WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The woman who carried out the San Bernardino massacre with her husband came to the U.S. last year on a special visa for fiances of U.S. citizens, raising questions approximately whether the process can adequately vet people who may sympathize with terrorist groups.
Authorities said Friday that Pakistani citizen Tashfeen Malik, 29, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group & its leader under an alias account on Facebook just moments before she & her husband, Syed Farook, opened fire on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing 14. They after died in a gunbattle with police Wednesday.
Malik, who had been living in Pakistan & visiting family in Saudi Arabia, had passed several government background checks & entered the U.S. in July 2014 on a K-1 visa, which allowed her to travel to the U.S. & obtain married within 90 days of arrival.
p>Malik was subjected to a vetting process the U.S. government describes as vigorous â€” including in-person interviews, fingerprints, checks against U.S. terrorists watch lists & reviews of her family members, travel history & places where she lived & worked. The process was began when she applied for a visa to move to the United States & marry Farook, a 28-year-old Pakistani-American restaurant health inspector for the county who was raised in Southern California.
Foreigners applying from countries recognized as home to Islamic extremists, such as Pakistan, undergo additional scrutiny before the State Department & Homeland Security Department approve permission for a K-1 visa.
It was not immediately clear what information Malik provided as a part of the background check by the State Department & U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services or when she became radicalized.
"This is not a visa that someone would use because it is effortless to obtain into the US, because there are more background checks on this type of visa than just approximately anything else," said Palma Yanni, a Washington-based attorney who has processed dozens of K-1 visas. "But fingerprints & biometrics & names aren't going to tell you what is in somebody's head unless they somewhere have taken some action."
The government's apparent failure to detect Malik's alleged sympathies before the shootings will likely have implications on the debate over the Obama administration's plans to accept Syrian refugees. Attorneys representing Farook's family deny that he or his wife had extremist views.
On Friday, ABC News reported that the address in her Pakistani hometown that Malik listed on her visa application does not exist. In response to a question approximately the ABC report, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "We are actively reviewing all of the information provided in the visa application & sharing it with our interagency partners as it relates to the investigation."
The vetting process for refugees is similar, though not identical, to the one for fiance-visa applicants.
"Uncle Sam just looks on as an approving cupid & doesn't pay as much attention as he should to the issuance of these visas," said David North, a senior fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration policies.
Refugees moreover submit to in-person interviews overseas, where they provide biographical details approximately themselves, including their families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, phone numbers & email accounts. They provide biometric information, including fingerprints. Syrians are subject to additional classified controls.
Republican lawmakers & governors across the U.S., as well as advocates for stricter immigration enforcement, have challenged the effectiveness of the vetting process for refugees.
Refugees must apply to become a legal permanent resident after a year. But almost as shortly as they arrive, they are eligible to work & apply for some benefits.
Those who come to the U.S. on a fiance visa must marry a U.S. citizen within 90 days or leave the country. Following the marriage, the immigrant becomes a conditional resident for two years & must ask the U.S. government to remove those conditions at the end of that waiting period & undergo another background check. If the request is approved, the immigrant receives a green card. Immigrants can apply to become U.S. citizens five years after winning a green card.
"Can we improve the system as technology grows? There is always room for improvement, yet to indict the entire fiance visa system because of this is not the right path," said David Leopold, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Even those who intersected with Malik in California could not offer much insight, as she was rarely seen in the Muslim community.
The couple was married Aug. 16, 2014, & held their wedding reception at the Islamic Center of Riverside, said Dr. Mustafa Kuko, the center's director. Kuko said he never met Malik because the party was divided into separate spaces for women & men.
"She never came to our mosque except once when they had their reception, & that night there were so many people around, my wife doesn't recall exactly how she looks or who she is," Kuko said. "We never saw her again."
The mosque in Redlands, where the couple lived, had no record of Malik attending services or enrolling in programs for Muslim women.
"We really don't know anything approximately that sister," Khaled Zaidan, chairman of the board of directors of the Islamic Community Center of Redlands, said. "It really is a mystery what happened on Wednesday, how a woman could drop off a 6-month-old & commit a horrific crime killing all those innocent people."
Burke reported from San Francisco. Follow Garance Burke at https://www.twitter.com/garanceburke
This story corrects Malik's age to 29, according to the FBI, citing her passport.
Source: “Associated Press”