The bipartisan immigration reform under consideration in the Senate fails to close loopholes in the U.S. asylum system exploited by terrorists, a national security expert told Congress Monday afternoon.
Janice Kephart, who served as legal counsel to the 9/11 Commission, testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that current asylum policy fails to screen for and deport foreign-born immigrants to America with affiliations to terrorist groups.
"Political asylum claims usually permit terrorists to do what they seek: buy time to live here freely," Kephart said in prepared testimony.
Kephart addressed the committee near the end of a day-long hearing that was punctuated with references to last week's bombing of the Boston Marathon in which two foreign-born, ethnic Chechen immigrants who had been granted asylum killed three and wounded more than 170.
A security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was subsequently killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last Thursday.
The federal government charged the surviving brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar, with use of a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death Monday as he recovered from gunshot wounds at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Kephart, the national security fellow at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, identified more than a dozen instances of asylum being used to keep immigrants with ties to extremist organizations in the United States between the early 1990s and 2005.
Syrian national Daoud Chehazeh came to the United States from Saudi Arabia in 2000. He was granted asylum in November 2012 after three failed attempts and despite reports that he facilitated travel for the September 11, 2001, hijackers and had contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the former leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in 2011 by a drone strike in Yemen.
Ramzi Yousef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a nephew of Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also used asylum status to remain in the United States prior to his successful attack, Kephart said. Yousef is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his role in the first Trade Center attack.
Nuradin Abdi, a Somali national, received asylum in 1999. He was convicted in September 2007 of conspiracy to provide material supports to terrorists.
"My work on the 9/11 Commission made it clear that terrorists need travel documents for movement at some point during their journey here as much as they need weapons for operations," Kephart said in written testimony. "Once within U.S. borders, terrorists seek to stay."
It was revealed Monday that the FBI had been unaware of a trip one of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, made to Russia in 2011 because his name in a computer database was misspelled.
Senator Charles Schumer (D., NY), one of the architects of the immigration reform, asked Kephart whether the bill's requirement that passports be swiped at entry to and exit from the United States would have made it easier for the government to track Tsarnaev's travel.
"Yes," Kephart said.