‘Several hundred’ Americans might be in ISIS, Republican warns

“Several hundred” Americans might have traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a House Republican said Wednesday.

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Rep. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security subcommittee, warned vulnerabilities in a visa waiver program could allow those members of ISIS to enter the United States undetected.

“These thugs have no regard for life,” Miller said. “Many are eligible for visa free travel, through the visa waiver program.”

The travel program, which allows citizens from three dozen countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa, could allow “thousands” of Westerners in ISIS to enter America, Miller warned.

"Time is of the essence," she said.

A Homeland Security Department official said Americans and Westerners pose a "short-term" threat to the U.S.

“I do believe it could be short-term and long-term threat to the United States," said Troy Miller, acting assistant commissioner for intelligence and investigative liaison for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeEx-interpreter for US troops in Afghanistan released from ICE custody Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (Texas), refrained from characterizing the threat level, but said "this hearing recognizes that ISIS is a threat to the United States."

Lee said as many as 12,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria to fight with ISIS, including over a thousand from Europe who would be eligible to travel back to the U.S. without a visa.

She noted that several attempted terrorist attacks were undertaken by people who had traveled on the visa waiver program, including the would-be 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001, and the so-called “shoe-bomber."

“It happened in part because our visa and border security defenses were not very effective,” Miller said.

Miller urged better cooperation from Western allies — including Canada, which she said has “been reluctant” to share intelligence with the U.S. such as airline manifests.

"Getting that information is really criticial," said John Wagner, assistant commissioner of the Custom and Border Protection's office of field operations.

"One of the things we would like to see stronger response from some of our partners overseas," he said.

"We are a very free and open society, but we're looking at a changing world here," Miller said.