As the recent tragedy in France has demonstrated, the threat of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its Western allies is still very much alive. Unfortunately, that threat is exacerbated both in Europe and America by open borders and the unfettered access they provide to those who wish to harm us. President Obama’s executive amnesty – which the U.S. House of Representatives this week voted to revoke – is yet another example of America’s broken immigration system and the inability or unwillingness of our leaders to fix the problem. This could eventually have disastrous consequences for our country.

There are now thought to be almost 12 million illegal immigrants living in the US. This is a problem with deep implications for our economy, and will impact state and national policy in numerous areas. The answer is not a sweeping amnesty to legalize millions of these immigrants. It is better control of our borders. This is not only imperative for halting further waves of illegal immigration – it is vital for our national security as a whole.


The terrorist threat posed by foreign nationals based in the U.S. is severe. One recent study showed that 44 percent of al-Qaeda related offenses in the U.S. are committed by foreign nationals. Men such as Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan national who was the head of an al-Qaeda plot to carry out suicide attacks on the New York subway in September 2009, exploit American tolerance and acceptance in order to plot attacks on our homeland. Such cases prove that the U.S. cannot always properly monitor the threat posed by those who live here.

The U.S.'s woefully inadequate control of its own borders also goes unaddressed, but not unnoticed. The Government Accountability Office found that only 44% of the Southwest border was under operational control. This explains why Osama bin Laden instructed his al-Qaeda deputies to try and recruit Mexican passport holders. It also enables terror groups such as Hezbollah to forge ties with Mexican cartels to smuggle operatives into America.  And it is the reason Texas law enforcement found in 2014 that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham social media messaging showed militants discussing the possibility of infiltrating the U.S. via Mexico.

Yet the U.S. cannot just focus on its southern flank. We must also be cognizant of our northern border. Al-Qaeda inspired terrorists have already taken advantage of weaknesses in the immigration system to attempt to attack the U.S. via Canada. This includes Ahmed Ressam, who plotted to blow up the Los Angeles Airport in 1999 while living off state benefits. Also, Chiheb Esseghaier was arrested in 2013 on the suspicion that he was plotting to derail a passenger train travelling between Canada and the U.S. The threat from Canada remains, yet of the 22,000 Border Patrol agents in the U.S., less than 3,000 cover the Canadian border.

Both our allies and enemies will see implications in any U.S. action on immigration. Key partners, such as the UK and France, understand such dilemmas well. As members of the European Union (EU), they must adhere to the principle of freedom of movement and therefore have essentially no ability to control their own borders. This has led to events like the recent tragedy in Paris.

Challenges abroad have implications at home as well. The U.S. is vulnerable to attack from Europeans who have fought in Syria and Iraq and who will, unless they are stopped by security agencies, be eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Over 3,000 Europeans have gone to fight in this conflict, and America's ability to protect itself from these returning jihadists is severely compromised if the EU cannot track these fighters.

Ultimately, the U.S. faces a huge array of threats to its security. Groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS thrive on turning our tolerance against us: time and again, the immigration system has been exploited by terrorists intent on attacking America and its allies. President Obama's proposed amnesty makes no real allowance for this. This is a big mistake. A state which cannot properly control who lives in its borders cannot properly defend itself.

Sherman, a former Navy pilot, is president of Citizens for American Security.