American Elephants


Visas and Immigration: The Story of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber. by The Elephant's Child

Here’s the story of the Times Square Bomber — Faisal Shahzad, and how he became an immigrant to the United States and a naturalized citizen.  It reveals some of the risks inherent in U.S. visa and immigration programs.

It is a familiar pattern of  a terrorist easily taking advantage of weak spots in America’s immigration system.  He was admitted long before 9/11, but the openings that  he exploited are still in place today.

  • June 30, 1979 — born in Pakistan
  • December 22, 1998 — issued student visa in Islamabad. Shahzad failed to demonstrate that he had “sufficient academic preparation to pursue the intended course of study” at the University of Bridgeport.  Applying as a transfer student with a transcript from a correspondence course with Southeastern University (now defunct) with a GPA of 2.78. Visa was a mistake, but visa officer gave him 4 year visa when 2 should have been given.  lightweight background check, no criminal history. (today’s watchlists and databases are more comprehensive).
  • Fall 2000 — Graduates from University of Bridgeport, Conn. Shahzad was flagged by border officials for carrying large sums of cash — reportedly $80,000 — and for repeated visits home to Pakistan.  Was awarded a grant from Bridgeport U. for $6,700 to cover tuition.
  • 2001 — begins working for a temporary staffing agency.  A student visa does not include permission to work.
  • 2002 — Issued H-1B visa.  Sponsored by Elizabeth Arden to work in a low level accounting job.
  • 2004 — Obtains mortgage with Huma Anif Mian (U.S. Citizen and future spouse)
  • 2004 — Comes under scrutiny of Joint Terrorism Task Force. Local, multi-agency units that investigate cases related to national security.
  • February 2005 — Citizen wife files green card petition. Neighbors of Shahzad’s bride have told reporters that he visited her in Colorado just once before she left to marry him.
  • January 2006 —Green card approved. USCIS apparently unconcerned about suddenness of marriage or JTTF investigation. (Basic reality —green card application process rigged in alien’s favor. Few applications are refused or challenged).
  • October 2008 — Applies for citizenship. Shahzad wasted no time. Can apply after 3 years of  marriage to U.S. Citizen, compared with 5 years of residency for other legal immigrants.  Average immigrant waits 6 to 10 years before applying.  His US citizenship makes travel abroad easier since US citizens face less scrutiny, and citizens can stay overseas indefinitely without losing status.  Citizenship did not require Shahzad to give up his Pakistani passport which can be useful in concealing long periods of travel without drawing attention on return.
  • April 17, 2009 — Sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
  • June 2, 2009 — Departs for Pakistan.
  • February 3, 2010 — Returns to United States.
  • May 1, 2010 — Attempts to set off a car bomb in Times Square.

An interesting history, to say the least.  I abbreviated slightly this list from the Center for Immigration Studies.  The complete list is available from the Center,  along with seven policy recommendations to enhance the integrity of the system , make it more difficult for illegitimate visitors to gain access, and limit the risk inherent in every visa or immigration program.

This would reinforce the public diplomacy goals of the student visa program — that foreign students put their U.S. education and positive experience in America to good use back home, and strengthen ties between the two nations.  See also David Horowitz’s experience at University of California at San Diego.




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