Planes Over Lodi And the Religious Worker Scam
July 08, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Even before the London bombings, my Lodi, CA. neighbors and I had a constant reminder of terrorism and the F.B.I.'s recent investigation in our little town.

Even if we wanted to put the arrests on terrorist and immigration charges of five Pakistani men out of our minds, we can't.

For the last six weeks, "mystery planes"—as the Lodi News-Sentinel refers to them—have made long slow loops over the town thereby creating rampant speculation about their purpose.

The unanimous conclusion, including the view from this corner, is that the planes are following-up on the initial Fed probe. What else could explain the all-day presence of the aircraft?  ("Mystery Planes Continue to Circle Over Lodi," Lodi News-Sentinel, June 29, 2005Layla Bohm, )

A few facts have been unearthed. One of the planes—a Cessna 182—is registered in Delaware, appears to be equipped with infrared tracking and is similar to a plane used in a 2002 terrorism investigation in Lackawanna, New York to monitor e-mails and cell phone conversations.

But as interesting as it is for Lodians to wonder out loud about what those planes—buzzing overhead as I write this column—are doing, the local cognoscenti are asking me a more pressing question:

Federal officials continuously tell us that America is in the midst of a life and death struggle against terrorism. So how could avowed Islamic fundamentalist Shabbir Ahmed come to the U.S. on a religious visa? Ahmed has admitted to making several anti-American speeches while still in Pakistan. ("How Visa System Failed to Flag Lodi Imam," Rone Tempest, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2005)

For those less attuned than VDARE.COM readers, it seems impossible that Ahmed, who rabidly promoted jihad against America during speeches outside the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad one month after 9/11, could waltz into the U.S. just a few weeks later.

According to Tempest's L.A. Times report, Pakistani and foreign media as well as the Boston Globe prominently covered Ahmed's vow to " destroy" whoever is "against Islam" including Pakistan's president and U.S. ally Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Promised Ahmed, "Blood is going to be spilled in Pakistan."

Also included among the current F.B.I. charges are statements that Ahmed exhorted Pakistanis on five different occasions to travel to Afghanistan to kill Americans and to support Osama bin Laden.

But when Ahmed presented himself at the U.S. Consulate in Pakistan in January 2002, he received an "uncontested" R-1 visa good for a three-year stay in the U.S.

All the more amazing is that Ahmed is a unique-looking fellow who, given that his image and name had been widely publicized, should have been instantly recognizable at the U.S. consulate.

But we're talking federal immigration policy so anything goes—including letting one of the most loud-mouthed anti-American Islamic clerics into the U.S. on a religious visa, no less!

Let me confess—even someone like me who is hardened to the U.S.'s self-destructing immigration policies was shocked at how easy it is to get an R-1 visa.

Consider:

  • An R-1 "worker" does not need to have performed any "work" for his denomination prior to receiving his visa. He does, however, need to be qualified to "work"…whatever that may mean.

  • No actual petition to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service is required. The R-1 visa does not require previous USCIS approval. Petitions may be made directly to the U.S. consulate or the USCIS.

  • No application form exists! At the consulate, a letter from the organization that will be using the applicant's services will suffice as the application. I note that any such letter is particularly useless in Ahmed's case. No one in Islamabad—7,500 miles away from Lodi—could possibly know anything about the operational needs of the Lodi Muslim Mosque.

Of course, even if any enlightened individual were to protest that this policy is total madness, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. would tell him to take comfort that the consular database of suspects has increased since 9/11 from 7 million to 20 million.

But even a three-fold increase is not good enough. What purpose does the visa truly serve? Why is even one single R-1 visa issued to anyone from anywhere let alone terrorist supporting nations?

Considering that 53 R-1 visas were granted to Pakistani imams in 2002, those questions deserve answers.

In the Lodi case, Ahmed has been fired and the mosque is looking for a non-Pakistani replacement already in the U.S. The entire furor, in other words, could have been avoided if the R-1 visa didn't exist.

Ahmed and fellow Lodi imam Muhammad Hassan Adil Khan—also charged with visa violations—have their deportation hearing set for October. I cannot imagine that they will not be summarily deported.

But we live in the U.S. where the government is, for the most part, unwilling to enforce immigration or non-immigrant visa laws.

Looked at from that vantage point, the Ahmed and Khan hearings represent a pivotal moment.

If, despite the evidence against them, the imams wiggle off the hook, that's bad news for the country.

But if, as seems more likely given the high profile nature of this case, Ahmed and Khan are deported, then that will one big step forward for America.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.