WASHINGTON – Several Iraqi nationals recently have been caught sneaking illegally across the U.S.-Mexican border into Arizona, according to a U.S. congressman who is alarmed by the security breach and wants U.S. troops stationed on the border.
That comes on top of news that U.S. authorities last month had to expel an Iraqi journalist who covered the United Nations for the official Iraqi News Agency, because he was considered a security risk on the eve of war with Iraq. Two U.N.-based Iraqi diplomats also were asked to leave the country.
And some federal immigration officers worry about the possible divided loyalties of the thousands of Iraqi citizens living in the U.S. while the U.S. is engaged in what could be a long war and military occupation of their homeland.
“Should the U.S. attack Iraq, what will the U.S. do about Iraqi citizens living in the U.S. as legal residents with green cards?” asked a U.S. immigration officer in Dallas. “After all, they are not U.S. citizens. They’re citizens of Iraq, and their allegiance is not to the U.S., but to Iraq.”
Of more concern, says a spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., are Iraqi nationals burrowing into the U.S. from Mexico.
“The congressman is deeply concerned about the number of people coming across the border illegally who are of Iraqi descent,” said Tancredo aide Lara Kennedy in a WorldNetDaily interview. “That is alarming because, unlike those with green cards or visas, we don’t know exactly what their intentions are, because we can’t keep track of them.”
She says the Iraqi nationals were discovered with other OTM – Other Than Mexican – illegal aliens in Border Patrol sweeps near the Sierra Vista, Ariz., border with Mexico, an area south of Tucson.
Tancredo, chairman of Congress’ Immigration Reform Caucus, found out about the Iraqis during a recent fact-finding mission with other caucus members to the porous border stretch. Concerned about possible terrorism, he wants troops patrolling the border.
A month after the Sept. 11 attacks, Iraqi-born smuggler George Tajirian pleaded guilty to forging an alliance with a corrupt Mexican immigration officer, Angel Molina Paramo, to smuggle Iraqi, Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, Yemeni and other illegal aliens through Mexico and into the U.S.
Gulf War safeguards
During the last Gulf conflict, in 1991, the U.S. government made similar expulsions of Iraqi diplomats, who were considered undercover agents, and also began a program to fingerprint, photograph and register anyone arriving in the U.S. with an Iraqi passport. The registration program continues today and includes most other Muslim-dominated states thanks to post-Sept. 11 immigration security reforms.
After the Gulf War, however, the previous Bush administration resettled some 35,000 Iraqi refugees in America. Thousands more, mostly Iraqi Kurds, followed on their heels throughout the last decade.
Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven Camarota says it was a mistake.
“We’ve had pretty horrible relations with Iraq for the whole 1990s,” he said. “Yet the census shows there are about 70,000 immigrants from Iraq living in the United States who said they came here in the 1990s.”
All told, he says, there are 112,586 Iraqi immigrants living in the U.S. – third highest among Muslim nations. The government estimates that 1,000 are here illegally, though Camarota says the actual number is more than likely much higher.
Are Iraqi immigrants now a security threat? Probably not if they’re here legally, says a Homeland Security Department official.
“Anybody who applies for a green card or permanent residence goes through extensive background checks,” said Tim Counts, spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly the INS). “And Iraqis who are naturalized U.S. citizens have also gone through extensive background checks.”
He says the background checks are even more thorough since Sept. 11.
“We run their names, fingerprints and photographs through multiple databases, including INTERPOL databases,” Counts told WorldNetDaily.
The State Department conducts background checks on visa applicants.
Still, some immigration officers insist there’s a question of allegiance even with Iraqi-Americans, seeing that the U.S. does not enforce its oath of allegiance.
Nearly 90 countries allow some form of multiple citizenship, meaning immigrants from many of those countries who become U.S. citizens can hold on to their old passports, vote in their former countries’ elections or even serve in their armed forces.
Counts confirmed that the “U.S. does not require somebody to give up their foreign citizenship.” More, it’s the only country that allows new citizens to maintain the three foreign privileges cited above, as well as swearing allegiance to a foreign state, according to professor Stanley Renshon of the City University of New York.
However, Iraq takes away Iraqi citizenship from former citizens who become Americans, according to an Iraqi Embassy spokesman here. “That’s it,” he said, “they are no longer citizens and cannot get a passport.”