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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    JACKSON LEE. Let me thank the gentlewoman for her leadership. As well, I thank the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Thompson), the chairman of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, of which I am a member--Chairman Miller--and Messrs. McCaul and Goodlatte.

    Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, in my having been on the floor today, America is looking for the homeland to be secure, and they are looking for it to be done in a thoughtful manner.

    Just a week ago, I did not vote for a bill that would have stopped innocent refugees who had been in camps for 2 years or more--mothers and fathers and seniors and children--because I knew there was a 21- list vetting system that would ensure that those refugees who had languished in refugee camps and who had been suffering would be a small number--an infinitesimal number--coming into the United States.

    We heard debate earlier today about another loophole that could be ended, and that is to stop terrorists from getting guns--a thoughtful proposal. Most Americans didn't realize the loophole existed.

    Now we come to a program that is, likewise, a thoughtful program. It has nothing to do with refugees. It has nothing to do with ending the Visa Waiver Program of 38 nations. What it has to do with is, if you have been in the areas where the caliphate is, where the fight has been taken to, Syria and Iraq, we just ask for an added interview. I might imagine that, in the course of that, there will be human rights activists and journalists. I would imagine, as well, that our officials who will be doing the interviews will be sensitive to the fact of legitimate journalists who have gone to do their reporting.

    [[Page H9055]] I think it is very important that the American people know that we are working to craft a thoughtful approach. This is a thoughtful approach. It simply asks for individuals to go for an interview who are part of the Visa Waiver Program in the countries that they have them or who are dual nationals.

    Likewise, I have introduced legislation, H.R. 48, No Fly for Foreign Fighters, that asks for an added vetting for the terrorist watch list to make sure that no one on that list who is coming from overseas gets on an airplane. This will protect the American people.

    In the course of trying to be constructive, I think the hearings that we had in Homeland Security indicated another layer, another level, of just making sure that those who are trying to use the Visa Waiver Program are not abusing the Visa Waiver Program. That is our effort here today, that they not abuse it and, by some ill fate, allow someone who comes to this Nation to do us harm. Homeland security, protecting the national security, is a layer that is constructive and constitutional. This is constructive, and it is constitutional.

    I ask my colleagues to support the underlying legislation.

    Mr. Speaker, this has been a stressful year in our country and our world with past senseless gun violence and terroristic acts against Americans and citizens the world over.

    I rise in support of H.R. 158--the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act'' because it facilitates a rigorous vetting of tourists seeking to enter into our country.

    In addition to the steps laid out by the President, I also believe there are additional steps the Congress should take, including bringing to the floor for debate and vote H.R. 48, the ``No Fly for Foreign Fighters Act,'' that I introduced earlier this year.

    My legislation would require the TSA to check the Terrorist Screening Database and the terrorist watch list used in determining whether to permit a passenger to board a U.S.-bound or domestic flight and to take appropriate steps to ensure that those who pose a threat to aviation safety or national security are included in the Terrorism Database.

    From San Bernardino to Paris, to Nigeria, to Mali, to Beirut, the carnage of violence has been perpetrated on the human family by those who should never be in possession of violent weapons or power.

    But we cannot allow these atrocities to dissuade us from interacting with and welcoming those interested in traveling to and learning more about our country.

    Mr. Speaker, as a Member of Congress and senior member on the homeland security and ranking member on the Judiciary subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland, my top priority is the safety of the American people.

    In times of conflict and stress and trauma, our natural inclination is to point fingers and seek to cast blame as we have seen Mr. Donald Trump do.

    But we all know that deep down, this does us no good and that it runs afoul of our American ideals.

    What we must do is focus our efforts on the most likely security threats to our homeland and not scapegoat the thoroughly screened individuals who seek to come to the U.S. through the Waiver Program.

    We cannot throw a net of suspicion over an entire nation, even as the United States accepts more refugees--including Syrians.

    Our system facilitates the most rigorous screening and security vetting of ANY category of traveler or immigrant to the United States before the refugee sets foot on U.S. soil.

    Indeed, the Republican bill, H.R. 4038, that passed the House in November would immediately shut down refugee resettlement from the Syria and Iraq region and severely handicap refugee resettlement in the future.

    To date, there is no reliable evidence that the individuals who committed the heinous attacks in Paris on November 13th were refugees.

    Currently, the Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from 38 countries from around the world, including the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Japan, to enter the United States without a visa.

    One of the main intents of the Visa Waiver Program is to stimulate the U.S.' economy by encouraging tourism, cultural exchange, business, and job growth between the United States and our international partners.

    The travel industry estimates that the VWP contributed $190 billion to our economy in 2014.

    It should be noted that Visa waiver travelers cannot simply grab their passports and hop on the next flight to the United States.

    Rather, under current law, citizens from participating Visa Waiver Program countries are required to complete a U.S government online security screening form prior to their admission to the United States.

    These participants also undergo an additional level of screening at the port of entry by a Customs and Border Patrol official.

    This bipartisan bill provides for specific, concrete changes that will ensure better information-sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

    The Program requires screening of all travelers against INTERPOL databases to identify high-risk travelers.

    The Program makes it challenging for extremists to falsify their identities by requiring fraud-resistant e-passports that contain biometric information.

    The Program compels U.S. security agencies to conduct more frequent threat assessments of VWP countries.

    The bill also requires nationals of Iraq, Syria, and other designated countries, or those who have visited such countries, to have an in- person interview with a U.S. Department of State Consular official and undergo more lengthy screenings prior to travel to the United States.

    This bill employs intelligent measures to enhance the security of the American people by improving information sharing between VWP country partners and the United States, including a requirement that WP countries report theft/loss of their citizens' passports to the United States within 24 hrs.

    This bill is a more appropriate response than the Republican drafted the ``American SAFE Act of 2015.'' It deserves a vote in the House.

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