FEBRUARY 22, 2011
Nearly a decade after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon how could the U.S. government permit an illegal immigrant to obtain a pilot’s license and run a school that trains dozens of foreigners to fly small aircraft?The question is directed at the Homeland Security agency responsible for scrutinizing all foreign flight students before they can take lessons or get a pilot’s license in the U.S. Here’s a hint; the agency was created after 9/11 specifically to prevent another terrorist attack by protecting the nation’s transportation system, especially aviation. It’s the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).A few months ago a news report alerted TSA officials that a flight school in Stow Massachusetts, a rural community about 25 miles west of Boston, was operated by an illegal immigrant who somehow got a U.S. pilot’s license. Enrolled in the school (TJ Aviation Flight Academy) were more than 30 illegal aliens who were actually cleared by the TSA to train as pilots. Several of them had entered the U.S. legally but their visas expired, just like several of the 9/11 hijackers.Many have been deported but the TSA has failed to implement any security controls to prevent a similar atrocity, though the agency is working “to refine the process for checking the immigration status of alien flight school students,” according to a spokesman quoted in a Boston newspaper this week. The story reveals that Homeland Security officials have not instituted new safeguards to stop other flight schools from enrolling illegal immigrants who could present national security threats.Pilots are actually licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but the agency relies on the TSA for criminal and immigration background checks. FAA officials claim that they don’t have the legal authority to revoke a pilot’s license for being in the country illegally, indicating that government bureaucracy is playing a role in the inexcusable security lapses.The TSA, which has 55,000 employees, has compromised the nation’s security on many occasions and its lapses have been well documented over the years. The agency approved background checks for illegal immigrants to work in sensitive areas of busy airports, violated federal standards by not screening cargo and passengers on hundreds of thousands of planes that fly over the U.S. annually and allowed guns and bombs to slip by at major U.S. airports during random tests.A few months ago inept screeners missed a suitcase filled with explosives that blasted after a three-hour domestic flight. Checked on a flight from Boston toMiami, the bag contained hundreds of bullet primers that exploded on the tarmac after the plane arrived in south Florida. Primers provide the spark that detonates the gunpowder in bullets.In the meantime tax dollars keep pouring into TSA coffers. President Obama has given the agency more than $3 billion in recovery funds—including $98 million for “advanced technology X-ray units” that screen baggage—and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants Congress to increase its 2012 budget by $459 million to a whopping $8.1 billion.
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