menu

Can we achieve security and prosperity at the same time?

The problem with an over-politicized environment in Washington is that we’ve lost the ability to build consensus and find common ground, even with people who hold views contrary to our own. A good idea can become a bad idea simply because it came from the wrong source. As the tenth anniversary of the tragic “9/11” attacks approaches, we are reminded of how this kind of skepticism is not only counterproductive but can be dangerous.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), with whom we business immigration lawyers usually disagree on immigration policy, published a paper this week entitled “Border Watchlisting a Decade after 9/11.” Among the proposals in the paper is to expand the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization” (ESTA), currently required only of travelers from countries for which visas are not required (called “visa waiver countries”), to all travelers. The CIS report further recommends updated vetting of all visa holders and visa waiver travelers every two years.

We have to give credit where credit is due. Though we would love to disagree with CIS on issues in the future, CIS is right in that our screening needs to be more than a perfunctory exercise. It needs to be substantive and in real-time, while also incorporating the latest technology. We who represent some of the world’s largest employers certainly are savvy enough to know that if our country encounters another serious terrorist attack, the entire economy suffers and nobody wins. To suggest that we would even contemplate compromising security for the sake of profitability is preposterous.

We would add to the CIS recommendation that, if in fact we are to take screening more seriously, then it is in everyone’s interest to make sure that only correct information gets entered in the system. Also, in the process of vetting and updating one’s security clearance every two years (or however often security experts believe is necessary), there must also be an opportunity to remove erroneous derogatory information. Lastly, whatever action the government needs to take must be taken quickly so it keeps pace in real time with the 21st century economy.

Too often, legitimate business visitors have to wait many months or even years to clear visa security screening, only to learn that the delay was due to mistaken identity. Many more legitimate travelers have to endure the embarrassment and hardship of additional interrogation at the airports also because of errors in the database. All of these incidents deter business and tourism travel to the United States, which has a detrimental effect on our economy and job creation. According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than 20 percent of private sector jobs created in June this year were the result of travel to the United States. Conversely, a report in the Atlantic, also from June, suggests that the United States lost $811 billion in revenue and 441,000 jobs after September 11, 2001 because of declining travel into our country. Though these declining figures are not due solely to visa processing delays, they do suggest that promoting travel and tourism to the U.S., in a secure and prudent manner, is vital to our economic recovery and job creation.

Achieving prosperity and security are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, they must go hand-in-hand. CIS’s recommendation of expanded security screening is a good one and in fact can result in a win-win, but only if the government is serious about updating and correcting information in its databases and does not fall into the trap of confusing bureaucracy with security.

Patrick Shen blogs about immigration policy and homeland security. Read More