The House Foreign Affairs Committee has decided to move forward with legislation supporting a travel ban for Americans attempting to visit North Korea after the death of American student Otto Warmbier, CNN reports.
The bipartisan bill, put forward by Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson and Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff, bans all tourism for five years and forces Americans that do visit the country to obtain a license from the Department of Treasury.
“People watch these websites that guarantee they can go into North Korea and be secure, be safe, these glossy presentations,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, “and the reality is that many of these visitors end up being used as bargaining chips by the North Korean regime.”
Although the original bill was introduced before Warmbier passed away from brain damage sustained while imprisoned in North Korea, his untimely death has sped up the timeline for the legislation. The foreign relations committee hopes to take up the legislation as early as next month.
The bill comes at a time where Congress and the Trump administration are still working through the process of reinstituting many of the restrictions that had been removed by the Obama administration. While Democrats supported the Obama administration’s lift of travel restrictions with Cuba, their argument to restrict travel to North Korea has been seen by some as hypocritical and politically expedient.
“It goes against what a lot of people have been saying related to Cuba, that we should never restrict Americans’ right to go anywhere,” said Republican Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, “and now we’ve got some members who espouse that view, saying but in the case of North Korea that’s different.”
Otto Warmbier was arrested and convicted of stealing a North Korean propaganda poster in January 2016 while visiting the country with a tour group and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In June 2017 it was revealed that Warmbier was in critical condition and needed immediate medical attention. He was flown back the United States where he passed away one week later.