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Publication: THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS PubDate: 11/8/1998 Head: Terrorism cases highlight flaws in federal visa system

Officials blame cursory inspections Byline: Jayne Noble Suhler, Ed Timms Credit: Staff Writers of The Dallas Morning News Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL Page Number: 11A Word Count: 541 When Lafi Khalil sought a visa at the American Consular Office in Jerusalem, the interview and review process took no more than three minutes. The consular office did not verify information he provided on the application form. Mr. Khalil failed to list his home address, home or business telephone numbers, or how he would support himself while in the United States. He didnt sign the form. Neither did the consular officer. When he arrived in New York, an inspector with the Immigration and Naturalization Service didnt notice that Mr. Khalil had been granted a transit visa, purportedly for a trip to Ecuador. Instead, the inspector admitted Mr. Khalil with a tourist visa stamp in his passport, which authorized him to remain in the United States for six months. That was on Dec. 7, 1996. More than seven months later, Mr. Khalil was implicated in a plot to bomb New Yorks subway system and was arrested in a Brooklyn apartment. After Khalil entered the United States . . . he had no further contact with the INS until his arrest . . . according to a 1998 report by the Justice Departments inspector general. As is typical with most visa overstays, the INS made no attempt to locate Khalil and deport him. Critics say that Mr. Khalils case demonstrates how easy it is to obtain a temporary visa, enter the United States, and stay. And Mr. Khalil is not alone. Hany Mahmoud Kiareldeen was arrested and accused of violating the terms of his tourist visa earlier this year. Federal officials suspect that he made a threat against the life of Attorney General Janet Reno and had contact with suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Hes in custody in New Jersey. Eyad Ismoil, the man convicted of driving the explosives-laden van in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, entered the United States on a student visa and overstayed. Mir Aimal Kasi, convicted last year of capital murder in the 1993 shooting deaths of two CIA employees outside the agencys headquarters in Langley, Va., submitted false information to obtain

a visa. Federal authorities say that organized crime figures, drug traffickers and even spies from a variety of countries have misused visas to enter the United States. INS officials say the vast majority of visa holders dont overstay and dont pose a threat, but they do acknowledge a problem. Federal agencies are taking steps to reduce the potential threat but face significant hurdles in dealing with visa holders as well as noncitizens who illegally cross the border. Some terrorist experts point to factors that make the United States vulnerable to visa misuse. They assert that screening by consular officials is often cursory, as is inspection by INS officials once visa holders enter the country. And, after they enter, those who overstay - or lied to get in - cant be tracked. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said the nations visa system is an invitation to noncitizens who have no intention of leaving, including would-be terrorists and drug smugglers. Considering how easy it is to enter . . . I guess the surprise is . . . a greater percentage of illegal aliens have not come in on a visa and then failed to return to their home country, he said.