As the reports have come in on the two suspects of the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, we have learned that Tashfeen Malik entered the U.S. on a K-1 or fiance visa. With this information, immigration reform advocates are again calling for tighter visa restrictions.
We have learned the following about Malik: Though she was born in Pakistan, she spent most of her life in Saudia Arabia after she moved there with her family when she was still a young girl. Malik married Syed Rizwan Farook during a short visit of his to Saudia Arabia, allowing Malik to return with Farook on a K-1 visa. Malik had since gained permanent residency status.
We also are learning that the married couple may have had ties multiple with extreme terrorists organizations. Malik is reported to have “pledged allegiance to an Islamic state leader in a Facebook posting,” while Farook has contacts with at least two known overseas terrorists groups. Since the F.B.I. has not finished their investigation on this matter, in the days and weeks ahead, we will hopefully discover how in depth these connections were.
Regardless of what we do not know, immigration reform advocates immediately began demanding tighter visa restrictions including calling for a “halt the Syrian refugee program” and “calling for investigations into the nation’s visa screening process.”
The investigations into the way we screen visas is something that has been brewing for some time. Back in August, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting the immigration information on 72 individuals who the letter claims to have done the following over the course of the last year:
“engaged in or attempted to engage in acts of terrorism; conspired or attempted to conspire to provide material support to a terrorist organization; engaged in criminal conduct inspired by terrorist ideology; or who have been sentenced for any of the foregoing.“
The letter continues to state,
“We would like to understand more about these individuals, and others similarly situated in recent history, and the nexus between terrorism and our immigration system.“
After the Paris terrorist attacks, the two sent another joint letter admonishing the administration for their failure to respond to their August request. This past Thursday, the two again demanded information in another letter; this time, however, the demand included more individuals — Malik and Farook’s parents.
The demand for information and reform is not limited to these right-wing conservatives. After the Paris attacks, and concerns for the current visa waiver program, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) have been attempting to expedite a bill that would “bar anyone who traveled to Syria or Iraq in the last five years from coming to the U.S. under the visa waiver program.”
Even Hillary Clinton has joined in on this conversation, stating that “she is open to changes in the nation’s visa waiver program.” In response to Malik’s citizenship status, Hillary stated,
“I agree with the White House and the Democrats in the Congress who are advocating we take a hard look at the visa waiver program…She was here because she had married an American citizen, and I well remember that the people who flew into the World Trade Center were here on visas, some of which had expired.”
Since 9/11, those seeking visas undergo a multiple layer vetting process, conducted by multiple agencies. Though the K-1 fiance visa goes through a multi-layer process, the State Department reports that it is not as comprehensive as the refugee vetting process.
Reasonable minds may differ on how the vetting process should proceed, but the consensus seems that all visas should undergo rigorous and comprehensive reform. Though this may be necessary, there is understandable concern that these calls for visa restrictions will ultimately harm all immigrant communities. There needs to be some balance in order to ensure that any reform will not infringe on immigrants’ basic human rights.
Featured image by Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.