WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 10,000 people from countries designated as sponsors of terrorism have entered the United States under an immigration diversity program with relatively few restrictions, a report released on Friday said.
The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the State Department’s inspector general warned in 2003 that the Diversity Visa Program posed a significant risk to national security and recommended it be closed to people from countries on the U.S. list of state terrorism sponsors.
But four years later, the program remains open to people from those nations and little is known about what becomes of them once they enter the United States, the GAO said.
From 2000 to 2006, the program allowed 3,703 people from Sudan, 3,164 from Iran, 2,763 from Cuba and 162 from Syria to enter the United States and apply for permanent legal resident status, the report said. That totals 9,792 new immigrants.
“We found no documented evidence of ... immigrants from state sponsors of terrorism committing any terrorist acts,” said the GAO, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.
“However ... the Department of Homeland Security, terrorism experts and federal law enforcement officials familiar with immigration fraud believe that some individuals including terrorists and criminals could use fraudulent means to enter or remain in the United States.”
The report quoted a U.S. security officer in Turkey as saying it would be possible for Iranian intelligence officers to pose as applicants and not be detected if their identities were not already known to U.S. intelligence.
The GAO said the State Department expressed disappointment with the report’s findings and rejected recommendations that the department compile more comprehensive data on fraud activity and formulate a new strategy for combating
The Department of Homeland Security did not comment on the report, the GAO said.
The Diversity Visa Program was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 and provides up to 55,000 immigrant visas each year to people from countries with relatively low rates of immigration to the United States. People from 179 countries are eligible to participate this year.
The program has enabled more than half a million immigrants — mainly from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia — to gain permanent legal status in the United States.
But unlike most U.S. visa programs, the diversity program does not require applicants to have family members or employers in the United States to petition on their behalf.
Applicants from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism normally are granted non-immigrant visas under limited circumstances. But the GAO report said no parallel restrictions exist for diversity visas.