KENT-It was an ominous feeling that Peter Gadiel recalls having when his son, James, announced plans for his first job out of college.
Instinctively, he advised him against taking the position. "I said, 'Don't do it, James. They tried to take it down in 1993," he remembers telling his son, referring to the car bomb planted in the underground garage at the World Trade Center in New York City by Islamic extremists that claimed six lives-a terrorist event that presaged the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Mr. Gadiel's son was among the 3,000 people killed that day four years ago.
Twenty-three-year-old James Gadiel, who wanted a career on Wall Street, was thrilled when the offer from Cantor Fitzgerald came through.
Although the job put him in an office on the 103rd floor of the North Tower, he reassured his father that security had been considerably stepped up since the 1993 incident.
While Mr. Gadiel does not buy into conspiracy theories that the United States government planned to destroy the World Trade Center, he does believe that the government fell down on the job.
Ever since James' death, Peter Gadiel has worked tirelessly to educate Americans about the problems created by people who enter the United States illegally. As a result, he has become extremely knowledgeable in matters of immigration reform.
"I wanted to know why these people [who initiated the 9/11 attacks] got in to the country [in the first place]," Mr. Gadiel said. "It quickly became apparent … if our immigration laws had been enforced, our loved ones would still be alive."
In fact, Mr. Gadiel explained, 18 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had driver's licenses and other forms of state-issued identification that were used to rent cars, open bank accounts and conduct other types of transactions that allowed them full access to United States society. Among them, according to Mr. Gadiel, the 19 hijackers had a total of 57 driver's licenses and 364 aliases under which even more driver's licenses may have been issued.
Until recently, Mr. Gadiel points out, according to Federal law, mere membership in a terrorist organization was not grounds for the State Department to deny a person a visa.
Lack of enforcement of immigration laws is "not a political issue of right versus left," Mr. Gadiel said. Instead, he called it an "unholy alliance," which allows cheap labor to enter the country, and which helps support, economically, the tourism industries, universities and a whole host of other groups, such as charitable organizations, for example.
"Most Americans have suffered in a tiny way," Mr. Gadiel explained. "Their quality of education may go down and their hospital costs may go up." It is America's poor, he said, who are currently most impacted by the influx of illegal immigrants.
Last week, Mr. Gadiel, who left his career in real estate investment shortly after James was killed, sat down to talk with The Litchfield County Times about his new line of work as a full-time activist. These days, for the most part, he spends his time in Washington, D.C., or at home in Kent, on his computer, communicating with other activists from around the country.
Although Mr. Gadiel is president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, during this interview he made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of anyone or any organization, but was instead offering his own viewpoint on matters pertaining to immigration reform-which he readily admits is a controversial issue.
By his own account, Mr. Gadiel was "comatose" that first year following James' death. But he eventually gathered himself together and struck out to tackle an unpopular subject.
"I've never been a shrinking violet," admits Mr. Gadiel, who acknowledged that his new line of work has resulted in his being called a racist.
"First of all, I know I'm not a racist," said Mr. Gadiel. "I don't have any sympathy for anyone at all who tries to judge someone on race."
However, those for whom Mr. Gadiel does have sympathy-and empathy-are legal immigrants and refugees.
"My parents were immigrants," he explained. "My father was a refugee, part Jewish, from Germany. In 1940, the FBI practically pulled out his fillings" to ensure that he was who he said he was.
Mr. Gadiel said that statistics vary on the number of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. While one source maintains that there are more than 10 million in this country, he explained that another study puts the figure closer to 20 million.
A critical component to combating the problem of illegal immigration, he said, is to vote out of office elected officials who do not try to curb it.
Through his work, Mr. Gadiel hopes that he can educate American citizens that they can address the problem head on. "Be aware," he advised. "Recognize the problem and what it's doing to our country."
An example of a practical suggestion Mr. Gadiel offers is this: when hiring a contractor to paint or perform other work around your home, ask if the company hires illegal immigrants. "You want it in writing" within the work contract that the company does not do so, he said.
In addition to the economic issues created by illegal immigration, Mr. Gadiel said that crime is another consideration. "Every illegal alien, without exception, is a person whose identity is unknown," he explained. "Any illegal alien can be a violent felon … or a terrorist … and is, at the very least, a self-selected criminal," simply because they have made the decision to cross the border in to this country without going through proper legal channels.
Mr. Gadiel does count some successes among the efforts to stem the problem of illegal immigration. For example, he cited the Real ID Act-passed by Congress last May and to be enacted beginning in May 2008-as one success. This act requires states to issue federally approved driver's licenses or identification cards to those who live and work in the U.S. In order to receive the card, people will have to provide legitimate documentation that proves they are lawfully residing in the U.S. The ID will be required for anyone who wants to drive, and collect government benefits, such as Social Security.
Although the act has its detractors, primarily among groups concerned with privacy issues, Mr. Gadiel views its passage as a step forward.
Recently, Mr. Gadiel raised the ire of the Consul General of Mexico by appearing on "CNN Tonight with Lou Dobbs," where he discussed something called the Matricula ID Card. Mr. Gadiel contends the card is distributed, on an indiscriminate basis, by the Mexican government to that country's citizens illegally residing in the U.S. According to Mr. Gadiel, the card is accepted as valid identification in certain states.
In fact, one of the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the independent commission that investigated the events surrounding 9/11, was the implementation of secure, valid identification.
Another success, from his perspective, is that there is more dissatisfaction among the American people with the way the country is being run-and Mr. Gadiel is hopeful that unhappiness will be reflected in voting booths.
As the interview was winding-down, Mr. Gadiel mentioned that he was headed to yet another meeting. On his way out the door, this father summed up his mission: "I don't want more people to suffer this kind of loss. … My son was just a wonderful human being. I miss him every second of every day."