Kobach – Refugees and Terrorism: A Massive Vulnerability in Our Immigration System


The left-leaning Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled against the Trump Administration’s “travel ban” and kept in place the preliminary injunction that prevents President Trump’s executive order from going into effect. In a classic case of judicial activism, the three Clinton-appointed judges declared that the president’s order “does not offer a sufficient justification” to satisfy them. Never mind that the relevant statute does not require the president to satisfy federal judges (or anyone else, for that matter) that his decision is a good one.

Like other liberal critics of the president, the judges questioned whether the six nations subject to a 90-day travel ban (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) really represent the most dangerous sources of terrorists in the world.  No doubt this discussion will continue in the court of public opinion.

But while the six-nation part of the executive order is important, it is not the most important part. What many people are missing is that the greatest benefit of the executive order comes from the 120-day suspension of refugee admissions, along with the imposition of higher standards of screening on aliens seeking refugee status.

The United States refugee/asylum system has been, and continues to be, a major loophole in our immigration system. By my count, at least 30 terrorists have used refugee status (or presence in the United States based on asylum claims) to carry out their terrorist activities in the United States since the 1993 World Trade Center attack.*

For example, four of the terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack — the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel RahmanRamzi YousefAhmad Ajaj, and Biblal Alkaisi — entered or remained in the United States by making bogus claims of political asylum. The LAX airport terrorist of 2002, Hesham Hadayet, also used a fraudulent asylum claim to remain in the United States and carry out his attack.

The Boston Marathon bombers of 2013, Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, exploited the refugee program too. They had derivative asylum status, based on the asylum status of their father. Using his green card, Tamerlan was able to travel abroad and make contact with radical Islamists then re-enter the United States freely.

The Iraqi terrorists involved in the 2011 Bowling Green plot, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohaned Shareef Hammadi, were also refugees. And most recently, Somali refugee Abdul Razak Ali Artan carried out the November 2016 Ohio State University attack. And the list goes on.

Why do so many terrorists exploit refugee status in the United States? There are several reasons. One of the most important is that with refugee status comes a green card. This allows the alien to exit and enter the United States freely.  He can then obtain terrorist training abroad and coordinate with foreign Islamist organizations.

Another important reason is that even if the alien doesn’t hold refugee status before he arrives in the United States, he can claim political asylum when he gets here. And the vast majority of asylum claimants are allowed to roam the United States for years while their asylum claims are being adjudicated.

To obtain asylum, an alien must demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution” in his country of origin, based on race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. An alien’s asylum claim may be completely bogus, but the alien is still allowed to remain in the United States while the claim is being decided. And oftentimes, even if his asylum claim is rejected, the alien can just disappear into the fabric of the country, never to be deported.

Foreign terrorist organizations know how to manipulate the system. Their applicants make up fake stories and carry fake documents.  And if the alien uses a fake name or fake date of birth, he won’t show up on any national security databases.

If asylum and refugee applicants were being vetted more strictly, terrorist abuse of the system wouldn’t be as widespread it has become. But the Obama Administration was notoriously lax in screening out bogus asylum claims, denying only 7 percent of applications from Syrians. Even worse, in his final year in office, Obama accelerated the number of refugees admitted from Somalia and Syria—two of the worst hotbeds of terrorism in the world.  The two countries accounted for a disproportionate share of refugees admitted in FY 2016, with 9,012 coming from Somalia and 12,486 coming from Syria.

This madness must end, especially as ISIS-affiliated Islamist terrorists appear to be stepping up their attacks in the West. The United States homeland remains a principal target, and many terrorists will attempt to make it to the United States as the noose is tightened by the U.S. and allied military attacking ISIS territory.

That is why the executive order’s refugee section is so important.

The refugee program must be halted temporarily, so that “extreme vetting” protocols can be put in place. American screeners must grill asylum applicants even more critically and ask questions designed to identify those who are sympathetic with Islamist terrorism. Screeners can no longer take applicants at their word. Asylum applicants need to provide solid evidence that their fears of persecution are real. If there is any doubt whatsoever, the asylum claim must be denied.

In a different day and age, such severe screening might not be necessary. But that is not the time we live in. America is under attack, and the refugee program has become a convenient tool for terrorists. The executive order is a crucial step in the right direction. Let’s hope the Supreme Court puts it back in place.


* “The Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, Bilal Alkaisi, Ahmed Ajaj, Mir Aimal KansiIbrahim ParlakHassan FarajMuin Mohammed,  Gazi Ibrahim Abu MezerAbdel Hakim TizeghaRabih Haddad, Hesham Hadayet, Kamran Sheikh AkhtarNuradin Abdi, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Waad Ramadan Alwan, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, Fazliddin Kurbanov, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, Siki Ramiz Hodzic, Sedina Unkic HodzicAws Mohammed Younis Al-JayabOmar Faraj Saeed Al HardanDritan Duka, Shain Duka, Eljvir DukaEl Mehdi Semlali FathiAbdullatif AldosaryAbdul Halim Hassan Al-Ashqar.

Kris W. Kobach is the elected Secretary of State of Kansas.  An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the 10 ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty. President Trump has named him Vice Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. His website is kriskobach.com.


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