The following is excerpted from a speech delivered at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on May 20, 2008, in New York City.
We all know what happened on September 11, 2001. But how many of us recall what happened on February 26, 1993? That was the date of the first World Trade Center attack, the precursor to 9/11 carried out by a cell of Middle Eastern jihadists. Key members of that cell were illegal aliens. Mahmud Abouhalima was an Egyptian illegal alien working as a cab driver in New York. He falsely claimed to be an agricultural worker under the 1986 illegal alien amnesty law and snagged a green card that allowed him to travel back and forth to Pakistan for al Qaeda training. Abouhalima said he was a strawberry picker, even though he had never been anywhere near a strawberry field. Overwhelmed INS workers—who are driven to reduce backlogs by simply shredding or rubber stamping applications—failed to vet his claims. Mohammed Salameh, the operative who rented the truck used in the 1993 bombing, was denied amnesty after filing a bogus claim. But because the INS didn’t have the resources or the will to deport him, he was able to work and plot freely right under our noses. The mastermind of the 1993 plot and of another foiled plot to bomb New York landmarks, Sheik Abdul Rahman, won asylum here based on a fraudulent claim and was allowed to remain thanks to a deadly combination of immigration and intelligence lapses. Seven people died and thousands were injured in the first World Trade Center bombing, which amounted to a trial run for the attack that would lead to the deaths of another 3,000 innocent men, women, and children eight years later. All of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country with short-term visas issued by State Department consular offices abroad. Fifteen of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia, where a special program allowed them to get fast-track visas. The program, called Visa Express, was hatched by American bureaucrats who were concerned about wealthy Saudis waiting in long lines. So no one bothered to double-check the hijackers’ applications, which were so sloppy that they made no sense. To give you a couple of examples, one of them put “Washington hotel” as his address and another described his occupation as “Teeter.” Thus, despite obviously lying on their applications, they gained entry to plot mass murder on American soil. Once in the U.S., several of the hijackers needed fake government documents. They hooked up with illegal alien day laborers who hung out at a Virginia convenience store near the Pentagon. After waiting around with a couple of $20 bills, an illegal alien from El Salvador was willing and able to give them the documents that they needed to board the planes they flew on 9/11. The local cops whom I interviewed admit knowing that those people hanging around the convenience store were here illegally, but they did nothing about it. The lesson is this: Lax immigration enforcement enables enemy foreign agents to exploit a system that was intended to welcome those who want to make better lives for themselves on our terms. Before 9/11, our nation convinced itself that it could afford massive, systematic abuse and undermining of immigration laws. After 1993, in an age of Islamic terrorism and nuclear threat, we should have been permanently disabused of that notion. But we continued in our folly. And we continue in it still today. Let’s look at some facts:
- There are now upwards of 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S.
- Roughly 1 million legal immigrants are admitted to the U.S. every year.
- Some 400,000 illegal aliens have been ordered to be deported, but are on the loose in the U.S. after being released by federal immigration courts.
- There are only 20,000 detention beds in the entire country to hold illegal aliens.
- There are only 2,000 federal agents employed by the Department of Homeland Security to track down the estimated 12-20 million illegal aliens who are living, working, going to school, getting driver’s licenses and, yes, committing crimes and plotting terrorist attacks in America as we speak.
- Border fences to our north and south are a joke, even while we’re sending money to Egypt and Mexico to help them build fences on their southern borders.