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Intel lawmakers fear threats from tourists more than refugees

Intel lawmakers fear threats from tourists more than refugees
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Congress might be missing the point with a new battle over whether or not to let in 10,000 Syrian refugees, the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested on Tuesday.

Instead, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrUtah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars MORE (R-N.C.) and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (D-Calif.) said that the country was likely put at greater risk by millions of foreigners easily entering the country through a visa waiver program designed for tourists.

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Unlike the relatively small number of refugees, those tourists undergo minimal background checks, the lawmakers said.

“From a threat standpoint, I’m probably more concerned with the visa waiver program today,” Burr told reporters following a classified committee briefing.

“Because were I in Europe already and I wanted to go to the United States and I’m not on a watch list or a no-fly list and I wanted to get there,” he continued, “the likelihood is I’d use the visa waiver program before I would try to pawn myself off as a refugee and enter under false documents.”

“The visa waiver is the easiest,” Feinstein agreed, “because somebody who goes to fight in France, a visa waiver country, comes back to his country and then decides he wants to come into California.”

Last year, the visa waiver program allowed roughly 20 million tourists from France, the United Kingdom, Japan and 35 other countries to enter into the U.S. without a visa. The program requires a brief background check and lets tourists stay in the country for 90 days or less.

Syrian refugees traveling to the U.S., meanwhile, undergo up to two years of what the Obama administration has described as rigorous screening through multiple federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 

The future of the waiver program could be in doubt, Feinstein suggested.

“We need to look at that, explore what the options are and how to make prudent changes that don’t impact our economy dramatically but do offer a significant measure of protection,” she told reporters.

The Obama administration’s plan for the Syrian refugees has come under scrutiny in recent days, following indications that one man involved in killing more than 120 people in Paris used a false passport to disguise himself as a refugee and slip into France.

Momentum is mounting on Capitol Hill for the efforts to blunt the Obama administration’s refugee plan, with multiple Republicans and at least one prominent Democrat calling for a “pause.”

Burr on Tuesday agreed with those efforts on the refugees, in addition to his concern about the visa waiver program. 

“I think with what the world’s going through in the last two weeks, there’s every reason to pause the program and to ask the right questions,” he said: “What are we doing? Is it effective? Do we have 100 percent certainty or what is the certainty?"