Yesterday, the United States House of Representatives, by a vote of 407-19, passed H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, “which will strengthen the Visa Waiver Program to help prevent foreign terrorists from entering the United States. The bill was authored by House Administration Chairman Candice Miller (R-MI), and follows recommendations made by the House Task Force on Combatting Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel.”
The White House Fact Sheet explains:
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits visa free travel for 20 million visitors per year to the United States for citizens of 38 program partner countries around the world. VWP utilizes a layered system of security to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other potentially dangerous individuals from traveling to the United States. These layers of security include comprehensive screening of VWP travelers prior to departure for the United States, at various points throughout the traveler’s journey, and upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry.
And, in fact, the VWP is not a static thing, the Fact Sheet telling us that “Over the past year, the Administration has taken a series of steps to enhance the significant security measures in the VWP,” including additional actions taken December 1 in the wake of the recent Paris terrorist attacks.
Further tweaks followed, The Hill reporting December 3, “On Monday, the Obama administration unilaterally tightened the program and called for Congress to follow suit with actions of its own.”
“This is a huge issue,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI). “We have to look at our current systems and how terrorists are exploiting our freedoms.” The problem is, generally, that Republican responses to enemies taking advantage of our freedoms is to curtail those freedoms, thus doing the enemy’s job for them.
For example, as pointed out by the American Civil Liberties Union,
H.R. 158 would terminate VWP travel privileges for all who have been present in Iraq or Syria at any time on or after March 1, 2011. This broad travel restriction contains a very narrow exception for certain military personnel and government officials. All other travelers would automatically lose their VWP privileges. Affected travelers would include journalists, scholars, refugee caseworkers, humanitarian aid workers, human rights investigators, and many others.
Typical Republican overkill. Except where allowing terrorists to purchase guns comes into play. There, Democrats delayed the vote to push for Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) measure to block those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns. Ryan dismissed this bit of sanity as a “distraction.”
All sane and reasonable efforts to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists removed, Speaker Paul Ryan (D-WI) thinks H.R. 158 is a wonderful piece of legislation. Ryan’s press office released the following statement after the vote:
“Keeping the American people safe remains the House’s top priority. Today, we took a major step forward in our effort to prevent foreign terrorists from reaching our shores. This bipartisan bill addresses key vulnerabilities in the Visa Waiver Program by implementing more stringent background checks for foreign travelers and more frequent reviews of the program’s effectiveness. Moreover, it requires anyone who recently visited a country of concern to obtain a visa before traveling to the United States. I commend Chairman Miller for her persistent work on these commonsense reforms, which will help ensure we know exactly who is crossing our borders.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said, “It’s important to understand: no one specifically by this bill is barred from entering the United States. It simply adds an additional security precaution of going to get a visa… rather than bypassing that process.”
Sounds reasonable enough, right? However, the ACLU pointed to the legislation’s obvious flaws in a letter to the House of Representatives:
The VWP is a long-established program that permits nationals of certain countries to enter the U.S. as visitors (tourists or business)without a visa,for up to 90 days. H.R. 158 terminates travel privileges for all citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. This revocation of VWP privileges would apply to all nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan even if they have never resided in or traveled to Iraq or Syria. By singling out these four nationalities to the exclusion of other dual nationals in VWP countries, H.R. 158 amounts to blanket discrimination based on nationality and national origin without a rational basis.
The EU Observer pointed to another problem, one that concerns travelers from the European Union in particular, and that is, that EU states could lose US visa waivers “if they don’t comply with stricter security measures”:
The bill would require suspension if states don’t “continually share terrorism and foreign traveler data” with the US, if they don’t report lost or stolen passports within 24 hours, and if they don’t screen “all air passengers” through the databases of Interpol, the international police body.
It requires all visa waiver countries to use electronic passports with biometric chips by 1 April 2016.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can already suspend visa privileges for countries deemed an “imminent national security threat.” And as we have seen, President Obama has already strengthened the VWP over the past year, and especially following the Paris terrorist attacks.
The San Bernadino shootings have sent Republicans over the edge of rational thinking, however. We have seen Donald Trump express his desire to ban all Muslim immigration and the House is obviously not far behind in wishing to keep Muslims out.
As the ACLU said in its letter to the House, “It is wrong and un-American to punish groups without reason solely based on their nationality, national origin, religion, gender, or other protected grounds.” This measure is, in the end, all part of that anti-Muslim backlash that is so invisible to Fox News.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.