Major step taken to bolster security

Published 12:43 am Saturday, December 12, 2015


Recent terrorist activity has many Americans concerned about our security, and understandably so. Congress has the responsibility to make sure our laws and programs meant to protect our country are working as they should. One program that has been scrutinized lately is our visa system, which regulates who is allowed to visit the United States.

Our country has agreements with friendly countries like Great Britain, France and Italy allowing their citizens who pass a security background check to travel in the United States for up to 90 days. This Visa Waiver Program is important for business travel and tourism but also has an important security function. As part of the deal, partner countries agree to share critical counter terrorism information that helps American authorities identify threats and protect the homeland.

Amid the rise in terrorist activity, the Homeland Security Committee convened a Foreign Fighter Task Force, which found some lapses and vulnerabilities in our system. Gaps in the system could potentially allow dangerous people to exploit our relationships with friendly nations to and gain access to the United States. That’s why this week the House of Representatives acted to tighten and reform security protocols by passing the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act. The bill strengthens our visa program’s security with provisions to:

• terminate visa agreements with countries if they fail to share counterterrorism information;

• terminate visa agreements with countries if they fail to screen travelers against INTERPOL criminal and terrorism databases;

• deny VWP status to those who have gone to terrorist hotspots like Syria since 2011 or those who have dual-nationality in such countries;

• require all partner countries to issue and screen fraud resistant “e-passports” to everyone;

• require annual threat assessments of high-risk VWP countries based on foreign fighter flow, visa denials and terror database matches;

• allow for suspension of high-risk countries until the threat has passed.

This measure is an important step in ensuring dangerous people cannot access the United States via friendly nations by exploiting security gaps. Of course, our visa arrangement with friendly nations is important, but we need to beef up security protocols and make sure our partner countries are playing by the rules.

My colleague, Rep. Will Hurd, who is a former CIA operative and helped write the bill, put it best by saying “If you get the right information to the right people, you keep terrorists on the run and off our shores.”

This is just one step of many that may need to be taken to make sure our authorities have the tools and information necessary to protect Americans here at home.

Martha Roby represents the Wiregrass area, including Covington County, in Congress.