ACLU cheers visa waiver fix bill

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is cheering legislation that has been introduced to undo some visa waiver restrictions that were put in place after shootings in San Bernandino, Calif. and Paris last month. 

The ACLU said the changes, which were included in a spending bill that was approved in December, "imposed discriminatory travel restrictions on dual nationals from certain countries."  

"Lawmakers who supported the discriminatory provisions are correct to have buyers' remorse over passing a bill that enshrines discrimination against people based on their nationality, ancestry, and parentage," Joanne Lin, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, said in a statement. 

"We're pleased they have seen the error of their ways and are moving to fix the mess that Congress and the White House created less than a month ago," Lin continued. "They should do so without delay."

The measure to undo the visa waiver changes is known as the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016.  It is sponsored by Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashLawmakers press Lynch for briefing on Yahoo secret email scanning reports House Freedom Caucus member slows floor business House votes to block Gitmo transfers MORE (R-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). 

Lawmakers were scrambling to make changes to the Department of State's Visa Waiver Program, which allows tourists from 38 pre-approved countries to visit the U.S. without obtaining a visa, after the shootings in California and Paris. 

The "enhancements" to the program that were approved was giving the Department of Homeland Security the right to suspend the issuance of visa waivers to travelers from pre-approved countries that fail to share intelligence about potential terror attacks.

Backers said the improvements would make the visa waiver program more secure for legitimate tourists.   

"Terrorist organizations, like ISIS, are recruiting and radicalizing individuals from across the globe at record pace, and, although the Department of Homeland Security continuously screens travelers against our intelligence database, we know participating countries routinely fail to share the critical intelligence we need," Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said in a statement when the measure was approved in December. 

"To address this grave vulnerability, my legislation gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to suspend countries that fail to share this information with the U.S.," Miller continued. "It also includes important provisions aimed at eliminating passport fraud and improves our ability to identify and stop individuals who have traveled to terrorist hotspots to join ISIS and other like-minded organizations before they reach U.S. soil." 

Tourism groups in Washington said they could live with the tweaks to the visa waiver program at the time of its passage as they were trying to fight off more drastic modifications to the program. 

"Knee-jerk responses to terrorist threats in the past sometimes hurt the U.S. economy and America's reputation among international travelers, and we are encouraged to see our lawmakers avoided that path this time around,"  U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a December statement. 

"The VWP is an already-strong program that generates $190 billion in annual economic output for the U.S., strengthens diplomatic ties with our allies and has consistently proven an indispensable security tool," Dow continued then. "The travel community welcomes these amendments that will make our nation safer while keeping America's doors open to international visitors." 

Backers of the proposal to undo some of the visa waiver restrictions that were put in place in December have said

“Making sure that we avoid as many unintended consequences as possible is particularly important when we are proposing to disqualify specific populations of people from long standing immigration practices,” a group of the 33 House Democrats wrote in a letter in December. 

The lawmakers said the visa waiver changes that were enacted in December "would result in the discrimination against people simply because they are dual citizens based on 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 lawmakers 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," they continued.