Fazliddin Kurbanov is from Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country that borders Afghanistan. This month, Mr. Kurbanov was arrested in Boise, Idaho, charged with teaching people how to build bombs that could be used to target public transportation. He is accused of conspiring with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the United States recognizes as a terrorist organization. Mr. Kurbanov was here legally, admitted as a refugee in 2009.
Last year, in Aurora, Colo., Jamshid Muhtorov was arrested and charged with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, which the United States recognizes as a terrorist organization. Like Mr. Kurbanov, Mr. Muhtorov is from Uzbekistan and was also here legally as a refugee.
In 2011, in my hometown of Bowling Green, Ky., Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi were arrested and accused of supporting efforts to kill American troops in Iraq. Both men are from Iraq. Both were also here legally as refugees.
The Bowling Green Daily News reported that these Iraqi refugees “slipped through the vetting process that allowed both of them political asylum in the United States.” Apparently, Mr. Kurbanov and Mr. Muhtorov “slipped through” as well.
So did Ulugbek Kodirov, who was arrested in Birmingham, Ala., last year and sentenced to 15 years in prison for plotting to kill President Obama. Kodirov was from Uzbekistan and was in the country illegally on a student-visa overstay.
Last month, two pressure-cooker bombs were exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264 people. The Washington Post noted of the suspects, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev: “With their baseball hats and sauntering gaits, they appeared to friends and neighbors like ordinary American boys. But the Boston bombing suspects were refugees from another world — the blood, rubble and dirty wars of the Russian Caucasus.”
I condemn government inefficiency and incompetence often. The targets for criticism are endless. In the repeating patterns from these refugee and visa cases, however, we see potentially dangerous scenarios in which we cannot afford any excuses.
In the case of Sept. 11, 2001, if the State Department had more adequately monitored visa overstays and application screening, most of hijackers would have been detected and caught beforehand. After the Boston bombing, I asked what faults we might have in our current intelligence that allowed the Russian government to identify the suspects as potential terrorists before the US government did.
I will continue to ask these questions.
These questions are crucial as Congress continues to debate immigration reform, in which vital national security concerns must be addressed. Our visa and refugee programs deserve far more monitoring and scrutiny, and there is something desperately wrong with a “vetting process” that makes so many repeated mistakes.
Not all countries are the same, and neither are refugees. The National Security Registration System created by Congress in 2002 was intended to give extra screening to those coming from countries with higher populations of extremists. Suspended in 2011, to my knowledge, there has been no effort to replace it with similar screening. There’s really no excuse for this. We send men and women all over the world to fight terrorism and often seem unwilling to take the most common-sense precautions at home with our immigration policies. We know that the old system had its problems, but we also know that what we’re doing now isn’t working.
It is ironic that some of the things we call “national security” in our foreign policy actually have little to do with protecting the nation, while some of the simple things we don’t do in our immigration policy could better protect us. It’s time we did them.
After the tragic attack in Boston, I sent the following in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
“I respectfully request that the Senate consider the following two conditions as part of the comprehensive immigration-reform debate: One, the Senate needs a thorough examination of the facts in Massachusetts to see if legislation is necessary to prevent a similar situation in the future. Two, national security protections must be rolled into comprehensive immigration reform to make sure the federal government does everything it can to prevent immigrants with malicious intent from using our immigration system to gain entry into the United States in order to commit future acts of terror.”
My proposed amendments to immigration-reform legislation seek to correct flaws in our current system, and these weaknesses must be addressed before any genuine reform can happen.
They must also be addressed before another attack or tragedy happens — and it is our job in Congress to address them.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.