21 years ago, I was a recent college graduate commuting to my first job near Union Square. At 8:46 a.m. my bus passed by the World Trade Center — the ground shook like an earthquake.
Thinking nothing of it, we continued uptown only to see flames, ash, and rubble billowing from the North Tower shortly thereafter. That sunny September morning soon descended into chaos as the world witnessed a horrific display of deadly and calculated destruction on American soil.
Our city and nation were shaken to their core by what had taken place. Although two decades have passed since the deadliest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, the pain has not subsided. With nearly 3,000 killed, more than 6,000 injured, and thousands more succumbing to 9/11-related illness, we cannot allow the words “Never Forget” to simply become another slogan.
With Afghanistan back in the headlines over the past year, we’re reminded of just how important our promise to “Never Forget” is.
Right now, the far-away country is under Taliban control; U.S. military vehicles are paraded in the streets adorned with Taliban fighters and flags. American citizens and Afghan allies who aided our military were left behind enemy lines to fend for themselves in a war-torn country. Even more heart-wrenching is the death of 13 courageous American servicemembers whose lives were stolen by an ISIS-K terrorist who was released from Bagram Air Base after the Taliban seized control. They made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom; it should serve as a kick in the gut reminder that freedom is not free, and we all have an obligation to preserve it.
Sadly, in our hasty retreat, Afghanistan has again become a hotbed for terrorism. We’ve lost some of our strongest counter-terrorism assets in the region, allowing for the reemergence of international terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS once again.
Here at home, the Biden administration’s lax immigration policies have only made our country more vulnerable to attack. Illegal crossings along our southern border are at an all-time high, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) having intercepted more than 60 individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watch list in fiscal year 2022. What about the ones who got away?
More recently we’ve learned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacked “critical data to properly screen, vet and inspect” Afghan evacuees granted legal permission to enter and stay in the U.S. following their country’s collapse. It was discovered that one evacuee had been released from prison by the Taliban roughly three weeks after the individual’s arrival in the U.S., and another was placed in deportation proceedings three months after his arrival after the FBI found he posed “national security concerns.”
These policies, coupled with TSA allowing illegal immigrants to use arrest warrants as an alternative form of ID to board airplanes, fly in the face of the 9/11 commission report developed to learn our country’s vulnerabilities and prevent a similar attack from happening again.
On the 21st anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we must be vigilant and focused on keeping Americans safe and stopping terrorist organizations from striking our nation’s heart once again. It’s critical that we have a strong foreign policy and an even stronger military to protect our homeland, preserve peace and defend freedom around the world.
Our southern border must be secure so we know exactly who is entering our country. We must give law enforcement the tools, resources, and funding necessary to apprehend those wanting to do us harm.
The threat to our nation is real, it’s here, and it’s growing. We cannot allow the words “Never Forget” to ring hollow. I have not and will never forget the events that occurred that fateful day 21 years ago, and it’s time the Biden administration gets back to our shared commitment to never allow an event of the same magnitude to happen again.
Nicole Malliotakis is a representative for New York’s 11th Congressional District.
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