SEPTEMBER 06, 2006
Officials in the Department of Homeland Security admit that an unknown amount of ”inadmissible aliens” have entered the United States using a stolen or lost passport from a country whose citizens are allowed to travel here without a visa.
Introduced in 1986, the Visa Waiver Program allows millions of citizens in 27 countries to come to the U.S. for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. In fiscal year 2004, the latest available statistics, more than 15 million foreigners entered the U.S. without obtaining prior consular permission.
This system facilitates travel while easing consular workload, but also poses huge national security risks since stolen passports from visa waiver countries can easily be obtained by terrorists and other criminals. Additionally, the foreign documents present huge challenges to border inspectors who may face language barriers or the sufficient resources to fully investigate them.
These and other problems with the Visa Waiver Program are documented in a new report from the Congressional investigative Government Accountability Office, which concludes that the program has inherent risks and many weaknesses that the Department of Homeland Security has failed to address over the years.
Among them is the mega agency’s failure to establish specific operating procedures for the crucial reporting of stolen passports that could be used to enter the U.S. illegally. While the agency has told participating countries to report stolen passports, it has yet to create the specific method or guidelines to do it. Visa waiver countries currently report stolen passports to the International Criminal Police Organization, however, U.S. authorities rarely use the data as a border screening tool.
The Visa Waiver Program has been under scrutiny for years and in 2002 Congress even ordered a much-needed review of the security risks posed by participating countries, which include the United Kingdom and Spain, home to many terrorist cells. Federal officials responded by creating a two-employee office to asses risks and conduct reviews.
Perhaps this is why one columnist, who is a former longtime U.S. immigration official, is calling for the immediate termination of the Visa Waiver Program. Michael Cutler writes that our borders must be secured and the immigration system must possess meaningful integrity because our nation is at risk of additional terrorist attacks. Eliminating the Visa Waiver Program will help protect our nation.
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