- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The United States needs to reform its immigration system to better prevent terrorists from entering the country, said the attorney general and Department of Homeland Security secretary on Tuesday, pointing to the background of a Bangladeshi immigrant who attempted Monday to detonate a pipe bomb the New York City subway.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen voiced support for a merit-based immigration system that would scrap “failed immigration policies” such as the diversity visa lottery program and extended family chain migration.

“It is also up to Congress to improve our laws. We cannot wait any longer,” Mr. Sessions said at a press conference in Baltimore. “As yesterday’s events showed us in the starkest terms: the failures of our immigration system are a national security issue.”

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Authorities have charged Akayed Ullah, who they say was inspired by Islamic State propaganda, with attempting to carry out Monday’s attack. The attack was botched and no one was killed. The pipe bomb Mr. Ullah strapped to himself misfired and left him with burns on his stomach.

Mr. Ullah was admitted to the U.S. on a family visa in 2011, tied to a relative who won the diversity visa lottery.

Ms. Nielsen said Tuesday that authorities were not aware of any other specific credible threats.

She voiced support for President Trump’s proposals to secure U.S. borders, implement policies to limit entry into the U.S. by citizens of high-risk countries, and to overhaul immigration policies in general.

“The president has been outspoken in his concern that more must be done to keep our nation safe and we intend to do just that,” Ms. Nielsen said.

Tuesday’s press conference in Baltimore was meant to highlight the scourge of the violent MS-13 street gang, and Mr. Sessions and Ms. Nielsen said many of the same tactics being considered to keep terrorists out of the U.S. could also be put to use in preventing those associated with the gang from gaining entry as well.

“Terrorism is only one of the threats that we face today in our county,” Ms. Nielsen said. “We know that decades of failed immigration policies have encouraged law enforcement officials to look the other way. These have had real consequences to our public safety. One tragic example is the resurgence of MS 13 in our country.”

Mr. Sessions highlighted the uptick in violent crime and homicides experienced in Baltimore over the last two years, but later noted that the city’s violence is not explicitly tied to MS-13.

“We know MS-13 is responsible, in the region here, is responsible of quite a number of the most brutal murders,” Mr. Sessions said, referring to crimes committed in the suburbs of D.C. “I don’t know that the city itself has a high MS-13 murder rate.”

By switching to a merit-based immigration system, that could award preference points to people who already speak English, have high-demand skills, or are younger, Mr. Sessions said the U.S. could help improve the country’s economy and also keep out terrorists, gang members and criminals.

“We should give priority to those who are likely to thrive here — such as those who speak English or are highly skilled — not someone chosen at random or who happens to be somebody’s relative,” he said.

Better vetting of those who enter the U.S. can also lighten the load for FBI agents who are tasked with tracking immigrants who may have terrorism ties, Mr. Sessions said.

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