Terrorists, American Citizenship, and Sham Marriages

Statue-LibertyIn her column this week, Michelle Malkin does yeoman work in uncovering a problem that I never realized existed: Terrorists obtaining American citizenship through what appear to be sham marriages.

She notes that many of us were confused that Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber with apparent ties to the Pakistani Taliban, was a naturalized American citizen.  Why, after all, would someone bother to get citizenship in a country they despised?

Apparently, Shahzad is merely the tip of the iceberg:

— El Sayyid A. Nosair wed Karen Ann Mills Sweeney to avoid deportation for overstaying his visa. He acquired U.S. citizenship, allowing him to remain in the country, and was later convicted for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that claimed six lives.

— Ali Mohamed became an American citizen after marrying a woman he met on a plane trip from Egypt to New York. Recently divorced, Linda Lee Sanchez wed Mohamed in Reno, Nev., after a six-week “courtship.” Mohamed became a top aide to Osama bin Laden and was later convicted for his role in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Africa that killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others.

— Embassy bombing plotter Khalid Abu al Dahab obtained citizenship after marrying three different American women.

— Embassy bombing plotter Wadih el Hage, Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary, married April Ray in 1985 and became a naturalized citizen in 1989. Ray knew of her husband’s employment with bin Laden, but like many of these women in bogus marriages, she pleaded ignorance about the nature of her husband’s work. El Hage, she says, was a sweet man, and bin Laden “was a great boss.”

— Lebanon-born Chawki Youssef Hammoud, convicted in a Hezbollah cigarette-smuggling operation based out of Charlotte, N.C., married American citizen Jessica Fortune for a green card to remain in the country.

— Hammoud’s brother, Mohammed Hammoud, married three different American women. After arriving in the United States on a counterfeit visa, being ordered deported and filing an appeal, he wed Sabina Edwards to gain a green card. Federal immigration officials refused to award him legal status after this first marriage was deemed bogus in 1994. Undaunted, he married Jessica Wedel in May 1997 and, while still wed to her, paid Angela Tsioumas (already married to someone else, too) to marry him in Detroit. The Tsioumas union netted Mohammed Hammoud temporary legal residence to operate the terror cash scam. He was later convicted on 16 counts that included providing material support to Hezbollah.

— A total of eight Middle Eastern men who plotted to bomb New York landmarks in 1993 — Fadil Abdelgani, Amir Abdelgani, Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, Tarig Elhassan, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Fares Khallafalla, Mohammed Saleh, and Matarawy Mohammed Said Saleh — all obtained legal permanent residence by marrying American citizens.

A year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, homeland security officials cracked a massive illegal alien Middle Eastern marriage fraud ring in a sting dubbed “Operation Broken Vows.” Authorities were stunned by the scope of the operations, which stretched from Boston to South Carolina to California.

Now, obviously, this is a bad thing.  American citizenship should, after all, carry with it some presumption of innocence and additional legal protection.  (John McCain, Peter King, and Joe Lieberman would beg to differ.)

At the same time, I’m not sure what it is we’re supposed to do about it.

It’s reasonable to put the spouses of American citizens on the fast track to citizenship.  (Full disclosure: My mother, a German national, benefited from this practice upon marrying my father back in 1964, obtaining her citizenship in 1965.)  And, Sandra Bullock romantic comedies notwithstanding, the number of people getting married solely to obtain citizenship is vanishingly small.

Should we screen foreign nationals applying to marry a citizen to make sure they’re not on a terrorism watch list or otherwise of dubious criminality?  Sure.  But, as noted repeatedly in this space, the incompetence of our terror screening bureaucracy is legendary.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    My approach to the immigration problem is work visas, and ten years with no felonies before you can apply for citizenship. Why shouldn’t marriage partners get a visa, and ten years before citizenship? They’d be here, but not quite citizens, yet.

    (You probably have to be a certain age to think that 10 years is not a long time.)

  2. sam says:

    It’s reasonable to put the spouses of American citizens on the fast track to citizenship. (Full disclosure: My mother, a German national, benefited from this practice upon marrying my father back in 1964, obtaining her citizenship in 1965.)

    It certainly is, but you know, there’s a quirk in our immigration law that can have some unpleasant consequences:

    Widows of U.S. Citizens Face Deportation Under Immigration Law

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    SAN ANTONIO — At least 200 immigrants nationwide face deportation under what’s become known as the “widow’s penalty,” a federal policy ordering widows and widowers out of the country if their U.S. citizen spouse dies before their immigration application is approved.

    Immigration officials maintain they are simply enforcing the law, but some advocates for the immigrants say it’s a cruel injustice to spouses who were following U.S. immigration law and suffered the loss of a husband or wife, the San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

    “Our great nation cannot be seen to invite foreign fiancees, authorize them to become married to American citizens, sanction their application for legal status, allow them to establish families and a home life together, then throw the spouses out when the American dies during bureaucratic immigration processing,” said Seattle lawyer Brent Renison in a federal court filing on behalf of Gwendolyn Hanford, a Filipino woman fighting deportation.

    Her husband died of a heart attack in 1998, before the government approved her green card application. She was notified in 2002 that although couple had a child together, her application was denied.

    “Your former fiance, later your husband, has died,” the government informed her. “Consequently, your application … cannot be approved as you are no longer the spouse of a citizen of the United States.”

  3. PD Shaw says:

    At the same time, I’m not sure what it is we’re supposed to do about it.

    Well, for the more recent ones who signed naturalization forms stating that they were not involved with terrorist organizations etc., we can strip them of their citizenship and then deport them.

    That’s what I don’t get about the recent discussion of citizenship stripping. It’s not novel as a part of war to strip citizenship or invalidate citizenship obtained under false pretenses. But there are not a whole lot of rights given to citizens that are not given to non-citizens in our country, the main exception being the right to stay. If we wanted to get the Time Square bomber out of the country, we shouldn’t have stopped him at the airport.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    sam, you would think that the child would be a citizen too?

  5. Bill Jempty says:

    It certainly is, but you know, there’s a quirk in our immigration law that can have some unpleasant consequences:

    Widows of U.S. Citizens Face Deportation Under Immigration Law

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    SAN ANTONIO — At least 200 immigrants nationwide face deportation under what’s become known as the “widow’s penalty,” a federal policy ordering widows and widowers out of the country if their U.S. citizen spouse dies before their immigration application is approved.

    Immigration officials maintain they are simply enforcing the law, but some advocates for the immigrants say it’s a cruel injustice to spouses who were following U.S. immigration law and suffered the loss of a husband or wife, the San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

    “Our great nation cannot be seen to invite foreign fiancees, authorize them to become married to American citizens, sanction their application for legal status, allow them to establish families and a home life together, then throw the spouses out when the American dies during bureaucratic immigration processing,” said Seattle lawyer Brent Renison in a federal court filing on behalf of Gwendolyn Hanford, a Filipino woman fighting deportation.

    Her husband died of a heart attack in 1998, before the government approved her green card application. She was notified in 2002 that although couple had a child together, her application was denied.

    “Your former fiance, later your husband, has died,” the government informed her. “Consequently, your

    Sam,

    That’s no longer valid. The Widow Penalty was abolished last Fall. James was kind enough to let me blog at OTB about the Widow Penalty a few years back.

    There’s another immigration disgrace that needs to be fixed. Immigrant spouse marries serviceman by proxy(she’s pregnant with his child). The citizen spouse is killed in action and the wife is denied residency because the marriage wasn’t consummated.

    Please meet Hotaru Ferschke.

    Full Disclosure- I met my wife while serving in the Navy. She immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1989, and became a U.S. citizen in 1994. We will celebrate 21 years of marriage this May 30th.

  6. sam says:

    @Bill

    Excellent!

    But

    Immigrant spouse marries serviceman by proxy(she’s pregnant with his child). The citizen spouse is killed in action and the wife is denied residency because the marriage wasn’t consummated.

    If she’s pregnant with his child, wasn’t the marriage consummated? (In vitro or something?)

  7. Bill Jempty says:

    If she’s pregnant with his child, wasn’t the marriage consummated? (In vitro or something?)

    Not in the eyes of immigration. Only if a special bill is passed with Hota Ferschke be able to legally live in the United States. Its preposterous, as is United States immigration on too often a basis.

    If you want to read more about Hota google Hotaru Ferschke with either the word Wizbang or ROK Drop. I have written a half dozen plus posts on her story.

  8. tom p says:

    Great, one more thing I have to worry about for my immigrant (and naturalized) wife.