Some lawmakers worry a program that allows citizens from 38 approved countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa could present a terrorism risk.
The Paris terror attacks have jolted Congress to consider ways to make it more difficult for people outside the country to enter the United States.
After the House last week passed legislation toughening security checks on Iraqi and Syrian refugees, some lawmakers argue that the real threat is a terrorist using a program that allows citizens from 38 approved countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.
While lawmakers faced some pushback for targeting Syrian refugees, the idea of reforming the visa waiver program is supposedly a safer—and more effective—bet.
But defenders of the program, meant to encourage easy business and tourist travel from overseas to boost the economy domestically, insist it is being unfairly targeted.
“It is one of the greatest security tools the U.S. has in combating people traveling illicitly,” said David Inserra, a homeland security expert at The Heritage Foundation.
“We have gained so much information from the visa waiver program. It is one of the best travel-based programs the U.S. has for combating terrorism.”
Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who calls the program the “soft underbelly” of America’s national security, are preparing legislation to ban a visa waiver for people who’ve traveled to Syria and Iraq in the past five years.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is also proposing a bill that would impose a 30-day waiting period for people traveling through the program.
These lawmakers worry that Europeans who have gone to fight with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq or Syria can return to their home nations and use the visa waiver program to enter the United States.
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