Statement of Senator Feinstein on Bush Administration’s Intent to Add New Countries to the Visa Waiver Program
Oct 17 2008
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, today issued the following statement about the Bush Administration’s intent to expand the visa waiver program to include an additional seven countries:
“The visa waiver program is the soft underbelly of this nation’s immigration system.
Under this program, 15 million people a year enter the United States from 27 countries with permission to stay for 90 days. But nobody knows whether they actually leave, because the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a system in place to ensure that they exit.
It would be irresponsible, and illegal, to expand the visa waiver program without complying with the mandates of the law. I believe the Administration is taking the wrong approach by expanding this program and admitting new countries with even higher visa refusal rates.
The visa waiver program currently allows foreign visitors to come into our country without undergoing individual background checks, and with nothing in place to assure that they leave when they are supposed to. This provides a major opportunity for individuals who may seek to exploit our system - or do us grievous harm through acts of terrorism.
The government must do all it can to fight terrorism. We know that radicalism and homegrown terrorism in Europe are on the rise and that Al-Qaeda is looking to exploit the visa waiver program. Therefore, strengthening and tightening the visa waiver program should be a top priority.
Instead, the White House announced today that it intends to add seven additional countries into the visa waiver program.
Under current law the Department of Homeland Security cannot admit these new countries into the visa waiver program unless it first:
- Puts in place a fully operational electronic travel authorization system for all travelers from visa waiver countries; and
- Verifies the departure of 97 percent of foreign travelers leaving U.S. airports.
However, according the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Homeland Security has not met either of these statutory requirements.
In the next month I will be watching closely to ensure the Administration meets its statutory requirements before admitting these countries in the visa waiver program.
Current law also requires the implementation of a biometric air exit system by June 30, 2009 in order for DHS to further expand the visa waiver program to countries with visa refusal rates between the 3 and 10 percent threshold. Unfortunately, a reporting requirement that was added to the Continuing Resolution could further delay the implementation of the biometric air exit system, a critical component to protecting our nation. I will work with the next Administration to ensure this statutory deadline is met before any additional countries are added to the program if it is delayed.
Expanding the visa waiver program is especially dangerous given the growing number of fraudulent and stolen passports and other international documents that are being sold on the black market. A biometric system is one of the best tools we have to protect us from the use of fraudulent and stolen passports and other international documents.
Between January 2002 and June 2004, 28 foreign governments, including visa waiver countries, reported 56,943 stolen blank foreign passports to the State Department. This past summer, a security van in London was hijacked, resulting in the loss of 3,000 blank British passports and visas that were destined for overseas embassies.
I fail to understand why the Department of Homeland Security, whose number one goal is to “protect the nation from dangerous people,” is instead expanding a program that we know is exploited by dangerous persons.
I look forward to working with the next Administration to close the gap the visa waiver program leaves open in our domestic security.”