Homeland Security

'We Could Shut Down All Travel and Immigration and Still Not be Safe'

WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee argued today that “we could shut down all travel and immigration to this country and still not be safe from terrorist threats.”

At the hearing on protecting America from ISIS, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) noted that “while we are still learning the facts surrounding the loss of the EgyptAir flight, this tragedy reminds us that securing our homeland is likely to remain an ongoing challenge for some time to come.”

“Our efforts must adapt as groups like ISIS evolve their tactics,” he added.

Carper stressed that “securing our borders and our immigration system is obviously a key element of keeping us safe, and we’ve focused quite a bit on those topics of late.”

“Hearings on the Syrian refugee program, the security of the visa waiver program, and the thoroughness of all visa screening efforts bear witness to our focus. We found that the Syrian refugee screening process takes upwards of two years, that DHS has enhanced the security of the Visa Waiver program three times in the past 18 months, and that our government deploys special visa teams abroad to help consular officers detect fraud,” the senator said. “Securing our borders, however, is only half the battle.”

“As Peter Bergen testified in November—‘every person who’s been killed by a jihadi terrorists in this country since 9/11 has been killed by an American citizen or resident.’ The people who carried out these attacks weren’t foreign students, tourists or refugees. They were American citizens or legal residents. And in many cases, they had spent much of their lives in the United States.”

That includes the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing, whose family claimed asylum in 2002 on a visit to the U.S., and American-born Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood and Syed Rizwan Farook in San Bernardino. Farook’s accomplice and wife, Tashfeen Malik, was a recent immigrant brought to the country on a fiancee visa.

“Unfortunately, ISIS knows all too well that the best way to attack America is to have Americans do it for you,” Carper said.

Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) noted that an ISIS supporter was arrested Tuesday in the Bronx.

The committee passed a bill on Wednesday to “help address management challenges at the DHS and bring increased transparency, accountability and effectiveness to the agency’s operations, enabling the agency to better protect the American people.”

“In a few months, we will mark the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” Johnson said. “I am gravely concerned that the American people are at a greater risk of suffering a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists today than at any time since 2001.”

“The American people deserve a strategy to defeat ISIS,” the chairman added.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the committee in prepared testimony that the Department of Homeland Security has singled four areas “to counter the diverse and evolving terrorist threats we face”: aviation security, border security, programs to counter violent extremism, and information sharing and support.

“The threats we face today are more complex and decentralized than they were a decade ago. As Secretary Johnson has said, we are in a new phase in the global terrorist threat. We have moved from a world of terrorist-directed attacks to a world that increasingly includes the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks, one in which the attacker may never have come face-to-face with a member of a terrorist organization who lives among us and radicalizes, inspired perhaps by the messages and propaganda ISIL disseminates through its use of social media,” Mayorkas said.

“By their nature, such inspired attacks are harder for intelligence and law enforcement to detect and could occur with little or no notice, presenting a more complex security challenge. Lone offenders who tend to have few contacts or outward indicators that allow for early identification pose the most likely threat of violence in the Homeland today. ISIL is actively trying to inspire such individuals.”