National Security

Lawmaker: vetting of San Bernardino shooter’s visa was ‘shoddy’

Tashfeen Malik in an undated photo provided by the FBI.
Tashfeen Malik in an undated photo provided by the FBI. FBI

Immigration officials failed to sufficiently screen the visa application that allowed San Bernardino shooter Tafsheen Malik into the country, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Goodlatte said he reviewed Malik’s immigration file, which the State Department has refused to make public.

“After reviewing Tashfeen Malik’s immigration file, it is clear that immigration officials did not thoroughly vet her application,” Goodlatte said in a statement issued on Saturday.

Malik, a Pakistani national, arrived in the United States last year on a visa reserved for fiancés of U.S. citizens. After being allowed into the country, she married American Syed Rizwan Farook. The couple launched the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.

“In order to obtain a fiancé visa, it is required to demonstrate proof that the U.S. citizen and foreign national have met in person,” Goodlatte said. “However, Malik’s immigration file does not show sufficient evidence for this requirement. What is worse, the immigration official reviewing Malik’s application requested more evidence to ensure the two met in person but it was never provided and her visa was approved anyway.”

Goodlatte’s announcement will increase the already intense pressure in Congress to tighten the screening of visa applications for foreigners to enter the U.S.

“Visa security is critical to national security, and it’s unacceptable that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not fully vet Malik’s application and instead sloppily approved her visa,” Goodlatte said. He said the House Judiciary Committee is working on a bill to “strengthen visa processing security.”

Goodlatte said the only proof that Malik and Farook gave immigration officials for having met in person is Farook’s statement that they had been together in Saudi Arabia and “copies of pages from their passports, containing visas to enter Saudi Arabia and stamps in Arabic.”

The immigration officials reviewing Malik’s application asked for the passport stamps to be translated into English to confirm the pair were in Saudi Arabia at the same time. But the file shows no such translation, Goodlatte said.

The House Judiciary Committee had the passport stamps translated and found that Malik entered Saudi Arabia on approximately June 4, 2013. Her exit stamp is only partially legible and the translator could not determine when she left Saudi Arabia, Goodlatte said. Farook’s stamps show he was in Saudi Arabia between Oct. 1, 2013 and about Oct. 20, 2013.

“However, even if Farook and Malik were in Saudi Arabia at the same time, this does not provide evidence that they met in person,” according to Goodlatte. “Additionally, Malik’s Saudi Arabian visa was good for only 60 days, so this would cast doubt on the claim that the two were in Saudi Arabia at the same time.”

After entering the U.S. on the fiancée visa and marrying Farook, Malik applied for and was granted a conditional green card allowing permanent residency.

The State Department has refused to make Malik’s immigration file public, despite the fact that she was killed in a shootout with law enforcement.

“Visa records are confidential under U.S. law – it has no bearing on whether the individual is deceased or not,” State Department spokeswoman Beth Finan said in response to a request for the file from McClatchy. “It is the record that is protected, not the individual’s privacy.”

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham