Posted on August 30, 2005

Immigration Benefits and Terrorism

Center for Immigration Studies, Sept. 2005

OH GOD, you who open all doors, please open all doors for me, open all venues for me, open all avenues for me.

—Mohammed Atta

Executive Summary

This report covers the immigration histories of 94 terrorists who operated in the United States between the early 1990s and 2004, including six of the September 11th hijackers. Other than the hijackers, almost all of these individuals have been indicted or convicted for their crimes. The report builds on prior work done by 9/11 Commission and the Center for Immigration Studies, providing more information than has been previously been made public.

The findings show widespread terrorist violations of immigration laws. The report highlights the danger of our lax immigration system, not just in terms of who is allowed in, but also how terrorists, once in the country, used weaknesses in the system to remain here. The report makes clear that strict enforcement of immigration law—at American consulates overseas, at ports of entry, and within the United States—must be an integral part of our efforts to prevent future attacks on U.S. soil.

Among the findings:

  • Of the 94 foreign-born terrorists who operated in the United States, the study found that about two-thirds (59) committed immigration fraud prior to or in conjunction with taking part in terrorist activity.
  • Of the 59 terrorists who violated the law, many committed multiple immigration violations—79 instances in all.
  • Temporary visas were a common means of entering; 18 terrorists had student visas and another four had applications approved to study in the United States. At least 17 terrorists used a visitor visa—either tourist (B2) or business (B1).
  • There were 11 instances of passport fraud and 10 instances of visa fraud; in total 34 individuals were charged with making false statements to an immigration official.
  • In at least 13 instances, terrorists overstayed their temporary visas.
  • In 17 instances, terrorists claimed to lack proper travel documents and applied for asylum, often at a port of entry.
  • Fraud was used not only to gain entry into the United States, but also to remain, or “embed,” in the country.
  • Seven terrorists were indicted for acquiring or using various forms of fake identification, including driver’s licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards, and immigration arrival records.
  • Once in the United States, 23 terrorists became legal permanent residents, often by marrying an American. There were at least nine sham marriages.
  • In total, 21 foreign terrorists became naturalized U.S. citizens.

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