NOVEMBER 16, 2006
A religious visa program used by numerous terrorists to enter the United States continues to be exploited by extremist Muslim groups though federal authorities keep granting the visas, acknowledging rampant fraud in the system.
Created in 1990 by Congress, the Religious Worker Visa program allows churches, synagogues and mosques to obtain visas from the U.S. Government for foreigners to fill vacant positions. Each year the government grants several thousand religious worker visas in the form of temporary, three-year visas and “green cards” that allow foreigners to become permanent residents.
Terrorists have used the program to enter the country over the years. For instance, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, had a religious visa as did four Palestinian men who ran Muslim “charities” that financed terrorist organization Hamas.
Other examples include three men in northern California who operated a terrorist training camp in Pakistan before coming to the U.S. and a Muslim religious leader, Mohammed Khalil, convicted of visa fraud for helping more than 200 middle easterners falsely obtain religious worker visas for $8,000 each. Khalil was recorded pledging his support for Osma bin Laden and expressing his desire to see another terrorist attack in the U.S.
Federal authorities admit severe flaws in the system and have even conducted internal investigations that reveal astonishing statistics. A 2005 Homeland Security probe determined that more than one third of the religious visas examined by investigators were based on fraudulent information and that corruption was particularly high among applicants from Muslim countries. One Homeland Security official admitted his agency needs to actually start checking that these so-called religious institutions exist because there “is way too much fraud in this program.”
This is not a new revelation, however. Back in 2000 a Congressional investigative report said that the visa program is too susceptible and documented how many applicants were unqualified for the positions they were supposedly coming to the U.S. to fill. The Government Accountability Office report concluded that there is rampant fraud in the program.
Yet little has been done to correct a dangerous situation that could easily have deadly consequences for Americans. This week dozens of Pakistanis, who used religious visas to enter the country, were arrested by Homeland Security agents. The men were supposed to be teaching or conducting religious ceremonies and instead worked as gas station attendants, taxi drivers and landscapers across the East Coast.
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