Visa Waiver Program Endangers our Safety and Security

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By Michael W. Cutler

Mike is a Senior Fellow with CAPS and retired INS Senior Special Agent. During his 30-year career with the INS he rotated through all of the squads within the Investigations Branch. He was assigned to the Unified Intelligence Division of the DEA and for 10 years was assigned, as an INS Senior Special Agent, to the Organized Crime, Drug Enforcement Task Force. He has testified at numerous hearings conducted by committees and subcommittees of the House and Senate and provided testimony to the 9/11 Commission.

He hosts "The Michael Cutler Hour" on USA Talk Radio Fridays at 7 p.m. (EST) and is frequently interviewed by broadcast media on various aspects of immigration issues, especially the nexus to national security.

The writer's views are his own.

July 12, 2011

On July 6th, ICE posted a news release that reported on ICE, working in cooperation with the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Florida, located and arrested Andy Vertoont, a citizen of Belgium.

According to the news release, Vertoont was arrested at his place of employment on November 12, 2010 and, according to the news release was admitted to the United States under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program on October 1, 2009.

ICE arrested this illegal alien at the behest of the government of Belgium.  Mr. Vertoont was wanted by Belgian law enforcement for the rape of a 12 year old boy in June, 2009 and also wanted for having extorted $17,000 from a person he threatened to hurt if he failed to turn over the money.

Finally, the report noted that ten years ago Vertoont had been convicted of raping two children who were aged 11 and 12 at the time.

With the track record this individual amassed, you have to wonder if there are other victims “out there” including in our country who may have been assaulted by this illegal alien thug?

Vertoont is a poster boy for what is wrong with our immigration system.  He was permitted to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.  While it is possible he might have been issued a visa if one had been required for him to enter the United States, there is a strong possibility that his criminal history and his outstanding arrest warrants would have been discovered before he was issued a visa and so he would have not been able to flee to the United States where hid from Belgian law enforcement authorities.

By issuing a news release about this case, which resulted in this pedophile being returned to his home country to face his day in court, ICE is clearly proud of the success.  Certainly the agents who made the arrest have something to be proud of and while justice is going to be served in Belgium and citizens are a bit safer, I certainly hope that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Surrender, Janet "the border is secure" Napolitano will not hold a press conference and announce before a slew of network news cameras and a forest of microphones, that the "System worked!"

The system actually failed and failed abysmally!  As a consequence of that failure, Vertoont was admitted into the United States, imperiling all who came within grasp of this pedophile.

On May 11, 2006 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations on the topic: "VISA OVERSTAYS: CAN WE BAR THE TERRORIST DOOR?"

You should know that at some international airports in the United States on an average day the great majority of arriving non-immigrant aliens are admitted under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program.

It is important to know that the 9/11 Commission identified the flawed way in which visas were issued to aliens that contributed to the ability of the 9/11 terrorists to enter the United States, yet under the Visa Waiver Program, there is no process to correct--no visas are involved!

The point to understand is that once an alien is admitted into our country with a visa or under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program, there is virtually nothing done to make certain that the alien does not violate the terms of his admission into the United States and that if he does violate the terms of his admission virtually nothing is done to locate and apprehend him and seek his removal from our country.

This is why it is vital to understand that any state that has a seaport or an international airport should be considered a “Border State.”

The estimates as to how many such visa violators are currently in our country vary widely but the estimates range from 5 million to perhaps as many as 10 million and yet there are fewer than 300 special agents of ICE who are tasked with attempting to locate and apprehend these aliens. I would not be surprised if even if such aliens are apprehended that there is a lack of detention space to take them into custody pending their removal (deportation) from the United States!  (While "Catch & Release" was a hot topic for the Border Patrol, Catch & Release has been a fact of life for the efforts of agents at the former INS and now at ICE to seek the removal of illegal aliens who are apprehended within the interior of the United States.)

Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber attempted to destroy a U.S. bound airliner that was packed with passengers and crew members by detonating explosives he had hidden in his shoes, is a citizen of Great Britain and therefore was not required to obtain a visa before flying to the United States to apply for admission into our country.  Had there been no Visa Waiver Program and he been required to obtain a visa, it is likely he would never have secured the visa and would have not been permitted to board the airliner he intended to destroy.  Our government now requires citizens of the United States and all others who seek to board airliners to remove their shoes for inspection because of Mr. Reid--however, the vulnerability created by the Visa Waiver Program has not only been utterly ignored, but more countries have since been added to list of those countries whose citizens do not need to seek visas before traveling to the United States to apply for admission into our country even though other terrorists have also entered our country under the Visa Waiver Program.

Currently, 36 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:

Andorra Hungary New Zealand
Australia Iceland Norway
Austria Ireland Portugal
Belgium Italy San Marino
Brunei Japan Singapore
Czech Republic Latvia Slovakia
Denmark Liechtenstein Slovenia
Estonia Lithuania South Korea
Finland Luxembourg Spain
France Malta Sweden
Germany Monaco Switzerland
Greece the Netherlands United Kingdom

Title 8, United States Code section 212 is the section of law (the INA) that enumerates the various categories of aliens who, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, are supposed to be prevented from entering the United States and are supposed to be removed if they are found.

I have compiled a list of the six ways in which the visa process can be helpful to law enforcement and bolster our nation's efforts to prevent the entry of aliens whose presence on our country may prove harmful to our nation and our citizens.  Under the Visa Waiver Program, not one of these important benefits applies:

 

  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.
  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. There'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 four years before I became a special agent.
  3. 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.  You can arrest the alien who commits visa fraud for that violation of law and not for other charges that might make it clear that the investigation underway is targeting a criminal or terrorist organization.
  6. Even when an alien applies for a visa and his application is denied, the application he filed remains available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence from that application.

The fact that our nation still has a Visa Waiver Program flies in the face of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission which took issue with how visas were issued to the terrorists.  If laxity in the visa issuing process enabled the terrorists to enter the United States, why would we permit citizens of 36 countries to enter our country in this day and age without first obtaining any visa at all?

Our government is apparently responding to the extreme pressure being brought to bear by the Chamber of Commerce and executives of the travel, hospitality and related industries under the auspices of a program known as the "Discover America Partnership."  That consortium has now been joined by the National Retailer Federation (NRF).

These industries' executives have absolutely no expertise in national security or in issues where border security are concerned and the visa issuing processes are concerned.  Yet they have staked out a position because they are motivated by nothing more than greed. The more people who will travel to the United States, the more people who are likely to stay in hotels, eat in the restaurants, attend Broadway shows and buy the souvenirs and other trinkets peddled in cities around the United States.

They call for time limits in the visa issuing process and for an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.

The Discover America Partnership describe themselves as follows:

The Discover America Partnership, under the leadership of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Travel Association, is a lobbying and grassroots campaign to advance visa and entry reforms that will enable the United States to regain the 17 percent market share of overseas travelers it had in 2000 by 2015.

It is understandable that the business executives want to have more customers but while they have signed on to a program referred to as "Discover America" it is apparent that they have forgotten that al-Qaeda and criminals from the four corner of the globe have already discovered America

They are also very short sighted--in the days, weeks and even months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, airliners flew with many empty seats.  Hotels, restaurants and tourist-related businesses were nearly devoid of patrons.  It was seen as an act of patriotism and, in fact, heroic, for people to board airliners and fly anywhere in the United States--especially to major cities.

If, God forbid, there is another terrorist attack it is entirely possible that many hotels will go bankrupt along with restaurants and other businesses that depend on tourism.

I am not, however, surprised that greedy corporate executives don't seem to give a damn about the safety of our nation--not when it may cause them, in the short term, to lose revenue.  What is infuriating is that our "leaders" in Washington are actually doing what they are being told to do, by the members of the Discover America Partnership.

These business executives have no knowledge and no experience in anything other than knowing how to separate people from the contents of their wallets and yet when they demand that our nation compromise its security and endanger the lives of the citizens, our government gladly does what these executives wan

As children most of us were provided with a commonsense two word phrase that provided us with the most important and basic set of priorities by which to live our lives.  These two words need to be adhered to by our government today:

Safety First!

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