GOP Weekly Address Discusses Implementation of New Visa Waiver Program Laws

Written by Alexander J. Segal on

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Each week, the Republican Party picks an elected official to deliver the GOP's weekly address. On February 6, 2016, Congressman John Katko (R, NY-24) delivered the GOP weekly address [see below]. Representative Katko focused on the Department of Homeland Security's policies on enforcing the new laws regarding the Visa Waiver Program. I recently wrote a blog on this very subject [see blog].

Summary of Congressman John Katko's Weekly Address

First, Katko stated that Congress passed the new Visa Waiver Program law to address concerns that ISIS has been recruiting in numerous countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. He noted that Congress negotiated the provisions of the law with the administration before passing it.

Next, Katko addressed the waivers from the Visa Waiver Program restrictions on nationals of or people who have traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan. Specifically, he noted the waivers for “people engaged in journalism, humanitarian work, or, for people traveling to Iraq or Iran, 'legitimate business related purposes.'” Regarding the waivers, Katko stated definitively that they have “no basis in law.” He further noted that Congress explicitly rejected these exact waivers when negotiating the language of the legislation with the administration.

Rather, Katko noted that the legislation only permits waivers for “law enforcement or national security reasons only.” Regarding the waiver for journalists, he stated that “[i]t is not at all clear how granting a waiver to a New York Times reporter is in our 'law enforcement' or 'national security interests.”

Katko stated that Congress is seeking from the administration a full report that includes:

  • The name and nationality of each waiver recipient;
  • The explicit and detailed law enforcement or national security justification for granting each waiver;
  • The number of people who are asking for and using these waivers in each category.

In his conclusion, Katko stated that “we should not put Iran's feelings before America's security interests.” Finally, he pledged that the House Republicans will do everything it can to ensure that the administration enforces the law in full.

My Thoughts

Congressman John Katko made a well-reasoned case for Congress' position that is grounded in the language of the law itself. It largely concurs with the points I made in my blog post about the DHS policy from a couple of weeks ago. I found it interesting that the first example Katko used was regarding the waivers that DHS announced would be available for journalists. As I noted previously, while one may reasonably argue that there should be a waiver category for journalists, there was no such waiver in the legislation.

The Department of Homeland Security policy for implementing the new Visa Waiver Program law calls into question the administration's commitment to enforcing the law that President Obama signed in full. I certainly hope that Congress is successful in compelling the administration to account for each waiver it is granting and explaining how each waiver has a clear law enforcement or national security justification.