Outside groups push Senate to undo new visa restrictions

Dozens of outside organizations are pressuring lawmakers to pass legislation that would loosen new visa restrictions included in an end-of-the-year spending bill. 

Sixty-five groups sent a letter to senators Monday backing a bipartisan proposal introduced last month that would allow individuals from countries in the Visa Waiver Program who have dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan to travel to the United States without a visa. 
Currently they are required to get a visa because of restrictions included in the omnibus legislation last year. 
“[The] law enshrines discrimination based on nationality, ancestry, and parentage. There is no compelling security argument that justifies the discrimination against certain dual nationals in violation of fundamental American values,” the groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First — wrote
Supports of undoing the visa restrictions for dual nationals argue that because citizenship is passed down paternally in Iran, Sudan and Syria, dual nationals who have never visited the countries would still be subjected to the new visa requirements. 
The groups warned that new restrictions could also lead impacted countries to propose similar restrictions on U.S. dual nationals in retaliation of the new policy. 
That concern was echoed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the legislation with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). 
“The Visa Waiver Program should be reformed, but singling people out because of their national origin is fundamentally at odds with American values and invites discrimination against American citizens who are dual nationals,” he said late last month after the administration announced it had begun implementing the new restrictions. 
The Senate legislation keeps intact a new requirement that anyone who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since March 2011 must get a visa to travel to the United States, even if they are a citizen of one of the 38 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. 
The letter comes as the administration has faced backlash from congressional Republicans after it announced exemptions to the tougher visa requirements — including the right to waive the visa requirement for people traveling to Iran for “legitimate business-related purposes” following the implementation of the nuclear deal last year.
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