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According to Napolitano, even though the DHS did not have a written policy requiring the vetting of all foreign students, the background checks had still been made, saying, “In 2010, we took steps to be sure all foreign students are vetted.” Then, in a case of “the check’s in the mail,” Napolitano assured the lawmakers that a policy memorandum is in the process of being drawn up.
Despite Napolitano’s assurances, however, some lawmakers may still be a bit skeptical about the DHS’s newfound commitment to administrative detail.
That skepticism may be rooted in the fact that the GAO also reported that — given the TSA’s failure to keep its database of background checks up to date — some of the nearly 26,000 foreign nationals registered with the FAA from 2006 to 2011 may not have been vetted by AFSP.
While concern rests with illegal foreign nationals having been trained to fly aircraft, another security concern plaguing TSA is the fact that nearly 500 US citizens are on the government’s “no-fly” list. Specifically, since American citizens are not subject to the same screening regulations as foreign flight students, individuals who are unable to board a commercial plane because they are considered security threats to US security could begin to learn to fly that same plane.
However, while the TSA has been receiving the lion’s share of blame for allowing illegal foreign nationals to flight train, Committee Chair Rogers has let it be known that other security agencies responsible for vetting foreign nationals needed “to step up their game as well,” adding, “Nobody’s hands are clean.”
While Rogers didn’t specifically name any other agency, it may be a safe guess that some of those dirty hands belong to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), another federal agency within DHS and the one responsible for deporting illegal aliens.
That speculation may arise from the fact that Rogers’ committee had received an earlier audit report by the GAO that expressed concerns that ICE was increasingly subject “to the risk of fraud and noncompliance” for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), an ICE program that certifies more than 850,000 active foreign students in the United States enrolled at more than 10,000 schools.
The GAO found that since ICE took over the program in 2003, the agency has failed to develop a procedural process to monitor state licensing and accreditation status for all types of schools, including flight schools that lack required FAA certification.
Specifically, the GAO found that while ICE policies require SEVP-certified flight schools offering flight training to have specific FAA certifications, only 38 percent or “approximately 167 of 434 SEVP-certified flight schools do not have the required certifications as of December 2011.”
Of course, it doesn’t particularly come as a shock to find that ICE, like TSA, is administratively challenged, especially given that the GAO had reported in May 2011 that ICE had a backlog of some 1.6 million records of potential visa overstays involving people who had come to the US since 2004.
Of that number, ICE said about half of those people had either left the country or applied to change their immigration status, with only 2,700 given further review. The nearly 800,000 remaining people, however, merely had their status noted in electronic files “in case any of them commit crimes in the future or otherwise become a priority to be deported.”
Hopefully, those “future crimes” don’t come in the form of a plane being deliberately flown into an American building.
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