For the time being, at least, the fiancé visa program that allowed terrorist bride Tashfeen Malik into the country continues — thanks to President Obama.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that while changes are likely for the visa programs used by Malik, one of the terrorists in last week’s San Bernardino shooting, they will continue to operate during a review.
“That program is, at a minimum, worth a very close look,” he said, referring to the so-called “fiancé visa” program.
Earnest said he was confident that the administration would implement any necessary changes, but added the administration is unwilling to shut it down pending an examination.
“There is more information that needs to be collected in the context of the investigation to make sure we sort of have a complete picture of what exactly happened,” he said.
Formally called the K-1 visa, the program lets a foreigner who is engaged to an American to come into the United States provided that he or she passes a records check and gets married within 90 days of entry. The government issues some 35,000 of the visa each year. It has one of the lowest rates of denial of any visa program run by the United States.
About 10 percent of the K-1 visas issued in fiscal year 2014 went to applicants from majority-Muslim countries, according to statistics from the State Department.
Authorities say Malik entered on a K-1 visa and married Syed Rizwan Farook. The couple died in a shootout with police following the massacre at a Christmas party for Farook’s co-workers.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, noted that government officials reviewing Malik’s application failed to notice that she gave a bogus home address and had discussed jihad and martyrdom online for at least a year before entering the United States. Such lapses are hardly unique to the K-1 visa program, he said.
“It is an inability of the government to carry out meaningful background checks,” he said. “And that’s much bigger than one program. There were numerous red flags that they missed.”
Obama plainly has the authority to block some or all of the people seeking to enter on fiancé visas. It is the same authority Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cited when he floated the idea this week of temporarily halting all Muslims from coming into the United States “until we figure out what is going on.”
The authority comes from a statute allowing the president “by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate” whenever he finds he entry of any alien or class of aliens would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
“Our legal immigration security checks are broken, like our legal immigration system, or sabotaged, like our legal immigration system.”
William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee, said Obama should use his power to halt all immigration into the country until officials identify and fix holes in the system.
“Obama and his administration plan to aid our enemy and lie to us indefinitely,” he said. “The United States has been heavily compromised … Even our legal immigration security checks are broken, like our legal immigration system, or sabotaged, like our legal immigration system.”
Even some critics of Trump’s proposal have urged the Obama administration to take a harder line against possible security risks posed by lightly vetted visitors.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform this week opposed denying entry into the United States based solely on religious affiliation. But Mehlman said it would be wise to reduce the overall number of people coming into the country and enact more rigorous background checks.
That is “not (possible) on the volume that we’re seeing now,” he said.