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VISA WAIVER PROGRAM: A NATIONAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE

 

by Michael Cutler
March 1, 2008
NewsWithViews.com

An article appears on-line at CNN. The author of the article, Mike M. Ahlers is a producer at CNN who covers the Homeland Security beat for them. He and I have had numerous conversations about many of the issues concerning the nexus between immigration and national security and so I was pleased that he called me a couple of days ago to discuss the Visa Waiver Program and the outrageous position that none other than Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security has taken on this fatally flawed program.

Incredibly he is favoring an expansion of this extremely dangerous program at a time when it should be ended altogether! I find it interesting that the executive from this consortium of travel organizations should deny countries membership in this exclusive "club" by dropping those countries that have citizens who fail to depart the United States when they are required to do so. US VISIT is a program that the United States has invested heavily in. From what I have read, it has cost our nation more than one billion dollars. Yet US VISIT is unable to track the departure of alien visitors. Simply stated, our government does not know if aliens fail to depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires even though the 911 Commission deemed this to be a critical issue!

You may find it interesting to note that US VISIT is being managed by an organization known as Accenture. Accenture is a spin-off of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm that figured prominently in the ENRON scandal a few years ago. You may also be interested to know that the Accenture division that is running US VISIT was headquartered in Hamilton, Bermuda.

On March 11, 2006 I testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives at a hearing entitled, "VISA OVERSTAYS: CAN WE BAR THE TERRORIST DOOR?"

I would urge you to read the transcript of that hearing.

Let me start out by explaining what the Visa Waiver Program is and why I am absolutely opposed to it.

The Visa Waiver Program permits aliens from 27 nations to seek to enter the United States without first applying for a visa. A visa is generally a stamp that is placed in the passport of an arriving alien that has a number of security features built into it to make it difficult to be counterfeited. The visa is an indication to the Customs and Border Protection inspector at a port of entry that the arriving alien has been interviewed at an American embassy or consulate and has satisfied the U.S. consular official overseas that he (she) meets minimal standards to be given the visa. It is important to note that the visa is not a guarantee of admission, but represents the first step in the process for an alien to seek to lawfully enter the United States. The actual decision to admit an alien into the United States is made by a CBP inspector.

The countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program are:

Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Monaco, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, United Kingdom

The visa requirement is not always done as thoroughly as I believe it should be, but it does offer five distinct advantages that are worth considering.

1. By requiring visas of aliens who seek to enter the United States, this process helps to screen potential passengers on airliners that are destined to the United States. Richard Reid, the so-called "Shoe Bomber" was able to board an airliner to come to the United States although he had no intentions of entering the United States, his apparent goal was to blow up the airliner and its many passengers somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic Ocean by detonating explosives he had concealed in his shoes. Because he is a subject of Great Britain, a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, Reid did not obtain a visa before he boarded that airliner.

2. The CBP inspectors are supposed to make a decision in one minute or less as to the admissibility of an alien seeking to enter the United States. The visa requirement helps them to do a more effective job. Their's is a tough job I can certainly relate to, I began my career at the former INS as an immigration inspector at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and worked there for 4 years before I became a special agent.

3. As was noted by Mike Ahlers who quoted me in the article I attached below, the application for a nonimmigrant visa contains roughly 40 questions that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide intelligence as well as investigative leads. You can check out the application for a nonimmigrant (tourist) visa by clicking on this link.

4. If an alien applicant lies on the application for a visa that lie is called "visa fraud." The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail for those who commit this crime simply in order to come to the United States, ostensibly to seek unlawful employment or other such purpose. The penalty increases to 15 years in jail for those aliens who obtain a visa to commit a felony. For aliens who engage in visa fraud to traffic in narcotics or commit another narcotics-related crime, the maximum jail sentence that can be imposes rises to 20 years. Finally, when an alien can be proven to have engaged in visa fraud in furtherance of terrorism, the maximum penalty climbs to 25 years in prison. It is important to note that while it may be difficult to prove that an individual is a terrorist, it is usually relatively simple to prove that the alien has committed visa fraud when there is fraud involved in the visa application. Indeed, terror suspects are often charged with visa fraud.

5. The charge of visa fraud can also be extremely helpful to law enforcement authorities who want to take a bad guy off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism or a criminal organization.

Under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program, none of the significant benefits to law enforcement or national security apply.

Tom Ridge should know better, but it is apparent that for him, the issue is money. The money he earns by selling his prior title as the head of the Department of Homeland Surrender as I have come to sarcastically refer to DHS! Should there be another terrorist attack it would not surprise me if at least some of the participants will be found to have entered the United States under this insane program. Then he would be able to think of his wages as "blood money!"

The visa process is no more difficult than is the requirement to obtain a driver's license. For the well established international traveler who seeks to come to the United States on a routine basis, visas can be issued that are valid for ten years. This would mean that these travelers would only need to apply for a visa to enable them to come to the United States once every ten years. This is, in my humble opinion, a small inconvenience that would make airline travel safer and to attempt to prevent the next terrorist attack.

When I was an inspector at JFK International Airport all arriving aliens were required to have valid visas in their passports before they could board airliners or be admitted into the United States. The only exception were citizens of Canada, citizens of Bermuda and British citizens who had "Landed Immigrant" status in Canada.

In the name of national security, American citizens need to remove their shoes before boarding airliners because of Richard Reid, whom I discussed above. We are now required to get to airports two hours before flight time whereas we used to only need to get to the airport 30 minutes before flight time. We are making all sorts of adjustments in the name of national security. The visa requirement can enhance airline safety and national security at the same time. Yet the greedy executives in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries apparently couldn't care less.

About a year ago I had lunch with counsel and staffers from both sides of the political aisle in Washington. They all agreed with me that the Visa Waiver Program was a national security nightmare. One guy told me that this program alone kept him awake at night! When I asked why we were still doing this I was told that the greedy executives from the hotel and travel industries wanted illegal aliens to change the same sheets that the wealthy foreign travelers would ultimately sleep on! They told me that I would be shocked at the amount of money being spent by those industries on lobbyists to bring incredible pressure to bear on our members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

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In effect, we are permitting corporate executives to make national security decisions for the United States!

Could you imagine General Eisenhower having to get corporate executives to sign off on 'Operation Over-Lord" (the codename for what would come to be known as D Day)?

It has been said that you cannot put a price on human life. Apparently whoever coined that expression was wrong. Ask Mr. Ridge and the folks in the travel industry. Each and every day, we get the best government money can buy!

2008 - Michael Cutler - All Rights Reserved

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Michael W. Cutler graduated from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in 1971 with a B.A. in Communications Arts and Sciences. Mr. Cutler began working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in October 1971 when he entered on duty as an Immigration Inspector assigned to John F. Kennedy International Airport. In August 1975 he became a Criminal Investigator (Special Agent) for the INS at NYC.

He rotated through virtually every squad in the Investigations Branch. From 1988 until 1991 he was assigned as the INS representative to the Unified Intelligence Division (UID) of the DEA in New York. In 1991 he was promoted to the position of Senior Special Agent and was assigned to the Organized Crime, Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) which required that he work with members of other law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Customs and local and state police as well as law enforcement organizations of other countries including Israel, Canada, Great Britain and Japan, to conduct investigations of aliens involved in major drug trafficking organizations. He retired from the INS in February 2002, after a career that spanned some 30 years.

Finally, Michael Cutler has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including Lou Dobbs, Fox News, MSNBC and many other television and radio news-oriented programs to discuss the enforcement of immigration laws.

E-Mail: mcutler007@aol.com


 

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You may find it interesting to note that US VISIT is being managed by an organization known as Accenture. Accenture is a spin-off of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm that figured prominently in the ENRON scandal a few years ago.