Did the Times Square Suspect Game the Immigration System?


Questions surrounding the Times Square bombing suspect’s path to U.S. citizenship have already spurred some national security hawks to attack the country’s immigration and entrance policies. Authorities never flagged Shahzad for review, and it’s still unclear exactly when he had become radicalized against the U.S. But his arrest has prompted right-wing activists and bloggers to renew their calls for clamping down on foreigners trying to enter the country and become U.S. citizens.

Shahzad had become a naturalized citizen a year ago after marrying an American citizen in 2008, following a decade of staying in the country on both student and work visas. Calling Shahzad’s route a “tried-and-true terror formula,” Michelle Malkin declares that “jihadists have been gaming the sham marriage racket with impunity for years.” Malkin writes:

And immigration benefit fraud has provided invaluable cover and aid for U.S.-based Islamic plotters…Jihadists have knowingly and deliberately exploited our lax immigration and entrance policies to secure the rights and benefits of American citizenship while they plot mass murder — and we haven’t done a thing to stop them.

Similarly, a story at Fox News suggests that the citizenship application process isn’t rigorous enough and fails to ask sufficient questions about travel history and relying too much on an individual applicant’s honesty. “[I]f they’ve lied to get into the United States before, they are unlikely to admit it during the naturalization process,” argues Fox News.

Shahzad may have traveled to a Pakistan terrorist training camp shortly after becoming a citizen last year. But it’s not yet known whether Shahzad’s 11-year path to citizenship was an elaborate plan to facilitate jihad against the US.

In fact, as one former Clinton immigration official tells AOL News, it’s likely that Shahzad was already subject to a ramped-up screening process under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which requires noncitizens from a handful Muslim countries to be registered and fingerprinted. (This program was created in 2002 by none other than Kris Kobach, the Bush administration alum and lawyer who helped craft the Arizona immigration law.)

Even the spokesman for the leading Senate Republican on immigration matters, John Cornyn (R-Tex.), has admitted that it’s too early “to say whether [Shahzad] slipped through the cracks.” As such, the Shahzad case thus far hardly justifies a broad-scale crackdown on immigrants and citizenship hopefuls. As Roger Cressey, a counterterrorism expert under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, tells AOL: “Unless there is credible and accurate information to suspect somebody of being involved in nefarious activity, the default can’t be ‘we’re going to deny [legal status] just because you’re from Pakistan.’ “

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.