It’s Time To End The Visa Waiver Program

Michael Cutler Former INS Special Agent
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On November 30, 2015 in response to the ever increasing threats to the United States posed by terrorists, the White House posted a document on its official website, “FACT SHEET: Visa Waiver Program Enhancements.”

Considering the severity of the threats America and Americans face from terrorist organizations, the the administration and, indeed, our government to take the measures that are essential to protect us from the threats posed by terrorists who are determined to enter the United States to carry out deadly attacks.

Half measures being proposed just don’t cut it. Furthermore, it has been announced that Senator Feinstein and others in Congress are proposing that aliens who are citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program would be required to apply for and receive visas before seeking to enter the United States if they had traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years.

This is lunacy! It is unlikely that we would be able to know if aliens had traveled to countries such as Turkey and then were able to enter Syria or Iraq and evaded detection along the borders of those two countries and entered without inspection and, without getting their passports stamped.

Additionally, ISIS has urged its adherents who did not travel to the Middle East to “Kill where they are.”

I discussed my concerns about the Visa Waiver Program when, on May 11, 2006, I testified at a hearing conducted by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations on the topic, “Visa Overstays: Can We Bar The Terrorist Door?

It was in ill-conceived concept from its inception and yet the list of countries that participate in this program have continued to grow in defiance of the findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission (to which I provided testimony).

The preface of The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel begins with this paragraph:

“It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one.”

What is unfathomable is that since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 the list of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program has increased from 26 countries to the current 38 countries even though the 9/11 Commission strongly recommended that the adjudications process for visas for nonimmigrant aliens be improved to help identify and prevent the entry of alien terrorists by denying such individuals visas.

I focused on the Visa Waiver Program in my September 3, 2015 FrontPage Magazine article, “Keeping Track of Visa Violators: The overlooked source of the nation’s illegal immigration problems that people are finally talking about.” My article took a hard look at how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a major force behind pushing for the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program through its “Discover America Partnership.”

My November 20, 2015 article for FrontPage Magazine, “Inviting Catastrophe Through Our Ports of Entry: The deadly threats to the homeland posed by the legal immigration system” included a list of six ways in which an effectively administered visa process can help combat terrorists and defeat their plots, however, under the Visa Waiver Program, these benefits are lost:

  1. The visa adjudications process screens airline passengers flying to the United States, enhancing aviation safety.
  2. The inspections process conducted at ports of entry by CBP is supposed to be conducted in one minute or less. The visa requirement requires aliens to be vetted overseas helping to provide more integrity to this process.
  3. The application for a nonimmigrant visa contains roughly 40 questions and biometric identifiers that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide intelligence as well as investigative leads.
  4. False statements on the application for a visa constitute “visa fraud.” The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail and go to a maximum of 25 years in prison when the visa fraud is done to support terrorism. It is important to note that while it may be difficult to prove that an individual is a terrorist, it is usually relatively simple to prove that the alien has committed visa fraud. Indeed, terror suspects are often charged with visa fraud.
  5. The charge of visa fraud can enable law enforcement authorities to take a “bad guy” off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism.
  6. When an application for a visa is denied, the application and the biometric identifiers remain available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence from that application.

The U.S. State Department provides a thorough explanation of the Visa Waiver Program on its website. Incredibly, the official State Department website also provides a link,“Discover America,” on its website which relates to the website of The Corporation for Travel Promotion, which is affiliated with the travel industries which are a part of the “Discover America Partnership.”

This organization refers to itself as a “public-private marketing entity” and provides this description:

The Corporation for Travel Promotion, now doing business as Brand USA, was created in 2010 to encourage travellers from all over the world to visit the United States of America. The public-private marketing entity works in close partnership with the travel industry to maximise the economic and social benefits of travel in communities around the country. Through its website, Discover America, Brand USA will inspire travellers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.

How reassuring is it to know that executives of the travel, hospitality and tourism industries have been making national security decisions for America and continue to dictate national security policies? Might there be a conflict of interest in having the official State Department website post a link to this organization?

The bottom line is that the Visa Waiver Program must be terminated.