Sen. Cornyn Keeps Up Pressure On Administration To Explain Events Surrounding AWOL Afghans
by John Cornyn on June 24, 2010 at 9:54 AM
Following is the letter I wrote to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding answers on the events surrounding 17 members of the Afghan military who have gone AWOL from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio over the course of 2 years
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
Last week, the media reported that 17 Afghan military officers had gone Absent Without Leave (AWOL) from a Defense language training institute at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Needless to say, I was deeply disturbed by this report and by the fact that I had not received official notification from either the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security.
On Friday, I sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley requesting an immediate explanation and report on how such a serious violation of security occurred, as well as an assessment of the potential threat posed by these 17 officers. In statements to the media, the Air Force stated that they work in close coordination with DHS and “[w]hen the Defense Department learns an international student has gone missing, DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement is immediately notified and appropriate action is taken.” I have been informed by ICE the majority of these missing Afghan officers have not been located. According to the recent media reports, these Afghan officers disappeared over a 2-year period. Two years is a significant period of time and I find it alarming that we are still unable to locate these officers in the United States.
I recognize that tracking visa overstays in the United States is a challenge. However, I continue to see a disturbing pattern that began with Ramzi Yousef and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, came to fruition with the 9/11 hijackers, and has continued recently with Hosam Maher Husein Smadi’s planned attempts to bomb of a skyscraper in Dallas, Texas – terrorists using legal visas to gain entry into the United States with the clear intent to overstay and do harm. The 9/11 Commission pointed out this area as a vulnerability and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has echoed concerns about visa overstays and our ability to track and remove them from the United States. According to one study, the number of current overstays in the United States ranging anywhere from 4.5 million to 6 million, approximately 40 to 50% of the total illegal immigration population. Overstays come from every continent, and from many nations known to harbor terrorists, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Sudan. Given that this number is growing each year by approximately 300,000 additional aliens, it is imperative that your Department make identifying and removing visa overstays a national priority.
In a public statement, ICE indicated that they notified the U.S. law enforcement community about the missing officers and had “no information that any of these individuals pose a national security threat.” As you can imagine, I am not assured by this statement, especially given the fact that these officers remain at large in the United States with their whereabouts unknown to the U.S. government. I view this situation as a clear security failure that needs to be remedied immediately.
I would appreciate a response as soon as possible on how you intend to locate these officers immediately and remove them from the United States. I would also ask that you provide me with the Department’s strategic plan to deal with visa overstays.