Congress about to make it easier for people to get into America without normal security checks

(Note: See farther down in this entry, New Nationalist’s defense of the Visa Waiver Program.)

I may be late on this, at least as far as the House is concerned, but Roy Beck sent this out last night:

Last chance to strip Visa Waiver loophole for terrorists from 9/11 bill on Thursday

I’m sorry to report that the joint Senate/House negotiating committee working on the 9/11 Commission bills (S. 4 and H.R. 1) has reached agreement on a final conference committee report that authorizes expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

This is the giant loophole for terrorists and potential illegal about which we have been alerting you.

The House is expected to vote on the conference report tomorrow (Thursday) with Senate action shortly thereafter.

But we have another (somewhat long-shot) opportunity to stop this insanity. We need you to fax and call your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative to ask them to “recommit” the conference committee report back to conferees so that the visa waiver expansion can be stripped from the measure.

Here is background on the Visa Waiver Program from Wikipedia.

And here is what Roy Beck wrote about this same issue on Tuesday:

A joint Senate/House negotiating committee is on the verge of agreeing to a bill containing a giant loophole for terrorists in particular, and potential illegal aliens in general. The conferees could wrap things up by the end of today.

The pushers of this loophole are counting on the American people being unaware of what Congress has tried to make an obscure process. But if we don’t stop Congress from expanding this loophole, we will see the illegal population grow even larger at a faster pace.


After the terrorist attacks of 2001, the 9/11 Commission made many recommendations for better protecting our nation’s security. Some of them were passed in 2002. The bill before us now is intended to take care of most of the remaining recommendations.

One of the recommendations related to a security loophole known as the Visa Waiver program, which allows travelers from many favored nations to come to the United States without the security screening we require for visitors from all other nations.

The rationale for the program is that these “waivered” countries are friendly, and their citizens generally aren’t a high risk for overstaying their visas as illegal aliens.

A problem, of course, is that terrorist networks are well aware of this and recruit citizens of the “waivered” countries who can enter the United States with ease. The famous Shoe Bomber from Great Britain did just that.

The House version (H.R. 1) and the Senate version (S. 4) both slipped in a provision to expand the Visa Waiver loophole, rather than reduce it.

A recent GAO report found significant weaknesses in the existing program.


Some of our closest allies among the Members of Congress have urged us to activate the Network to stop this Visa Waiver expansion. They consider this to be one of the gravest threats to our security of any proposed legislation.

Unfortunately, only one conferee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), has vocally opposed this threat to our security. In order to stop this, we need to create a firestorm of opposition THE MINUTE YOU GET THIS.

Why would the Senate do such a thing? One reason is that the tourist industry feels that tourism increases when visas aren’t required. This is understandable from a business point of view, although nothing quells tourism like an actual terrorist attack.

But when the choice is clearly between more business and reasonable security, we should expect Congress to choose our security.

All of you with a Member on the negotiating (Conference) committee have had actions posted from us the last week.

But now we need to enlist all the rest of you to call your Senators and Representatives who are NOT on the Conference Committee. They need to know that there is genuine alarm across the land about this small provision in the 9/11 bill.

Your job is to cause so much noise in their offices that those Members will contact the actual Members of the negotiating committee and express some alarm themselves.

You can read more about this waiver program and the threat by going to your NumbersUSA Action Buffet and clicking on the fax and phone notes. They will provide more details.

- end of initial entry -

The blogger New Nationalist, who is a former Foreign Service officer, writes:

It’s always dangerous when people, even good people with good instincts and good intentions, wade into an issue without fully understanding the entire context within which they arise. I can see how one looking from the outside would see a program like the visa waiver program and just raise his hands in frustration. Let me try to give you some context and some suggestions for a better approach than outright opposition.

I was not in the State Dept. for very long—just a year a half—but that was long enough for me to see this issue from two different perspectives: that of the United States government (and specifically Consular Affairs) and that of foreign governments.

First, with regard to the USG, the mandates that landed on the visa system post 9.11 were enacted in a moment of clarity and seriousness in the Congress. Unlike the usual lazy mishmash, these new laws set clear mandates: visa applicants will get fingerprinted, they will all get background checks and they will—every last one of them—get a face-to-face interview with a foreign service officer, who is directly commissioned by the President to exercise his plenary powers to exclude aliens for almost any reason at all. Short of Congressional action, every visa applicant has to go through this process.

The United States has many tens of thousands of visitors each month, arriving here to engage in activity as varied as family vacations to Disneyland to taking up temporary employment with Microsoft to attending summer camp in Yellowstone to taking English classes at Columbia to meeting with their partners at a partner meeting of Ernst & Young in Houston to selling their turbine engines to an airplane manufacturer to visiting their dying cousin. A substantial and very real portion of our economic output each month is directly derived from such intercourse.

As matters now stand, the wait time for people, even people with known and proven track records of good travel to the U.S., is very long. (Usually, but not always; each consular district has its own wait time). To do away with the Visa Waiver program would be, in effect, telling an already over-burdened Bureau of Consular Affairs to double its workload.

Okay, fine. If the work needs to be done, it needs to be done. But it gets worse from there. There is the issue that no first world U.S. Embassies are really built to accommodate such crowds. The Visa Waiver program only covers certain types of travelers, plenty of Brits still need to troop to Grosvener Square and, even now, U.S. Embassy London is a zoo. Playing on the safe side sounds good now, but when some undersecretary of state has to explain he needs 150 million for a new interview facility in London to interview tens of thousands of middle-class Brits on their way to Epcot Center, it’s not going to seem like such a good idea.

Second, the host governments will not only get hostile, they will retaliate. France has an instructive record in this regard. When we got worried about the Algerian situation and slapped a visa requirement for Frenchmen in the late 80’s, France did the same thing right back at us.

Imagine America’s delight when it realizes that they have to fly to San Francisco to interview for permission to fly to Paris.

However, and this is the important part, while visa waiver holders don’t require a visa, in the U.S. system, a visa is not (repeat NOT) permission to enter the country. It is instead permission to apply for entry at the port of entry in the United States. It gets you on the plane, not in the country.

And while that plane is in the air, you can bet your bottom dollar the passenger manifest is running the same checks that would have been made at that passenger’s local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

We have serious problems, no doubt. And other nations’ laughable approach to granting citizenship is a big problem. But here we are tilting at windmills. The Visa Waiver program is not going anywhere anytime soon.

LA replies:

First, I was not wading into the issue but was passing along what Roy Beck had written about it.

Second, As I understand it, NumbersUSA is not campaigning for the elimination of the Visa Waiver Program, but against its expansion.

Third, how does New Nationalist propose we deal with Muslims coming from Visa Waiver Program countries?

New Nationalist replies:

“First, I was not wading into the issue but was passing along what Roy Beck had written about it.”

I wasn’t referring to you, but the good people at NumbersUSA. All I meant by this was that the full context of what eliminating the VW Program would mean may not be readily apparent to well-meaning folks.

“Second, As I understand it, NumbersUSA is not campaigning for the elimination of the Visa Waiver Program, but against its expansion.”

I frankly missed that aspect of the NumbersUSA press release because of the language arguing for its elimination. [LA replies: I’ve seen no language in NumbersUSA material arguing for elimination; the issue is expansion.] Certainly, that organization would eliminate the program altogether if it could. Since I cannot access the site, I am not aware of their precise view, but I see in the proposed leglislation that the Congress is now considering deals with more than a simple expansion of the countries eligible. Rather, it allows the discretionary expansion of the program (any country’s participation is subject to broad executive power to discontinue it immediately, as any Argentinian could tell you) if an air exit system is able to track the exit of more than 97% of the subject country’s exiting citizens.

Now, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Almost alone among modern nations, the US has no real exit tracking capability and what we have is growing very slowly. So, like with the so-called immigration reform bill this one allows waivers.

However, one of the waiver condition is that the waiver is allowed only if the rate of refusals for nonimmigrant visitor visas for nationals of the country during the previous full fiscal year was not more than 10 percent . I can tell you for a fact that very, very few countries in the world will meet that guideline and those that do are quite likely to be in the program already. In addition, the bill speaks to the passenger manifest issues that I raised in my prior email. In other words, Congress seems to be saying here that so long as we get a decent tracking system in the works, that tracks exits and entry, that runs background checks on passengers while they are in the air, then there is no problem expanding the VW program to certain allies. I would not expect this proposal to result in any huge changes in the list of VW countries.

“Third, how does New Nationalist propose we deal with Muslims coming from Visa Waiver Program countries?”

Now we get to the heart of the issue. Currently, under our “citizenship as a government service” model so beloved by our modern democracies, there is no way to do this. So far as the USG, HMG and the Chancellor’s government are concerned, a Muslim fundamentalist born in New York, a jihadist imam who was naturalized in Manchester and a radical Turk from Frankfurt are, respectively, American, British and German.

Our own government does not take this seriously on the ground, though it will deny this. I’ve heard DHS personnel refer to people as “real Italians” versus “Italian passport holders” to distinguish between the two. I suppose in this day and age we should be grateful that some modicum of common sense still prevails in the trenches.

Answering your question, then, is tricky. Under the current situation, the best we can do is insist on rigorous background checks and good officers in secondary not afraid of putting people back on planes. I think we by and large have that right now, but administrations change and certainly a Clinton Admin is not going to exclude Tariq Ramadan, as Bush has done. Ultimately, VW program or not, the current situation does not allow us to see arrivals as Muslims, so we are beaten at the start.

Under an ideal situation—that is, if liberalism were dumped as an ideology—we simply could exclude Muslims altogether or, at the least, treat English British differently from Muslim British. Still, we would be left with the problem of converts. I am a firm separationist when it comes to matters Muslim.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 26, 2007 03:24 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):