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Visa and National Security Seriously Impinged by Tourism Bill

On May 17, 2012, I testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement on “H.R. 3039, The Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act of 2011″ as a Former Counsel to the 9/11 Commission and National Security Policy Director, Center for Immigration Studies. Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Steve King (R-IA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) were all in attendance.

The hearing began with a statement by the author of the bill, Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), discussing that in his view, tourism was so significantly lower in America that mandatory visa processing times are required, visa interviews should be waived in many instances, and that the process should begin with China, India, and Brazil. The bill also gave the Secretary of State limitless authorities to change visa terms and visa interview requirements, negating some of the most basic immigration law requirements on the books today.

I was asked to testify on the national security ramifications of the bill. In short, I testified that the bill is:

  1. Unnecessary, untimely, and premature, considering the President’s January Executive Order to waive interviews in unstated visa categories for China, India and Brazil as well as numerous other nations, and no longer re-vet certain visa categories within certain time frames;
  2. Supports the administration’s amnesty policy (perhaps unknowingly) by adding to the largest overstay populations outside this hemisphere from these three countries;
  3. Will likely increase the illegal populations from China, India and Brazil currently residing in the United States (700,000 collectively of the 11.5 million);
  4. Would seriously impinge 9/11 Commission recommendation implementation pertaining to visa interviews, and thus national security; and
  5. Support China’s espionage efforts against us.

During the Q&A, Rep. Steve King asked at least half a dozen questions of the witnesses pertaining to their statistics about tourism numbers, visa processing times and security that could not be answered by the other panelists. In addition, an attempt to claim that the 9/11 Commission facts and recommendations would support this bill was rebutted. I appreciated Rep. Gallegly giving me the opportunity to respond to the unfortunate statements.

The webcast of my oral statement and answers to questions (including my rebuttal), as well as my 13-page testimony, is on the CIS website. My written testimony includes significant information on 9/11 Commission findings pertaining to visa interviews, the exact overstay statistics for each of the nations involved, and the relationship between this bill and the President’s amnesty policy and Executive Order of January 2012. My testimony makes clear that while tourism is a valid goal, it cannot be done in an atmosphere where immigration law is not being enforced domestically, visa processing becomes a rubber stamping process, and the countries targeted have some of the highest overstay populations in the United States.

Janice Kephart writes on border and identity security and programs; the implementation of 9/11 Commission recommendations, especially as they pertain to terrorist travel, and leadership and organizational issues concerning the Department of Homeland Security. Read More