First DHS secretary urges passage of immigration bill

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Friday that Congress needs to deal with the problem of immigration now and not put off the issue any longer.

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“The reality is, it’s not going to go away,” said Ridge, who expressed optimism that a bipartisan solution can still be found. Doing nothing would just perpetuate the existing problems, Ridge said at a National Press Club event.

Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, is now a consultant for the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of travel industry groups that is pressing Congress to approve legislation improving U.S. entry and visa policies to increase foreign travel to the U.S.

Some of the group’s proposals may be incorporated into a Senate immigration bill that is expected to be back on the Senate floor as early as next week following a deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans announced last night.

Ridge offered public support for many of the group’s proposals during his presentation, including a $10 visa waiver transaction fee that would be paid by foreign travelers. Proceeds from the fee would be used to fund security improvements to America’s visa and entry system and to fund a sustained national coordinated campaign to promote travel to the U.S. in foreign markets.

Ridge also said his personal opinion is that the visa waiver program should be expanded to include more countries.