The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is calling on President Obama and Congress to reform the country’s immigration system in the wake of a thwarted suicide attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) pointed to the visa that allowed Amine El Khalifi, a 29 year-old illegal immigrant from Morocco to remain living in Virginia where he allegedly plotted to bomb the Capitol. El Khalifi has been in the U.S. illegally since 1999 when his B2 tourism visa expired.
“Today’s thwarted terror plot is a reminder that foreign terrorists will continue to exploit our nation’s immigration laws as long as they remain loosely enforced by the Administration,” said Smith.
“We have not learned the lessons of 9-11. Until we crack down on our immigration laws that allow terrorists to enter and stay in the U.S., history will continue to repeat itself.”
A reliable visa exit system — such as one that uses biometric scanners or mandatory follow-up inspections — has been at the center of a great deal of debate in Washington for more than a decade, since the entry of 9/11 hijackers on visas brought the issue to the forefront.
Earlier this week Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was moving towards putting a comprehensive exit system in place, though it would likely cost much more money and was not close to completion.
“I think biometric entry is well on its way,” she said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Biometric exit is a much different kettle of fish, in part because our ports were not designed to have biometric equipment in the exit lanes. That's just one of the many reasons. So that's going to be a very expensive process.”
Napolitano said to compensate for the lack of a bioemtric exit system, DHS has developed and implemented a “very layered and robust biographic” system that cross-references a series of multiple databases to give immigration officials a more complete picture of the movements of visa holders.
“It's not the same as biometric, but it is very close to the same,” she said. “And we think that that will give us a good bridge to when ultimately biometric becomes feasible to do.”
El Khalifi was charged on Friday with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States, according the Department of Justice (DOJ).
His arrest was the culmination of an investigation of an undercover FBI operation. Agents posed as members of al Qaeda and sold El Khalifi inoperable explosives and at least one firearm.
For several years, the FBI has increasingly conducted similar sting operations in which they provide suspects with explosives or firearms they allegedly have requested, arresting them soon thereafter.