Do you remember when immigration officials sent out flight school visa approval notices for two of the 9/11 hijackers -- six months after they had committed their suicide attacks on America?
President Bush proclaimed his outrage, four federal immigration officials were reassigned, and Washington vowed that such embarrassing bureaucratic paperwork snafus would never happen again.
I'm sorry to report to you that it has, in fact, happened again.
On Jan. 15, immigration officials sent a notice to Eugueni Kniazev of Brooklyn, N.Y. The letter informs Kniazev, an immigrant from Siberia, that he is now "deemed to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States." The notice directs Kniazev to obtain a new alien registration receipt card (what we commonly call a "green card") and instructs him to appear in person at the immigration office at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City with his passport and three recent photos.
But Eugueni Kniazev won't be appearing at Federal Plaza. He won't be going anywhere. Kniazev, 47, was an employee of the Windows on the World restaurant located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower. After working his way up from dishwasher to facilities manager and living the American dream, Kniazev was murdered in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Let me repeat that for the clueless paper-pushers at the Department of Homeland Security: Eugueni Kniazev won't be picking up his green card because he has been dead for nearly three-and-a-half years.
What on earth is wrong with our federal government? Can you imagine how upsetting it must have been for family members to receive the letter? Why didn't it occur to anybody to cross-check the official list of Sept. 11 victims against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' records? Did homeland security officials learn nothing from the dead hijacker visa letter fiasco?
After that debacle, top immigration officials pledged "to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's immigration system." In the fall of 2002, President Bush signed into law the creation of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security, encompassing 22 agencies, 180,000 employees and a nearly $34 billion budget. Last month, the president signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, creating another huge mega-agency "to ensure that the people in government responsible for defending America have the best possible information to make the best possible decisions."
Promises, promises. Despite billions spent on restructuring and new technology, our homeland security system is still unable to prevent a green card approval notice from being sent to a dead person. The fact that the letter recipient is a murdered Sept. 11 victim adds unconscionable insult to bureaucratic injury. A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told me it's up to family members to notify the government when an applicant dies. "It's unfortunate," he said, but there is no mechanism in place to prevent this from happening again.
Eugueni Kniazev's case is only the tip of the incompetence iceberg:
-- The nation's various fingerprint databases still have not been integrated because of bickering among FBI, State Department and homeland security officials, which means that most visitors entering the country still aren't thoroughly screened for terrorist or criminal ties.
-- There is still no system in place for notifying immigration investigators about stolen passports, which led the Homeland Security inspector general to conclude last month that foreigners using the fraudulent documents have "little reason to fear being caught."
-- The long-delayed entry-exit tracking system for foreign visitors -- in the works for nearly a decade -- has still not been implemented fully.
-- There is still no systematic tracking of illegal alien felons.
-- And while millions of legal applicants deal with paperwork backlogs and mishaps that take years if not decades to resolve, the White House supports granting "temporary guest worker" status to upward of 20 million illegal aliens -- a move that rank-and-file homeland security officials say will lead to rampant fraud and even greater bureaucratic overload.
The same overwhelmed and inept immigration system that facilitated Eugueni Kniazev's murder has now made a mockery of his memory.
What more will it take before "Never again" is more than just an empty rhetorical mantra to pacify the American public?