National Security

Senators look to roll back visa restrictions

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A bipartisan group of senators is looking to undo new travel restrictions included in an end-of-the-year spending bill.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are planning to introduce legislation 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. 
{mosads}Currently, those individuals are required to get a visa because of restrictions included in the omnibus spending package passed late last year. 
The senators’ legislation would keep intact the new requirement that anyone who has traveled to 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. 
Lawmakers passed the new travel restrictions in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Supporters warned that a terrorist could use loose travel laws — which allow a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country to travel to the United Sates without a visa — to sneak into the country. 
But the senators argue that lawmakers should be more focused on an individual’s travel history instead of whether they have dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.
Durbin said the legislation will “correct the most serious problem” with the new visa restrictions that were included in the spending bill and that “singling people out because of their national origin is fundamentally at odds with American values.”
Booker echoed the Illinois senator’s comments, saying restrictions passed last year were “overly-broad,” “send the wrong message” and “jeopardize U.S. relations with key allies.” 
The senators are planning to introduce the bill once the Senate returns to Washington next week, according to Flake’s office.
The Arizona Republican said that by introducing the legislation, the senators will help make sure “the focus remains on those who should receive a higher level of scrutiny.” 
The legislation comes after the Iranian government warned that the new travel restrictions would constitute a violation of the nuclear agreement reached last year. 
Secretary of State John Kerry has gotten flack from lawmakers over a letter he sent to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggesting that the administration could lift the new visa requirements. 
More than a dozen Senate Republicans sent a letter  to Kerry on Wednesday accusing him of trying to appease Iran. 
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who spearheaded that letter, added in a statement to The Hill that with the administration potentially days away from lifting sanctions against Iran, “Kerry should be less concerned with placating Iranian concerns about our efforts to secure the Visa Waiver Program, and more concerned about keeping Americans, at home and abroad, safe from terrorism.”
The forthcoming legislation to undo some of the visa restrictions drew quick praise from Iranian-American outside groups. 
National Iranian American Council Executive Director Jamal Abdi said “it is vital for Congress to reverse these provisions without delay.”
“The passage of this bill would be a key first step toward ending all discriminatory visa waiver restrictions,” he added. “The second step would be the executive waiver of restrictions on foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran since March 2011.”
Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) are introducing similar legislation in the House. 
Tags Dick Durbin Jeff Flake John Kerry Mark Kirk
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