As our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the victims affected by the Boston Marathon bombing, we should also note that this tragedy has yet again exposed long-standing weaknesses in our national security. Congress should now take the opportunity to finally address these problems.
This should be incorporated into the current debate over comprehensive immigration reform.
Any meaningful immigration reform must implement strong national security protections. After the Boston tragedy, there are basic questions: How did two individuals immigrate to the United States from a known hotbed of Islamic extremism, the Chechen Republic in Russia, to then allegedly commit acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented?
Does the immigration reform proposal before us address this?
Our immigration and visa system should give more scrutiny to individuals from high-risk areas of the world. We know that our flawed visa system was a significant part of the intelligence failure that led to Sept. 11. As National Review’s Kevin Williamson noted, “If our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, particularly the State Department, had been doing a minimally competent job vis-a-vis visa overstays and application screening, at least 15 of the 19 [hijackers on 9/11] would have been caught.”
After Sept. 11, there was comprehensive reform of our intelligence-gathering system, but our current system still did not adequately detect these latest extremists. We know they immigrated to the United States as children, but their background, combined with suspicious activities, did catch the attention of a foreign government two years ago. According to media reports, the FBI had interviewed the deceased Boston attack suspect at the request of that foreign government.
As far as we know, there was no follow-up to the interview. What were the details of this interview? Was there anything that might have given investigators cause for suspicion? Should there have been further inquiry? Did a foreign government detect something our own government failed to? And if so, why?
It has been reported that both suspects were legal permanent residents, that one was a naturalized citizen and the other was on the path to becoming a citizen. What deficiencies are there in our immigration and visa system that would have allowed this? We have already seen radicalized citizens, but is there a way to detect extremist behavior in those still on the path to citizenship? What kind of safeguards can we implement that might prevent granting them citizenship?
In 2002, Congress created the National Security Registration System, but it was suspended in 2011 by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano. We know that system had problems, but the basic premise behind it — that extra screening is necessary for immigrants from nations that have a higher population of extremists — needs to be revisited and reinstituted. This should be a part of any comprehensive immigration reform.
In my home state of Kentucky, our refugee program has proven to be a problem. On Jan. 29, two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Ky., were sentenced to long prison terms for participating in terrorism and providing material support to terrorists while living in the United States. Does the current immigration reform address how this might have happened? Regardless, we need more scrutiny when accepting refugees from high-risk nations.
We should take a hard look at student visas. We should examine whether we should suspend visas from high-risk areas, pending an investigation into the national security implications of this program. Any new legislation must address the visa entry and exit programs, in addition to refugee programs that have proven problematic in Bowling Green. We should have a thorough examination of the facts in the Massachusetts case to see if legislation is necessary to prevent a similar situation in the future.
These national security concerns must be part of the comprehensive immigration-reform debate. It is Congress’ job to make sure the federal government is doing everything it can to prevent any would-be terrorists from using a flawed immigration system against us.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.