The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Saturday said U.S. officials “sloppily approved” the visa application of Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) reviewed Malik’s visa application and said that immigration officials had not sufficiently vetted the information that Malik provided in her efforts to obtain a visa. He said the materials in the file did not conclusively show that Malik and her future husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, had met in person — a requirement for a foreigner who is seeking a K-1 fiancee visa.
Goodlatte’s review found that Malik’s application contained two items to show that the couple had met before: a statement from Farook and copies of pages of each of their passports that showed visas to visit Saudi Arabia. However, the passport stamps do not clearly demonstrate whether they were in Saudi Arabia at the same time, or whether they were together while in that country.
Malik’s passport pages show that she arrived in Saudi Arabia around June 4, 2013. A translator who attempted to decipher the partially illegible Arabic-language passport stamps was unable to determine what date Malik left the country, although her visa was valid for 60 days.
Meanwhile, Farook’s passport stamps show that he entered Saudi Arabia on Oct. 1, 2013, and left around Oct. 20. Goodlatte said this “would cast doubt” on whether they were in Saudi Arabia at the same time. The stamps also do not prove that the pair spent time together during those trips.
According to Goodlatte, an immigration official initially requested more evidence to show that the couple had met before in person. However, he said, no additional materials were provided, and the application was still approved.
A State Department spokesman said Saturday that “all required procedures were followed in the K-1 visa case for Ms. Malik. There were no indications of any ill intent at the time that visa was issued.”
The findings could add fire to a simmering debate over whether the U.S. visa application process, and the immigration system in general, needs to be overhauled with an eye toward preventing terrorist attacks.
Malik and Farook died in a shootout with police this month after they attacked an office holiday party at the Inland Regional Center.
Officials have been investigating the incident as a terrorist attack. They have found private communications on social media that reflected a “joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom,” FBI Director James B. Comey said Wednesday. After the shooting in San Bernardino, but before she was killed by police, Malik posted on Facebook about her loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a leader of the Islamic State. Investigators are working to determine when and how each shooter was radicalized. So far, it does not appear that their attack was directed by a terrorist group.
Goodlatte called immigration officials’ work on Malik’s application “unacceptable” and has previously said that his committee is preparing to introduce a bill that would revamp visa security. The bill would call for visa applicants and their sponsors to go through in-person interviews as part of their application process. It would also require that officials review applicants’ employment and education histories as well as public postings on social networks.