WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Richard Hudson joined his fellow House members this week in overwhelmingly passing legislation to overhaul the federal visa waiver program.
The bill would bar those from Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan, or those who have visited those countries in the last five years, from traveling to the United States without a visa. The bill was approved on a 407 to 19 vote.
The proposal comes in response to the recent attacks in Paris from ISIS operatives, and the shooting in California by a couple that expressed support for the terror group on social media.
“The stakes have never been higher as radical Islamic terrorists continue to look for any opportunity to infiltrate America to kill us and carry out their barbaric attacks in our communities,” Hudson said in a statement. “We know thousands of radicalized people with Western passports have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with terrorists groups like ISIS, and the House is taking decisive action to close security gaps these foreign fighters could exploit.”
Hudson, whose 8th District seat includes Scotland County, had already co-authored a measure with Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas to halt the resettlement of certain refugees in the United States.
“Like my bill to strengthen the vetting of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, today’s legislation is a reasonable, common sense measure to help keep terrorists out and the American people safe,” said Hudson, a second-term Republican. “It is another critical step to address glaring vulnerabilities in our security that terrorists could exploit, tackle the growing threat of radical Islamic extremism and ensure the safety of Americans.”
The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from 38 participating countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or tourism without obtaining a U.S. visa. Instead of going to a U.S. consulate or embassy, citizens of participating countries must provide detailed background information that is then screened against U.S. security systems.
Hudson said it is estimated that approximately 5,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, many of whom are from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program.
“ISIS terrorists and sympathizers have made clear that they plan to infiltrate Western countries, and there are legitimate concerns that terrorists could come to the United States through this fast-track system,” Hudson said. “Today, the House acted to protect the American people.”
Other provisions of the bill include:
— Demanding strong intelligence and law enforcement information sharing. H.R. 158 requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to terminate a country from the Visa Waiver Program if the country does not share counterterrorism data—and doesn’t allow the country back until it complies with the program requirements.
— Enhancing screening of all travelers in Visa Waiver countries. H.R. 158 requires all VWP countries to check travelers against INTERPOL databases to determine whether the traveler is wanted by law enforcement agencies based on ties to terrorism or criminal activity.
— Requiring countries to use e-passports to help prevent extremists from using fraudulent documents.
— Preventing extremists from using lost or stolen documents. H.R. 158 forces all VWP countries to submit lost and stolen passport information to INTERPOL’s “stolen and lost travel document” database and to notify INTERPOL within 24 hours when their citizens’ passports go missing.
But not all lawmakers agree the proposed reforms would solve concerns with the waiver program.
“This bill will do some good, but it’s mostly evadable,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California.
Sherman said that since most Islamic State fighters slip into Syria from Turkey, they would not have stamps on their passports and could easily lie about where they had been.