem. Congressional debate on the Homeland Security bill will take months. But while Congress debates the complex legislation, there are parts of the visa system that need to be fixed right now. For starters, the president needs to derail the Saudi Visa Express.
If you visit the web site for the American Embassy in the Saudi capital of Riyadh (https://usembassy.state.gov/riyadh), you'll find the U.S. Visa Express link. The express is a visa-application service that the embassy has parceled out to 10 travel agencies. Anyone who is a resident of Saudi Arabia even those who aren't Saudi citizens can apply for a non-immigrant visa to the United States simply by filling out a form and sending a picture of himself along with the fee to one of these travel agencies. His visa comes in the mail, and he's off to the United States, without any American ever checking whether, for example, the person is on a terrorist watch list.
Obviously, someone needs to remind the people in the State Department that most of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis and that three of them got their visas through the Saudi Visa Express. This is a big hole in our homeland security that needs to be plugged immediatelynot six months or a year from now.
Washington television viewers in recent weeks were bombarded by a multimillion-dollar Saudi ad campaign designed to convince us that that regime is our ally in the war on terror. Given the Saudis' lack of cooperation in investigating September 11 and other terrorist matters, that claim should be taken with a grain or two of salt. The Saudis spend about $50 million a year sponsoring imams and schools to teach their version of religion here, especially to disaffected minority prisoners who are likely targets to become the next Richard Reid or John Walker Lindh.
If the Saudis are our allies, they should accept closure of the Saudi Visa Express without complaint. Most Saudis who want to come here have legitimate business and should be welcomed. But to allow the visas to be issued without any security checks is simply irrational. The president should order an end to the Visa Express now and not wait for the Homeland Security Department to do it for him.


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