Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015by Representative Michael T. McCaul
Posted on 2015-12-08
McCAUL. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Chairman Goodlatte and
Chairman Miller for their leadership.
I rise in support of this bill, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.
Our Nation faces the highest terror threat environment since 9/11, and we must do everything possible to shut down terrorist pathways into this country. We are working hard to do just that with this bill. Last month, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass bipartisan legislation I drafted to prevent terrorists from entering the United States posing as refugees.
They have already done this to attack Paris. And this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned me that the National Counterterrorism Center has identified individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program.
I am concerned that terrorists are attempting to exploit the U.S. refugee program to enter our country and that we currently lack the ability to confidently vet Syria refugees to weed out individuals with potential terrorist ties. Top law enforcement and intelligence officials have testified before my Committee that terrorist groups have expressed a desire to infiltrate refugee programs to enter the United States and Europe, and ISIS has said in their own words that they intend to do so. In Paris, we saw them follow through on those pledges, sneaking at least two operatives into Europe posing as refugees. It also appears that individuals with extremist links have already tried to gain entry to our country as refugees. This year the Office of the Director of National Intelligence informed me in writing that the National Counterterrorism Center has identified ``. . . individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program.'' This is deeply troubling. At this time, I am concerned that serious intelligence gaps preclude us from conducting comprehensive screening to detect all Syrian refugees with terrorist ties, and as a result I have proposed adding additional national security checks to the process before the United States approves any further admissions. Naturally, the States are concerned that the refugees being resettled in their communities may not have been effectively screened--especially given the volume of refugees the Administration has committed to accepting. Refugee resettlement is within the purview of the federal government. However, the Administration must be transparent in sharing information with the States about the people being resettled within their borders. The Refugee Act of 1980 requires that the federal government ``shall consult regularly'' with state and local governments and private nonprofit voluntary agencies concerning the intended distribution of refugees. In Texas, it appears the federal government has not fully held-up its end of the bargain.
But we must go further. More than 30,000 individuals from 100 countries have gone to Syria to join jihadist groups, and 5,000 of them have Western passports. This includes several of the Paris attackers, who could have traveled to the United States without a visa.
That is why this legislation is so important before us here today. It will close security gaps in the Visa Waiver Program to keep terrorists from entering our country undetected. It also includes several recommendations from the bipartisan Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel, which I created earlier this year.
This Member-led panel uncovered gaping security weaknesses overseas, including the fact that some countries are not sharing intelligence on terrorists, many are not screening travelers against critical counterterrorism databases, and too few of them are cracking down on passport fraud.
This bill would help close those security gaps to keep terrorists from crossing borders. And it would implement several of the task force's top recommendations to ensure Visa Waiver Program countries are living up to their obligations and ramping up security.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I also want to thank those on the other side of the aisle for working in a bipartisan spirit, in a cooperative nature on what I consider to be one of the biggest security gaps we have facing this country after the Paris attacks and after San Bernardino. And I want to thank our colleagues on the other side of the aisle.