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Cato Institute: US immigrant vetting system already robust

Is the United States doing enough to keep terrorists from getting into the country on legal visas? Do we need to impose stricter vetting on those applying to visit, study, or work in the U.S.?

Yes, according to a new report from the conservative Cato Institute. The vetting we need was already put in place after 9/11, and that vetting is quite effective. Since 9/11, the think tank notes, 531 people have been killed during or convicted of carrying out terrorism-related crimes. Of those, only 13 got into the country despite the intelligence and security reforms put in place since 2001, and only one of them was involved in a deadly attack on U.S. soil.

That's a rate of one terrorism participant getting past U.S. screening out of 379 million visa or status approvals occurring between 2002 and 2016.

"The evidence indicates that the U.S. vetting system is already 'extreme' enough to handle the challenge of foreign terrorist infiltration," said the report's author.

The report involved an analysis of court records, public documents from the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, and unsealed terrorism-related convictions provided by the Justice Department.

After 9/11, the Cato Institute says, the U.S. created new agencies (such as the Department of Homeland Security) and improved its methods of identifying suspicious travelers. Actions taken included:

  • The creation of terrorist watch lists
  • Technologies that collect digital fingerprints
  • Facial recognition technology
  • Revamping the visa approval process
  • Hiring thousands of new Customs and Border Control, ICE and USCIS agents
  • Tightening the visa waiver program for Europeans with dual citizenship in or recent visits to Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia

These changes have been effective, according to Cato. "While people of all types -- foreign-born or U.S.-born -- will always pose certain risks to the country, the country has maxed out its capacity to improve immigration vetting," reads the report.

The report may have an impact on the upcoming case challenging President Trump's travel ban before the Supreme Court. The travel ban currently restricts travel from eight countries, six of which are predominantly Muslim.

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