Trump’s Executive Orders a Slap at Bush-Era Enhancements to Visa Security?

Donald J. Trump stated, in the introductory material to his January 27, 2017 Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” that “while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks . . . these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.”

The order doesn’t mention which attacks Trump thinks could have been prevented, but here’s a handy article on “How Many Terrorist Attacks in the U.S. Have Been Carried Out by Immigrants from the 7 Banned Muslim Countries?”.

The Executive Order goes on to call for a “uniform screening standard,” suggesting that Trump and his advisers think that what’s already in place is haphazard at best.

Interesting, given that at the time, the changes to visa screening procedures were considered so severe that some worried they were causing a decline in travel to the United States and “hurt businesses by straining relationships with customers and hindering opportunities for new business.”

Let’s take a look back at what new immigrant-screening measures were implemented after September 11, initially by President George W. Bush and then followed up on or adjusted by President Obama:

  • Creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which brought together 22 separate agencies, including all immigration and border-related ones, into a single, Cabinet-level department.
  • Requirement that airlines send passenger lists in advance of flights, for review by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). (See Aviation Security.)
  • More scrutiny of fingerprints, names, and other records before approval for visas for tourists, business visitors, students, and others, thus adding 50 days to visa approval times in many cases.
  • Creation of machine-readable, tamper-proof visas.
  • Enhanced use of technology and data sharing between federal agencies.
  • Requirement that all visa applicants from certain countries undergo an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate before visa approval.
  • Additional training of U.S. consular officers who review visa applications to help them identify fraud and terrorist links.
  • Increased visa fees.
  • Creation of US-VISIT, a program that captures biometric data from foreign nationals both at visa-issuing U.S. consulates and embassies and at U.S. ports of entry. (It’s now called “Office of Biometric Identity Management.”)
  • Implementation of the SEVIS database, an online tracking system under which schools are made responsible for tracking foreign students enrolled there.
  • Implementation of the Alien Absconder Initiative, which involved interviewing non-citizen men from “MASA” (Muslim, Arab, and South Asian) countries.
  • Creation of the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) special registration program), under which adult males from 25 predominately Muslim countries were required to register and be fingerprinted and photographed at ports of entry or present themselves at immigration offices inside the U.S. for fingerprints and photographs. This was later ended.
  • Other changes that were not publicly disclosed.

This information was compiled from various resources, such as an American Bar Association Article on “9/11 and Immigration Law and Policy,” and this DHS report on Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations.

And although it’s a long list, I may have missed a few. One wouldn’t think that one Republican president would so easily forget or dismiss such significant efforts by another. But then, a list of forgotten lessons of history would be even longer than the list above.