Milan Trisic tortured Muslims during the Bosnian civil war and then lied his way into the United States in 2000, concealing his ethnic cleansing history while claiming to be a refugee fleeing persecution.
Earlier this week, a federal judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison, after which he faces deportation.
Officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) trumpeted Trisic’s prosecution as a success story in their campaign to hunt down war criminals living among Americans.
But the fact is, Trisic, 58, is far from unique. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities say that since 2003, they have arrested 395 people accused of committing human rights violations. ICE, which created the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) in 2009, also has deported 835 known or suspected violators and “facilitated the departure” of 112 others.
The DHS has more than 130 active cases involving human rights violators under investigation and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and tips involving suspects from 112 countries.
“It does seem like a lot of people, and obviously, it points to a flaw in the background screenings that are allegedly done,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “There’s not enough manpower to do the background checks.”
Mehlman, whose organization favors lower levels of immigration, said the flaws on display in cases of war criminals slipping into the America are the same ones that make the country vulnerable to terrorists. “Terrorists, war criminals. It’s all people we don’t particularly want in our country,” he said.
Trisic, an ethnic Serb, pleaded guilty in December to obtaining a green card fraudulently. He admitted that he concealed his service in the Bratunac Brigade, a Serbian Army unit that was notorious for its harsh treatment of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war from 1992 to 1996.
“Terrorists, war criminals. It’s all people we don’t particularly want in our country.”
Trisic beat, detained and moved Muslim prisoners, according to his admissions. His unit was one of those responsible for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre that resulted in the deaths of between 7,000 and 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men.
To gain entry into the United States, Trisic falsely claimed that he lived in Serbia during the war, when his actual home was in Bratunac.
“Those who wish to live in the United States ought to respect our laws, support our national security, and pursue residency legally and honestly. Anything less is inexcusable,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
Nick Annan, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations office in Atlanta, said in a statement that the agency would continue working with international partners to identify war criminals living secretly in the United States.
“We will not allow the United States to be a safe haven for those who commit atrocities abroad,” he stated.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, told LifeZette that she was stunned by the numbers.
“There are always going to be some people who game the system,” she said. “But this is far too many, and it illustrates just how porous our immigration system has been all of these years — even after 9/11.”
Trisic’s sentencing comes as President Donald Trump moves to tighten America’s immigration system and institute “extreme vetting.” The State Department on Friday will publish new screening standards in the Federal Register.
Those standards will include guidance on reviewing applications for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. Application forms will request additional information, including social media identifiers.
Vaughan said the new procedures will help, not only in flagging potential risks but in having grounds for removal later if authorities uncover untruthful statements on applications.
Vaughan said that when she headed the non-immigrant visa section of the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago in 1990 and 1991, the emphasis was on customer service.
“We were not encouraged to make much effort at verifying people’s claims,” she said. “There are still too many career officers at State and USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] who are more interested in processing applications quickly than in processing them correctly.”
Trump’s “extreme vetting” order is a welcome change, Vaughan said.
“Detecting fraud has been a very low priority for at least 10 years — until the Trump administration,” she said.