Dems seek changes to visa-waiver bill

Several dozen liberal Democrats called Friday for Senate leaders to alter visa-waiver legislation in the name of protecting U.S. citizens and disaster victims.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP’s midterm strategy takes shape Battle of the billionaires drives Nevada contest Senate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh MORE (D-Nev.), the lawmakers warned that the House-passed visa-waiver bill  — which is set to be considered by the upper chamber — could make it more difficult for U.S. nationals with dual citizenship to travel abroad.

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“Making sure that we avoid as many unintended consequences as possible is particularly important when we are proposing to disqualify populations of people from long standing immigration practices,” the Democrats wrote.

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. John Conyers Jr., ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Dan Kildee, Rep. Debbie Dingell and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, all Michigan Democrats.

It was endorsed by 29 others in the party, including Reps. Judy Chu (Calif.), head of the Asian Pacific American Caucus; Jim McGovern (Mass.); Beto O'Rourke (Texas); Marcy Kaptur (Ohio); and the co-chairmen of the Progressive Caucus, Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.).

Pushed in response to last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, the House legislation would install new visa requirements for any foreigners wishing to come to the U.S. who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years. Under current law, travelers from 38 countries don't need to obtain visas to visit the U.S.

The bill passed the House on Tuesday with a lopsided vote of 407-19.

The signatories to Friday's letter include both lawmakers who supported the legislation and those who opposed it.

The Senate is expected to consider the measure, perhaps as a part of the omnibus spending package Congress must pass by Wednesday to prevent a government shutdown.

The Democrats endorsing Friday's letter praised the legislation for new electronic passport mandates and reporting requirements when passports are stolen. But they're warning that the bill could also promote discrimination against some dual citizens based on their ancestry.

“These changes could result in our Visa Waiver Program partner nations placing new limits on travel by U.S. citizens to their countries,” the Democrats wrote. “Fundamentally, people seeking entry into our country should be evaluated based on the specific security risk that they themselves pose — not where their parents are from.” 

The Democrats are also urging the Senate leaders to make exceptions to the new visa requirements in cases when the travelers to Iraq, Syria or Sudan are humanitarian workers, journalists or researchers. 

A failure to include that exception, they said, “could result in less assistance reaching some of the most vulnerable individuals in the world.”

Additionally, the Democrats want to establish an expiration date on the new visa requirements, something the current bill doesn't have.