The Syrian-born son of a naturalized U.S. citizen was killed trying to shoot his way onto a Naval installation in Texas last week. A security loophole in America’s immigration system opened the way for Adam Salim Alsahli’s suicide mission.
According to reports, Alsahli, 20, drove to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station wearing an Arab head-wrap garment, with Arabic language music blaring from his vehicle. After an exchange of gunfire with guards, the former student at a local community college lay dead.
How did it come to this?
The Center for Immigration Studies learned that Alsahli was able to move to the U.S. in 2014 with his mother at the height of the Syrian civil war, thanks to his Syrian father gaining naturalized U.S. citizenship in 1984. The younger Alsahli was born in Syria in 1999.
“Although his children and their mother were born in and resided in the Middle East, the father’s U.S. citizenship conferred U.S. citizenship on Adam Alsahli, since he properly registered a declaration at a U.S. embassy or consulate office overseas. That apparently happened with Adam Alsahli because by the age of three, in the year 2002, he was granted an American passport that was repeatedly renewed over the years,” CIS reported.
Alsahli’s case illustrates how conferred U.S. citizenship enables individuals to enter this country without the customary security screening — even when coming from a region with terrorist connections. When Alsahli arrived in America six years ago, he “would have been moved right to the front of the line with almost no security vetting,” CIS said.
Jessica Vaughan, the center’s director of policy studies, says “retained citizenship” status presents a problem when individuals holding American passports have no meaningful connection to the United States.
“This is definitely a vulnerability in our system; we can’t really deny entry to a U.S. citizen. But over many years, mainly to accommodate the families of American expatriates, there has been an erosion of citizenship retention requirements, and erosion of the notion that a U.S. citizen should have some meaningful ties with this country, especially if they’re spending their lives outside of the country,” Vaughn said.
Though little is yet known about Alsahli’s comings and goings, the FBI branded his assault on the Naval Air Station “terrorism related.”
Officials identified social media accounts linked to the shooter. Online postings by these accounts expressed support for ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). One personal account listed him as a “student at Umm Al-Qura University” in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
(The Corpus Christi shooting occurred days after the FBI announced it found a link between al Qaeda and a Saudi military trainee who killed three U.S. sailors in a terror attack last year on Naval Air Station Pensacola.)
Vaughn calls the Alsahli case “an example of why we need stricter [citizenship]retention requirements. There are tens of thousands of people around the world, many living in areas hostile to the United States, who are U.S. citizens, but for whom that citizenship is just a matter of convenience, without any understanding or affinity for our country.”