Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) August 30, 2012 – A government investigation revealed that a Boston flight school had been training up to 25 undocumented immigrants, even as security officials testified that steps were being taken to ensure that such situations would not occur in the future.
“In a national embarrassment, DHS investigators found a Boston-based flight school populated mainly with foreign students who were visa overstays or simply here without authorization,” said Dallas immigration attorney Stewart Rabinowitz. “ICE now claims to have identified systemic vulnerabilities and implemented changes. I certainly hope so.”
According to an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), eight students at the school, TJ Aviation, had come into the country illegally, and the other 17 had entered legally but had overstayed their visas. Three students obtained pilot licenses. The discovery was made when local police pulled the owner of the flight school over for a traffic stop and discovered that the owner himself was an undocumented immigrant.
Officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), both agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified in a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.
Although pilots are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the TSA is responsible for conducting criminal background and immigration status checks. Stephen Lord, a TSA official, testified in the Congressional hearing that the TSA has a program in place, known as the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP), to determine whether foreign flight students pose a security threat. Lord admitted that “weaknesses exist in the vetting process,” including the fact that the TSA does not check whether flight students entered the country illegally.
John Woods, an Assistant Director with ICE, also testified before the committee, saying that “systemic vulnerabilities” had been discovered, and that ICE and TSA “have identified and are discussing” possible solutions. According to Woods, the proposed solutions include having the TSA conduct semiannual reviews of flight students’ immigration status.
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