U.S. Blames COVID for Granting 7.1 Million Foreigners Visas without Proper Vetting

In addition to the unfathomable immigration crisis that has jolted the nation during the Biden administration, millions of foreign nationals have been granted visas to enter the United States without proper vetting that includes in-person interviews and the collection of fingerprints similar to the Visa Express program used by three of the 9/11 hijackers. How could this occur more than two decades after the worst terrorist attack on American soil? Blame it on COVID-19, according to the explanation offered by the federal officials charged with safeguarding the nation.

The Department of State (DoS) issues visas to individuals seeking entry into the U.S. on a temporary basis for study, tourism, medical treatment, business, and temporary work. When the pandemic hit in 2020 the agency waived requirements to conduct consular interviews and collect fingerprints for some nonimmigrant visa applicants and 7.1 million got in without proper screening between 2020 and 2023, a recently published federal audit reveals. The agency said the waiver was issued to address staffing limitations and visa backlogs, according to the probe which was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General. In its report, which includes multiple redactions to supposedly protect sensitive information, the watchdog refers to the enormous amount of visa waivers as an “urgent issue” that must be addressed.

The security lapse was created by the State Department when the task of screening the foreign visa holders was passed along to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the overwhelmed frontline agency charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. during an unprecedented onslaught of illegal immigrants. Unbelievably the Inspector General found that CBP, which must balance facilitating lawful travel and trade with protecting land and seaports amid a deluge of migrants, was not informed which foreign visa holders arriving at the U.S. border were not properly vetted by the State Department. “CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) port directors at some U.S. ports of entry had not been aware of the interview and fingerprint waiver program,” the report states, adding that it was not until March 2024 that the State Department began providing CBP with information on visa holders who were not screened. It is not clear why visa applicants are still not vetted abroad by consular offices even though the pandemic is no longer an issue.

Even when CBP officials finally began receiving the information from the State Department involving individuals whose requirement for consular interviews had been waved, management chose not to conduct thorough checks because it would “inundate” the process. “CBP OFO officials told us that no formal notification was provided to the Field Offices and frontline officers because CBP did not want to overload the officers with information,” investigators write in the report. “Further, they added that CBP receives hundreds of alerts each day, but officials must prioritize what information is shared with frontline officers.” CBP officials told the DHS IG that, instead of providing officers with access to the information, they plan to work with the National Targeting Center to identify any risks posed by visa holders who had their interview waived by the State Department.

This information is alarming considering CBP is responsible for screening all foreign visitors and returning American citizens upon arrival at a United States port of entry (POE). Just a few days ago, the agency came under fire for failing to use technology, procedures, and coordination to adequately protect the border resulting in the entry of criminals, suspected terrorists, and other nefarious actors into the country. A federal probe found that the agency used varied and sometimes inconsistent inspection procedures for travelers arriving in vehicles at land ports of entry and that it does not have the technology to perform biometric matching on travelers arriving in vehicles at the crossings. Specifically, CBP uses non-standard inspection procedures for vehicle passengers and fails to query all vehicle occupants to identify criminal warrants, national security concerns to border crossing history before admitting them into the U.S. The last thing this agency needs is the added duty of screening foreign visa applicants, which is supposed to be performed by consular offices abroad.

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