Will Congress Use Trump’s Racist Rhetoric to Create Second Class Americans?

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Republicans ready to join Obama in tightening visa-free travel.

A woman pushes a baby stroller past the boarded-up townhouse rented by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Redlands, Calif. (Jae C.

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s Oval Office speech on containing terrorism was panned by Republicans, but they’re ready to join him in a bipartisan effort to clamp down on visa-free travel.WASHINGTON — When President Obama on Sunday blamed a special visa travel program for allowing one of the San Bernardino terrorists into the country, a chill swept through the American travel industry. On Tuesday, the GOP-led House is expected to pass a bill that would make it harder to travel to the United States without a visa from some countries, a program used by some 20 million international travelers each year. If the program was somehow connected to the attack in California, anxious lawmakers — racing to respond to rising terrorism fears — would reflexively pare it back significantly or end it altogether, costing the travel industry dearly. That raised the prospect that Malik’s anti-American sentiments could have surfaced before U.S. officials evaluated whether she should be allowed to move here.

The Visa Waiver Program remains under intense scrutiny as Congress and the administration scramble for ways to plug perceived security vulnerabilities and reassure nervous Americans. Of more than 9.9 million visas issued in fiscal 2014, just 35,925 — roughly 0.3 percent — were fiancé visas, according to State Department figures. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a more stringent alternative that would put new fingerprint requirements in place, requirements some travel and security experts fear may be redundant and difficult to carry out.

A couple must prove they have physically seen each other within the past two years, unless meeting in person would violate “strict and long-established customs” or cause an “extreme hardship.” “This visa has been totally under the radar,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Center. “The issue of marriage fraud has definitely gotten a lot of attention, just not as a security vulnerability.” Applicants are subject to a vetting process that includes at least one in-person interview, fingerprints, checks against U.S. terrorist watch lists and reviews of family members, travel history and places where a person has lived and worked. But checks for information about an applicant against entries in intelligence databases and criminal records can be hampered if the underlying information is incomplete. While the line to walk was difficult, the path was clear and well worn: take steps to limit the damage. “We are realistic about the urgency to act after a major event when members are hellbent to show they are on the case,” said Jonathan Grella, a former top House aide who is now the executive vice president of public affairs at U.S. Foreigners applying from countries recognized as home to Islamic extremists, such as Pakistan, undergo additional scrutiny before the State Department and Homeland Security Department approve permission for a visa.

Travel. “We are not going to be the association or the industry that says, ‘Don’t touch our program.’ It was always going to have to be evaluated when the stakes are as high as they are.” As refugees from Syria and Iraq became the focus of political attention after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, Democrats and the White House were eager to shift attention away from them. Malik had been living in Pakistan and visiting family in Saudi Arabia before she passed the background check and entered the U.S. in July 2014 with Syed Farook, a U.S. citizen whose family was originally from Pakistan. While willing to accept changes, travel industry officials marshaled their forces, which include former executive branch officials who developed the program and now defend it. Association members from around the nation in an industry that includes hotels, theme parks, airports and restaurants sought to educate lawmakers on the waiver program, which requires all visitors to provide biographical information for security screening before they are allowed entry. Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader under an alias account on Facebook just moments before she and Farook opened fire on a holiday banquet for his co-workers.

The travel association backs the House measure, which beefs up the program by requiring all visitors from participating countries to have fraud-resistant passports and requires countries to check travelers against Interpol databases and perform other checks. Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and majority leader, said the aim is to “protect the United States” but also allow those who want to visit to do so. How the House plan will be reconciled with the Senate approach is not yet clear, though officials said Monday that there was a growing sense that the Senate would accept the House version.

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