Our Statue of Liberty stands stalwart in New York harbor, her head unbowed and torch aloft. For more than a century, she has generously welcomed the tired, poor, and huddled masses. But now, with the ashes of anti-American terrorism at her feet, it is time for Lady Liberty to dim the lamp and turn back deadly foreign menaces.
We may not be able to seal our vast and porous borders, but Washington must make this stand: No more terrorist welcome mat at the front door.
At least 16 of the 19 terrorist hijackers reportedly entered the country with legal visas. President Bush should purge the State Department of Clinton-era bureaucrats responsible for allowing so many murderous plotters and schemers to live and work among us. Congress can also take three immediate, overdue steps:
1. Eliminate the J-1 and M-1 visa programs for suicide pilots. Seven of the hijack bombers had pilot's licenses. They studied at various flight-training institutes in Florida and community colleges in San Diego. At least two of the terrorist pilots reportedly entered the country with special M-1 training visas. Others who want flight experience can obtain J-1 exchange visitor visas.
These two programs give foreigners a chance to study piloting or work as paid flight instructors-in-training for up to 24 months. Flight school operators say the State Department rubber-stamps the students' visa paperwork. Enforcement against students who overstay their visas is a joke. Most flight schools don't do criminal background checks. No wonder suicide pilot leader Mohamed Atta, who appeared on the State Department terrorist watch list, slipped through the cracks.
The J-1 and M-1 programs were created in order "to foster international understanding through educational and cultural exchange." But the security risks clearly outweigh the supposed multicultural benefits of training foreign pilots to fly American planes. Stop giving terrorist pilots a government-sanctioned license to kill.
2. Reintroduce legislation to track all foreign nationals. Many of the hijackers apparently overstayed short-term B-1 and B-2 business and tourist visas. The U.S. remains the only major industrialized nation in the world with no centralized system for monitoring alien visa-holders. As part of a 1996 immigration reform measure, Congress mandated an automated entry-exit tracking system for all foreign nationals. But with bipartisan cooperation, President Clinton effectively repealed it and replaced it with a toothless database requirement that remains unenforced. Over 40 percent of illegal aliens in this country are tourists who overstay their visas. What good is an expiration date if no one enforces it?
3. Freeze U.S. admissions of foreign students from Arab countries. Two of the hijack bombers, believed to be Saudi Arabian Air Force pilots, reportedly attended American military academies. One received language training at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; the other may have studied strategy and tactics at the Air War College in Alabama. Their visa status has not yet been publicly revealed, but the terrorists may have received F-1 academic visas.
For years, researchers have warned about the dangers of allowing students from terrorist-friendly nations to pursue higher education in the U.S. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reported that Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan -- all listed by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism -- sent nearly 10,000 students to the U.S. between 1991 and 1996. Among the visa recipients: a key scientist in Iraq's nuclear weapons program who earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering at Michigan State University; three Iranian scientists involved in developing the Iranian nuclear program; and a Jordanian who studied engineering at Wichita State University in Kansas and participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service has a new monitoring system for foreign students, but only four states are covered. This is a pointless bureaucratic charade. Until the tracking system is fully operational, the U.S. should suspend the academic exchange program for all terrorism-sponsoring Middle East countries and their Arab neighbors.
There will be mewling protestations of "racism" and "xenophobia" from the usual suspects. But this is no moment to give in to political correctness. We've already sacrificed too much sovereignty and security for the sake of sensitivity.