Scrutiny falls on marriage visas after San Bernardino attack

Republicans on Friday called for a comprehensive review of the U.S. visa system after reports that the female attacker in the San Bernardino mass shooting pledged allegiance on Facebook to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The suspect, Tashfeen Malik, came to the U.S. on a special K-1 visa last year, raising new questions about potential vulnerabilities in the immigration system.

{mosads}That special K-1 visa allows foreigners to come to America to marry a U.S. citizen. Under the rules, a couple must wed within 90 days or face deportation of the foreign individual. 

FBI officials confirmed Friday they are investigating the San Bernardino shooting as an act of terrorism.

Lawmakers are pledging a close review of the K-1 visas, but time restraints could make it difficult for lawmakers to address potential K-1 security gaps before leaving Washington for the holidays.

“In light of the renewed terrorist threat, we need to take a look at our entire visa program to enhance our national security. This incident highlights the very real security threat throughout the system,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), the GOP Policy Committee chairman and a member of leadership, told The Hill on Friday.

“Experts in the field now say that terrorists recognize that passports, visas and immigration documents are now weapons in the war on terror.”

But Messer said it would be difficult — though not impossible — to deal with K-1 visas in the visa-waivers bill that the House is expected to pass net week.

“We need to look at K-1 visas as part of the broader policy debate,” he added. “If it can’t be dealt with next week, it will need to be dealt with early next year.”

Conservative GOP Rep. Matt Salmon, who represents the border state of Arizona, agreed that a comprehensive review was needed, including greater scrutiny of K-1 visas, visa overstays and interior enforcement.

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is also monitoring developments surrounding the San Bernardino attack and “will continue to examine our immigration laws to ensure that those who wish America harm are not admitted to the United States,” a committee aide said Friday.

And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, is pushing for a full review of all immigration programs in the wake of recent terror threats.

“Under current visa policies, we are going to permanently resettle more migrants from Muslim countries over the next five years than the population of Washington, D.C.,” a GOP subcommittee aide said. “We need to do a complete review of our immigration programs — not just to prevent the entry of extremists, but to address the problem of post-entry and second-generation radicalization.”

Malik and her American-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, are said to have carried out this week’s attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and wounded 21. Born in Pakistan, Malik had traveled to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia in July 2014 on a K-1 visa, FBI officials said.

According to The New York Times, Farook applied for a permanent resident green card for Malik in September 2014. A conditional green card was granted earlier this summer but only after the couple proved their marriage was legitimate and after Malik passed criminal and national security background checks.

A top GOP leadership aide said Republicans are still waiting for federal investigators to provide more information regarding the reported links between the San Bernardino attack and ISIS, “as well as how and when these individuals were radicalized.”

It’s unclear at this point whether Malik had been influenced by ISIS during her time in the Middle East or if that happened after she moved to the U.S. last year. It is also unclear whether she coordinated with the group or acted alone.

Responding to the deadly ISIS attacks in Paris three weeks ago, Republicans rolled out legislation Thursday that aims to shore up security gaps in the program that lets foreigners from friendly countries travel to the U.S. without obtaining a visa.

That legislation could also get attached to an omnibus spending bill that Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown. But, with omnibus negotiations heading toward the finish line, it seems unlikely Congress has time to address the alleged terrorist links in the San Bernardino shooting. 

Homeland Security Committee Vice Chair Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who authored the visa-waiver bill, is still expecting it to hit the floor in its current form next week, an aide said.

Under current law, travelers from 38 countries can obtain visa waivers to expedite their visits to the United States. The Miller bill would change that system by installing new visa requirements for any potential tourists who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan over the past five years, regardless of their country of origin.  

It would also empower the administration to suspend countries from the program if they withhold certain information designed to gauge potential threats to U.S. security.

“The fact is, as evidenced by the horrific attacks in Paris, terrorist organizations like ISIS are looking for any and every opportunity to exploit a nation’s hospitality to carry out their barbaric attacks against the innocent,” said Miller, who Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tapped to give the weekly GOP radio address Saturday.

Some presidential contenders also have the K-1 visas on their radar. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that he’s been “worried … for a long time” about terrorist groups arranging marriages with U.S. citizens in order to infiltrate the country.

“What you do is you try to think like the enemy. How can they penetrate the homeland? One of the concerns has been an arranged marriage where a terrorist organization will pick the mate to marry …  one already in the United States legally, and create a marriage of jihadist,” Graham told Fox Business News.

“I do not know if that happened here. But it is something we have been concerned about. And this may be the first example.”

– This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Jeff Sessions Lindsey Graham Matt Salmon Paul Ryan

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