Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Floor Statement: House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. on H.R. 158, the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act”

“Mr. Speaker, as much as any member in this body, I appreciate the unique situation our Nation is in as we struggle to effectively combat terrorism, while adhering to our Nation’s commitment to freedom and liberty. 

“I fully recognize and appreciate that the visa waiver bill before us today represents an effort to craft a more bipartisan response to recent terrorist incidents, particularly when compared to the seriously flawed refugee bill that this body voted on several weeks ago. 

“I commend the authors for including many common sense improvements to the visa waiver program that will improve the system in a neutral and non-discriminatory manner. These reforms include:

·         Requiring fraud resistant, electronic passports;
·         Mandating timely reporting of any thefts of these passports;
·         Enhanced reporting requirements;
·         And, incorporating new anti-fraud and deception technology.

“However, I believe the provisions in the legislation restricting the use of the visa waiver program to individuals who have travelled to Syria or Iraq or are dual nationals of these or other covered nations – are discriminatory. 

“I understand that these individuals are not banned from travelling to our Nation, and are simply subject to increased questioning and scrutiny before they can travel here. 
“However, history has shown that arbitrary across the board judgments based on broad characteristics such as these do nothing to enhance our security and only cast a cloud of suspicion over entire communities here in our country.

“Equally problematic is the provision’s overbreadth.  It contains no exceptions for journalists, researchers, human rights investigators or other professionals. 

“This will make it harder, not easier, to document and respond to human rights violations and other abuses.  I also believe the provision should have included a sunset date so we can assess its efficacy.  I am further concerned that the new requirement will result in our partner nations placing new limits on travel by U.S. citizens to their own countries. 

“It is because of these problems that numerous civil rights and civil liberties groups have expressed serious concerns or outright opposition to the overall legislation, including the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab-American Civil Rights League, Human Rights Watch, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, among others. 

“While there are many positive aspects to the legislation, I believe in the end we cannot countenance anything in our laws that judges individuals based on their nationality rather than their character.” 

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