Chertoff Warns Of 'Importing' Terrorists

04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The fear-mongering over closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and bringing those detainees to the United States to stand trial tends to express itself along two illogical storylines.

The first is that these detainees will reveal themselves to have magical X-Men powers that make it impossible for a Supermax prison to hold them. The second is that if they are put on trial, we run the risk of them taking the stand and being so eloquent in elucidating the case for existential holy war on the United States that a jury of Americans will immediately be convinced and will elect to acquit them of all charges, freeing them to roam the streets of America and become jihadi high school guidance counselors or something.

In a recent appearance at the Hudson Institute, former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff pursued the latter line of what I'll loosely call "reasoning." Along the way, he created this rather ornate concept that closing Guantanamo amounted to the United States "importing terrorists."


CHERTOFF: The Bush administration looked at the possibility of closing Guantanamo. It is very hard. There are a significant number of people who are dangerous, who still regard themselves as at war with the United States and the West. Some of them perhaps can be sent to home countries that you can be confident will make sure they will be incapacitated. Sometimes, however, they raise legal objections to going back and you can't send them back. Our position was and I believe it to be true, you don't want to bring them to the United States. Once you bring them into the United States soil, they will have a set of rights under the immigration laws that could well put you in a very, very difficult position of being ordered to release somebody and not being able to deport them. I think the last thing we want to do is import terrorists into the U.S.

And now, here's Wonk Room's Andrea Nill to explain: no, no, this is not the way immigration laws work:

...immigration experts from the National Immigration Law Center informed the Wonk Room that detainees would most likely be brought to the U.S. but kept in custody on criminal charges -- without an immigration status. In the extremely unlikely event that they are acquitted, they could still be kept in custody and put in removal proceedings.

It's even more implausible that suspected 9/11 plotters would be granted asylum -- let along a green card -- if they are found innocent. Syracuse University further points out that there's a common misconception that the U.S. asylum system is abused by people who endanger national security. However, "asylum applications are subject to stringent review procedures by adjudicators in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and to rigorous background and security checks." Terrorism concerns essentially lead to an automatic disqualification from asylum and immediate deportation.

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