Monday, November 30, 2015

United States Restricts Visa Waver Program to Deter "Militant" Refugees

     Typically, to enter the United States, a refugee would need to go through an extensive screening process. However, in the past, tourists from 38 specific countries could easily stay in the United States for under 90 days as part of a visa waiver program, which allows 20 million visitors per year to enter without a visa. The White House posted a "Fact Sheet" on this program here. Due to the recent, tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, the federal government has announced that changes will soon be made to restrict this program for safety reasons.

     Members of congress from both political parties have suggested this change as the discussion of Syrian refugees in America grows. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake have co-sponsored a visa waiver reform bill that would require "visa-waved" tourtists to have security chips in their passports and would exclude people who have traveled to Iraq or Syria in the last five years. Lawmakers believe that national security comes first and that refugees pose a possible threat. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer claims: "If a terrorist is going to try to come into this country, they’re much more likely to use loopholes in the visa waiver program to do it, instead of waiting two years to go through the refugee screening process."

     However, opposition to these changes have grown, too. United States Travel Association President Roger Dow remembered, “in the aftermath of 9/11, America and its leaders chose freedom over fear, which enabled our nation’s recovery on multiple levels. That was the proper instinct then and it remains so now ... Let's address the security problems we have, rather than creating new ones.”

     These proposed changes are leading many to believe that ulterior motives exist. According to a NBC poll, a majority 56% of the United States opposes accepting Syrian refugees. Changes to the visa waver program would hinder Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees in 2016, prompting him to vow to veto the bill.

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - Do you think we should be doing this? Do you think this is justified or for superficial (racist/prejudiced) reasons?
     - Is it "american" to reject anyone from the United States? Should we let in as many Syrian refugees as possible/as much as resources allow/as few as possible? What is your opinion on the Chinese Exclusion Act?
     - Did you support/would you have supported the visa waver program before this issue?

More Information:


Crystal Lee said...

Jared, thanks for this post! It's certainly thought-provoking; it's also especially interesting that this bill had bipartisan support, but I suppose national security does tend to bring people together.

I'd first like to address your comparison of this to the Chinese Exclusion Act (It should be noted that I oppose the act). While there are certainly significant similarities between the Chinese Exclusion Act and this visa-waiver bill, most notably the targeting of race that both bills seem to do, I think that the Chinese Exclusion Act could be considered slightly different. Why? Well, as far as I know, the Chinese Exclusion Act was not designed with national security in mind, nor was national security used as a justification for excluding the Chinese through immigration quotas.


The Chinese Exclusion Act WAS the result of racism and the scapegoating of Chinese immigrants as being the source of economic woes, especially in places such as our very own Bay Area. So is the national security justification just a modern-day version of the obviously shaky justification of the Chinese Exclusion Act? I'd like to open that question up to everyone else.

Also, another point–I'm a little unclear on the actual visa waiver program itself and how it would impact refugees. I skimmed the fact sheet that Jared links to in his first paragraph, and it looks like the visa waiver only applies to partner countries. Unless some of those partner countries are some of those that the refugees are originating from, like Syria, I don't see how the visa-waiver bill would impact the refugees, and I'd love it if someone could clear that up for me.

Finally, moving away from facts and maybe a little more into moral beliefs, I'd like to address the rest of Jared's second question. Yes, I believe that we should take in Syrian refugees. From the immigration perspective, immigrants enrich a culture and add new perspectives, something that we might dearly need in this time of racial profiling against Middle Easterners (I'm going off the idea that "ignorance breeds prejudice" here). Is it "un-American" to take in these refugees? First of all, that term makes me shiver, partly because it can be twisted in so many different ways. But I do believe that, as the United States, as the country that has repeatedly interfered with foreign affairs (and wrongly, too–see: Iraq War), we cannot just shrug off our responsibilities that we have taken on as an international superpower, especially considering the United States' role in the rise of terrorism in the Middle East. I think Spider-Man said it best: with great power, comes great responsibility. Sometimes, you know, even people who voluntarily wear spandex can have it right.

Alton Olson said...

I think we should have security and screening for refugees, but it's not nearly as much of an issue in the U.S. as it is in Europe, as we have the Atlantic Ocean between us and Syria. I don't support denying refugees on the basis of national security, because I don't think it's fair to assume that refugees are necessarily a threat. Sure, we can limit the flow of refugees into the country for logistical reasons, but cutting them off because of the possibility of a terrorist attack is exactly what the terrorists want. One of the suicide bombers in the attacks in Paris carried out by ISIS was found with a Syrian passport, which was later discovered to be fake. The bomber must have been carrying the passport on purpose, so that people would blame the Syrian refugees for the attacks. Blaming this specific group would further the divide between the West and the Middle East, creating even more anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in Europe and sending the message that the West doesn't like Muslims. A repeating theme in ISIS propaganda is the idea that ISIS just wants to form an Islamic utopian state and be left alone by other countries. ISIS claims that Muslims who join its cause will be free from the oppression of the West - and they can point to radical anti-refugee politicians as evidence of this oppression.

I agree with Roger Dow here. America is a country of immigrants and religious refugees. It's unfair to deny refugees entrance based on the fear manufactured by terrorist groups.


Cecily Bohanek said...

Here's an interesting video (containing strong language) explaining proposed vetting processes:

I do think that the new processes are very much based in Islamophobia. Unfortunately, the land of the free and the home of the brave are much more exclusive than inclusive. I agree with Crystal and Alton, but I don't think the Chinese Exclusion Act is a fair comparison. That Act was based entirely in paranoia and racism, while this visa process is based on paranoia, racism, AND a threat to our security.
However, many of the refugees are families, innocent civilians who do not deserve what terrorists are doing to them and the rest of the world. I understand that there are security threats. However, denying ALL refugees is despicable. There are thousands of pictures of refugee children - starving, cold, ill, or drowned - and more are popping up every day. I cannot remember where I read the story, but I recall one article on refugees quoting a young girl who had seen a woman give birth to a stillborn baby on a dingy, and then throw the body overboard because there was no room.
Refugees are escaping. If the US government could see that, then perhaps they could create an easier process for these families. For instance, my father immigrated here from Germany in 1993. He is not a citizen; he only has a green card. However, while his, like any other immigration process, involved lots of waiting, he was not ostracized and was fairly immediately accepted as an immigrant, without years and years of hoping to gain clearance. One can only assume that that was the case because he is white.

Daniel Jun said...

As American citizens, our opinions are based on self-preservation rather than true reason. And that's not a sin. Prioritizing our lives over the lives of others, preferring others to sacrifice rather than ourselves. And that's incredibly human. But to do nothing when others are suffering is inhumane. To allow refugees into the United States without proper screening when there is the serious possibility of terrorist infiltration is not just reckless; it's idiotic. Others can wail about the horrible injustice these refugees face, and these assertions are definitely true. But when push comes to shove, and the true dangers that the United States could face come to light, I doubt anyone who understands the term "self preservation" would still agree to welcome every single refugee with open arms.
And perhaps this is what ISIS wants. Perhaps ISIS wants the United States to reject refugees. But the flip side exists: what if ISIS wants us to eventually invite the refugees as a way to infiltrate the United States? Better safe than sorry.
Oh, and any single one of us can trace our origins to some other nation. But that doesn't really have anything to do with this argument. Just because my grandparents and parents immigrated to here from Korea doesn't mean that is in any way relevant to this situation.
Racism in integration or immigration from decades ago does not equal the very real danger of terrorist attacks.

Crystal Lee said...

Cecily, thanks for your video–I do adore John Oliver, and it was great to hear his take on this. It does sound like the vetting process is cumbersome, and long, and, on a tangent, I have to wonder if there would be a way to expedite the process, like by concentrating the process in one agency of the executive branch. Anyone have any ideas?
I totally agree that refusing all–or most–refugees is despicable. As can probably be seen from the article, it seems like the U.S. is not especially interested in making it easier for immigrants/refugees to make it to the United States.
I have to ask a question, though. You talk about your father immigrating from Germany, and I appreciate your awareness of race and its effect on things. However, I have to ask about the comparison to the refugee situation, because, while I DO agree with you, I'm not sure that coming from Germany quite meets the same criteria as the refugee situation, mainly because Germany was significantly more stable in 1993 than Syria is now as a warzone, and I'm assuming your father wasn't a refugee.

Crystal Lee said...

Also, Daniel–you say that doing nothing would be inhumane, and I agree. What do you propose as an alternative to welcoming "every single refugee with open arms"?

Cecily Bohanek said...

@Crystal- I'm saying if the process was that quick for a normal immigrant, it shouldn't be longer for someone escaping a war zone.

Crystal Lee said...

@Cecily-- I agree, but there's also the danger of terrorists. I know that it's incredibly small, but when one person can kill so many, it gives the United States legitimate reasons to be wary. What kind of security measures do you think the United States could input? I'm not necessarily asking for specifics, but what about general solutions/the degree of security? Should it be comparable to going through the TSA, or something else entirely?

Jared Mayerson said...

Thank you all for your comments! Cecily, thank you for your connection to your father. Very interesting! I agree that the process should not be dragged out, especially for people trying to escape a war zone. Alton, Crystal, and Daniel, thank you for your contribution to the conversation. A lot of great points were brought up. After President Obama's Oval Office Address today, do you stick by your previous positions?