Tancredo: Fake U.S. Embassy in Africa Only Tip of the Iceberg in Visa Fiasco

State Department

We learned this week that a fake US embassy operated in Ghana’s capital city for almost 10 years before being discovered and shut down. But a few thousand fraudulent visas pale in comparison to the visa overstay epidemic that the US State Department and Homeland Security have refused for two decades to take seriously.

It is not yet known how many fraudulent US Visa and passport documents the fake Ghanaian embassy produced and sold at $6000 each, but already the State Department is dismissing the scandal as a small embarrassment but not a security issue.

The Ghanaian operation produced not only fake tourist visas but fraudulent birth certificates and passports as well, so a person born in Yemen, Egypt or Pakistan, for example, could purchase a passport or visa for a country not on the list of nations identified as a haven for terrorists.

The fake embassy was raided by Ghanaian security forces back in June but not recorded in internal State Department documents until November and not reported by US media until December 5 after European news agencies exposed it.

Although State Department personnel were involved in the June raid on the outlaw facility, it is not yet clear what role, if any, US intelligence agencies or State Department internal investigators played in uncovering the fake embassy activities.

But now that the rogue document factory has been made public, the State Department is quick to say, “Nothing to worry about here, move along.” A State Department spokesman said this week that no one using the fake documents has successfully entered the United States. How the government can be certain of that was not explained.

US visas can be used for legal entry into the United States at any one of over 100 land and sea ports of entry and international airports. Once inside the United States, the illegal migrants could blend easily into the local immigrant population.

That such an illegal counterfeiting operation could function for a decade without detection speaks volumes about the lack of importance attached to detecting fraud in the issuance and monitoring of tens of millions of visas annually.

Millions of visas are issued to foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States for many different purposes.

  • In 2015, there were 75 million tourist visas alone issued to foreign citizens.
  • Over 14 million Mexican nationals entered the US in 2015 on tourist and business visas, about 50 times the number of Mexican citizens caught trying to cross the southwest border illegally in 2015.
  • In addition, almost one million foreign students (975,000 in 2015) enjoy temporary legal residence in the US through foreign student visas, which is renewable for several years and often converted to a permanent legal residence “green card.”
  • That 2015 number includes 304,000 students from communist China, 133,000 from India, and 60,000 students from Saudi Arabia– most of which are on scholarships funded by the Saudi government.

The illegal Ghanaian operation was run by Ghanaian and Turkish mobsters who paid off Ghanaian law enforcement officials to look the other way. In addition to manufacturing fake documents, they bought legitimate blank documents from foreign embassy staffs across the region. It is not widely known but the majority of workers at nearly every US embassy from London to Accra, Amman to Ottawa, are local citizens, not Americans, so bribery is a constant problem.

While fake visas and document fraud have been a problem for decades, the problem obviously has taken on greater urgency when we have over one hundred terrorist organizations trying to gain entry to our shores. Why would an Islamist terrorist risk the arduous and dangerous trek across a Mexican desert if he can enter the US “legally” at JFK, Miami or Dallas airports with counterfeit documents?

  • The BBC story on the fake embassy contained this chilling line after explaining the different types of documents sold and that it is unknown how many purchasers entered the United States: “It is not clear if the US authorities will try and take any action against them.”
  • Well, it is not likely any action will be taken by a State Department that is rushing to deny that any of the fake documents were used to enter the U.S. Presto, no need for any further investigation!

Yet, the manufacture and trafficking of fake visas is only the tip of a huge iceberg called “visa overstays.” That’s a bureaucratic euphemism for illegal entry by millions of foreign nationals each year — millions never acknowledged or included in the estimates of cross-border traffic published by the Border Patrol.

  • Those millions did not enter our country illegally, they just never went home.
  • The real scandal is not that it happens but that the government has refused to adopt steps and safeguards to identify them, send them home and bar them from future re-entry by way of legal visas.
  • The number of visa overstays out of the over 75 million tourist visas issued annually is unknown, but a recent State Department report estimated the number at one to two percent annually– and half of them go home within six months of their original exit date.

So, only 1% of 75 million tourists stay here illegally each year? Is that a big problem? Well, that depends in part on who they are and how serious you think illegal entry into the United States is. After all, over a 10-year period that is only 7.5 million illegal foreign nationals.

Congress ordered this problem to be fixed 20 years ago in the Illegal Immigration Reform Act of 1996, but every year new excuses are offered about technological obstacles. The real reason it has not been fixed is not technological, it is commercial: any effective system of tracking the millions of tourists, business travelers and foreign students would impose new costs and inconveniences to those travelers, which would interfere with trade and commerce.

In truth, a full fifteen years after 9/11, our federal government and our Congressional leadership continue to place more importance on unimpeded trade and commerce than on preventing terrorists from entering the United States.

Yes, we should minimize the additional costs and burdens placed on tourists and other legitimate visitors, who add billions of dollars to our GDP and support millions of jobs. But national security must replace commerce as our nation’s top priority.

We should not be distracted by the story about closing down one document factory in Africa when the real problem is the lack of security controls for nearly 100,000,000 entirely legal documents distributed abroad annually by our own government.