This is some good news out of Congress in response to the realization that all of the Paris terrorists came from “visa waiver” countries.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The program allows citizens of certain trusted countries to travel to the United States without a visa.
Both France and Belgium, where all the Paris terrorists were from, are “visa waiver” countries. And if those same people had come to the United States instead of Paris, the San Bernardino shooting makes clear they wouldn’t have had much problem obtaining weapons and killing people.
What is the House Proposing?
So on Tuesday the House moved to overhaul the “visa waiver” program. And while some of the change is welcome, at least one provision targeted at Iranians (who are enemies of Al Qaeda and ISIS).
The change would prevent entry by those who have recently been to Iraq, Syria, or Sudan. But it would also prevent travel by people who have never been to Iraq, Syria, or Sudan if they are a “national” of one of those countries, as well as Iran and Sudan.
So, for example, under the new change a person born to Syrian parents in France be able to use Visa Waiver program.
This move follows changes announced by the President to the Visa Waiver program following the Paris attacks.
Problems with the House Bill
Not everyone is happy with the House bill.
Some are complaining Congress is acting too quickly, without any oversight. AILA’s president, Victor Nieblas, said “this bill is getting rushed to the House floor without ever being reviewed in Committee. In fact, the bill was not even made public until just a day or two ago.”
Nieblas argues the bill would target people unfairly, not based on any real risk.
“History has shown over broad programs that target people based on nationality, race, ethnic origin or religion are not effective at combating terrorism. After 9/11, our government forced thousands of people from Middle-Eastern countries, and countries with predominantly Arab and Muslim populations, to undergo special processes to register themselves with the federal immigration authorities,”
Mr. Nieblas said.
That reference is to the 2002 NSEERS program created by Kris Kobach in the John Ashcroft Justice Department to target and monitor men from traditionally Muslim countries, not based on real risk but rather on profiling. Again from Nieblas: “Not a single known terrorism-related conviction ever came out of NSEERS. NSEERS is a stain on our nation’s history that we should never repeat.”
Senate Democrats are also unhappy with House version and could offer amendments when the Senate takes it up. One criticism from Senate Democrats is that the House bill unnecessarily targets Iranians, even Iranians with US Citizenship. It also has no exception for humanitarian aid workers who travel to Iraq or Syria and could make it harder for people to go there to help.
It’s possible the Senate will pass its version of the Visa Waiver bill as part of an omnibus spending package, but it’s likely to come soon.
The House Bill has a good goal in mind, but its solution seems short-sighted. The weakness of the visa waiver program is that you can’t tell how dangerous a person is just based on what country they’re from.
Congress is only proposing adding countries to be skeptical of. But the Senate Democrats’ criticism is persuasive: we should be analyzing each person who wants to enter based on whether they personally are a security risk.
Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernardino shooter, had never been to any of the countries singled out in the bill. She had been to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both of which the United States considers allies. But according to recent reports she had also expressed radical, anti-Western ideology before she immigrated to the United States.
An approach that looks at people as citizens of this country or that country and not as people will never be able to catch someone like Tashfeen Malik and prevent her from committing acts of terrorism.
Another solution would be to end the visa waiver program altogether. The problem with that approach is that US Citizens rely on the reciprocal agreements by other visa waiver countries to travel around the world without a visa. Ending visa waiver in the United States would likely trigger limitations on US citizens traveling abroad.