To look back on press accounts of October and November 2001, you would believe, correctly, that America was waking from a nightmare to find that its borders, and the INS, were not functioning at all.
Although there is much work to be done, a year later we now have meaningful borders, perhaps for the first time in our history. In the last year, the INS has worked overtime to locate and remove people who have overstayed their visas, and has instituted a thorough inspection and registration system for certain foreign nationals who pose an enhanced national security risk.
In the face of much criticism, sensitivity guidelines promulgated by the Clinton administration have been scrapped in favor of an expanding list of countries whose nationals must be photographed, fingerprinted and monitored while in the U.S. The system, called NSEERS (National Security Entry / Exit Registration System) went into effect on Sept. 11, 2002 and initially required nationals from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria to provide that information.
By Dec. 16, nationals of those five countries plus Afghans, Algerians, nationals of Bahrain, Eritrea and Lebanon, Moroccans, North Koreans, nationals of Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, all fell under the NSEERS inspection and registration requirements. Much to the chagrin of individuals who had overstayed their visas, and then showed up to register, the INS arrested all overstays and is now seeking to remove them from the country.
All but one of the countries now on the NSEERS list is situated in the Middle East, North Africa or East Africa. North Korea, which tells the world that it "burns with hatred" for the U.S., has at the very least restarted its nuclear weapons program and which has perhaps the worst human rights record on earth, is indeed a bad place. There's no evidence, however, that Islamic terrorists dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. use North Korea as a base from which to organize, plot or launch their attacks. Pyongyang wouldn't tolerate that.
But Paris does, and as outlandish as it may seem to include a long-standing European ally in NSEERS, the geopolitical complexities of the time suggest that a person bearing a French passport could pose much more of a threat than one from North Korea. Consider the following:
There is mounting evidence that Islamists see the European Union, and France in particular, as a haven in which to organize free from the interference of secret police and the prospect of a beheading if caught. Political conditions in their home countries, many of which have been involved in low grade civil wars for decades, are bad enough that a well-plead asylum case, once filed with the French government, is almost guaranteed to result in a grant of refugee status, and the public assistance that comes with it.
Over a period of several days in November, French police arrested 19 people in connection with Richard Reid's attempt to bring down an airliner full of people on their way from Paris to Miami last Christmas. One of those arrested was 27-year-old Slimane Khalfaoui, a French citizen from Algeria, who is suspected of not only assisting Richard Reid, but planning a gas attack on London's subway system.
A 28-year-old French citizen is now being held by Dutch authorities for procuring a false passport to be used as part of the foiled plot to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris. This summer, Kamel Daoudi, a known supporter of the Armed Islamic Group who had been granted French citizenship, saw that citizenship revoked when he was placed on a plane and flown back to Algeria by French authorities.
On Dec. 19, it was evident that France had come very close to chemical attack when police arrested Mirouane Ben Ahmed, a 29-year-old French and Algerian national, and several of his peers in a bomb factory in the outskirts of Paris. Last week, Agence France Press reported that authorities have identified 20 French citizens, mostly of North African descent, who have traveled through Chechnya in recent months. Zaccharias Moussaoui, who is still the only person in U.S. custody for participation in the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, is also a French citizen whose family emigrated from Algeria. He entered the U.S. on a French passport.
The rules for issuing a French passport are notoriously fluid, to the point that France, with the 1997 Chinese takeover of Hong Kong looming, offered passports to individuals solely because they were employees of French companies located in Hong Kong. France also permits dual citizenship. France is not on the NSEERS list. Yet, it can be fairly said that a person stepping off a plane from France is statistically more likely to commit a terrorist act than a person arriving here from North Korea.
The administration has taken huge steps in the last year to create meaningful borders. Just as the Saudis should be subject to mandatory registration, so should French nationals. As incredible as it might sound, we have entered a time in which a historical ally has changed to such a degree that it may represent a greater danger to the U.S. than a historical enemy.
Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He recently left the New York City law practice he founded in 1997 for the "more normal life" of insurance defense, and is author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, a textbook to be pubished by West Legal Publications in October, 2003.