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senate Bill S. 542

Keeping ISIS Out: Should the U.S. Tighten up the Visa Waiver Program?

Argument in favor

The visa waiver program needs more safeguards to ensure that the people coming into the country are not terrorists planning attacks against Americans. Border security needs to be bolstered anyways, but especially against terrorism on U.S. soil.

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05/05/2015
tightening security on our borders should be a basic function of government, and coordinating with our European allies in the matter makes sense. Just be careful where these kinds of bills may lead.
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Ronnie's Opinion
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05/07/2015
Tighten H1b visas. If the country needs trained professionals, technicians, doctors and nurses then fund education and Grants to U. S. Schools
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Gopin2020's Opinion
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07/24/2015
Until we secure our borders we are at risk of terrorist getting through our borders. Counterterrorism is a vital part of securing our borders.
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Argument opposed

Allowing people from abroad to travel to the U.S. relatively easily benefits our economy, and no matter how many barriers we try to create there will always be loopholes that terrorists can take advantage of.

BernieSanders's Opinion
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11/20/2015
"What we saw in Paris was disgusting and barbaric. But we are a strong enough nation to say we’re not going to lose who we are as a people." [twitter.com]
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Evercraft's Opinion
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05/05/2015
The countries to which VWP applies have not posed threats and are allies. We have seen more attacks from our own citizens than countries like Norway and Sweden. It's important not to let fear of our enemies turn us into a xenophobic nation.
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Xn's Opinion
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05/05/2015
Our constitution recognizes the rights of all people to the freedom of travel. Impeding this right is unconstitutional. All men are created equal, not just Americans.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedFebruary 24th, 2015

What is Senate Bill S. 542?

This bill would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to re-evaluate: 

  • Necessary border security improvements for responding to domestic threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Specifically how to tighten up entry procedures.

  • The growing participation of U.S. and European nationals in terrorist activity as foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.

All of these assessments focus on the Visa Waiver Program, and its requirements for travelers and covered countries. The VWP allows the citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism or business. Since 2008, DHS has denied over 26,000 applications for visa waivers, some of which were due to terrorism concerns.

If passed, this bill would expand pre-travel clearance procedures and increase information-sharing requirements. Countries who don't cooperate with the new requirements would be suspended from participating in the VWP. 

If the State Dept. suspects that a U.S. citizen has (or plans to) engage in terrorist acts, this bill would give them the authority to revoke and confiscate that citizen's passport. 

Impact

People who wish to use the visa waiver program to travel to the U.S., people suspected of terrorist acts, communities at U.S. borders, domestic targets of terrorist acts, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, Congress.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 542

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

Of Note: There are between 2000 and 3000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria who are nationals of Western countries — including over 100 Americans, about 12 of whom have joined ISIS. The reach of ISIS has expanded beyond the Middle East. In the first attack on American soil that ISIS had claimed responsibility for, a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest near Dallas, Texas was targeted by two U.S. citizens in May 2015. The gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, wounded a security guard before being shot and killed by police. 

In mid November 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for coordinated terror attacks in Paris. The carefully choreographed violence spanning eight locations left more than 120 people dead and hundreds others with injuries.

Concerns about the exploitation of the Visa Waiver Program led DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to require additional information from potential European travelers before allowing them to enter the U.S., but he does believe that the program is an “important, valuable program” that shouldn’t be eliminated outright.


In Depth: nearly identical version of this bill was introduced in the Senate in September 2014, but it failed to progress from committee before the end of the 113th Congress. 

Other provisions of the bill include: 

DHS, the State Department, and the Attorney General (DOJ) would also have to make a plan for:

  • Increasing the scrutiny of U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Libya.

  • Giving the DOJ and other federal agencies more power to investigate, arrest, and prosecute U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist acts or involvement with a terrorist organization.

The State Department would also have to make a plan (and send it to Congress) for training consular officers on visa interviewing techniques that emphasize counterterrorism.

This bill would also add being in cahoots with a terrorist organization to the definition of "treason" under the federal criminal code.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user quapan)

AKA

Counterterrorism Border Security Enhancement Act

Official Title

A bill to enhance the homeland security of the United States, and for other purposes.

    tightening security on our borders should be a basic function of government, and coordinating with our European allies in the matter makes sense. Just be careful where these kinds of bills may lead.
    Like (28)
    Follow
    Share
    "What we saw in Paris was disgusting and barbaric. But we are a strong enough nation to say we’re not going to lose who we are as a people." [twitter.com]
    Like (90)
    Follow
    Share
    The countries to which VWP applies have not posed threats and are allies. We have seen more attacks from our own citizens than countries like Norway and Sweden. It's important not to let fear of our enemies turn us into a xenophobic nation.
    Like (20)
    Follow
    Share
    Tighten H1b visas. If the country needs trained professionals, technicians, doctors and nurses then fund education and Grants to U. S. Schools
    Like (14)
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    Share
    Our constitution recognizes the rights of all people to the freedom of travel. Impeding this right is unconstitutional. All men are created equal, not just Americans.
    Like (13)
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    ISIL is not a real threat to the homeland. Of course they claimed responsibility for the shooting in Texas. But the idea that "tightening the border" or restricting the Visa or Visa Waiver programs will somehow interdict would-be terrorists is absurd. Enough fear mongering, false conflation and government overreach.
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    Until we secure our borders we are at risk of terrorist getting through our borders. Counterterrorism is a vital part of securing our borders.
    Like (6)
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    I was on board until reading that U.S. Citizens suspected of terrorist activity could have US passport revoked. To deprive a U.S. Citizen of a fundamental freedom, there should be a standard higher and more definitive than suspicion.
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    "Scapegoating an entire religious community and rejecting those fleeing ISIL’s terrorism and persecution is what the terrorists want. We need to step up and act like Americans, in accordance to our principles." [twitter.com]
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    Reevaluating our visa program is needed due to the rising concerns of ISIS and overseas flights into and out of the country.
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    Absolutely. We may not be at war with Islam, but they are certainly at war with us. Free trade and travel into and out of our house is for friends, not jihadi wannabes. Let's make sure we do our best to protect our nation.
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    We need less people in this country, this bill is not targeted at tourists its targeted at those trying to get around our system
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    Country built on immigration. Our most famous city is called the melting pot, why are we so against immigration or even just people visiting?
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    Any and all legislation attempting to creat false security is corroding away at individual rights. Please stop.
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    IMHO, here's exactly what I think: THE ONLY WAY WE CAN KEEP OUT ISIS IS TO SECURE THE BORDERS, BAN MUSLIM IMMIGRATION, DEPORT RADICAL IMAMS, STOP GIVING VISA WAIVERS TO MUSLIMS, AND USE BIOMETRIC TRACKING OF MUSLIMS COMING HERE TO STUDY OR WORK! AMERICANS HAVE BIG HEARTS, AND THAT HAS BEEN USED AGAINST US FAR TOO MANY TIMES! I want to add that the Muslim people I have known were for the most part very nice people. But I have READ the Quran; I KNOW what it teaches! And I know you can't tell a radical jihadist just by looking! WHAT I REALLY WANT TO KNOW IS WHY OBAMA IS NOT LETTING IN MORE CHRISTIAN REFUGEES!! He appears to heavily favor Sunni Muslims! ISIS IS ALREADY HERE IN AMERICA! IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE WE SEE MORE AMERICANS DIE AT THEIR HANDS! They're probably busy recruiting!
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    This bill might not be very effective in keeping out anti-U.S. terrorists, but it's better than doing absolutely nothing (as is occurring now!)
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    The risk of terrorism is minute compared to the benefits of people entering the U.S.
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    Bad guys will find ways around anything the government does; that's what they do. This bill is not the answer. Continue to support second amendment and free speech, and let's not trade liberty for security. If anything, legislation should be voting on a bill about locating and neutralizing ISIS, instead of letting them run wild in the Middle East and killing innocent people. Why we freak out over the death of two people but not the lives of Countless Christians in the Middle East I will never know.
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    Closing borders is the governments job in order to keep us safe.
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    Adding fuel to the fire is not the way to put it out.
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