U.S. Officials Have Expressed Concerns in Recent Days that ISIS Recruits Could Slip into the U.S. By Taking Advantage of Visa Waiver Program

Schumer Also Calls On Congress to Close Outrageous Loophole in Federal Law That Allows People on Terror Watch List to Purchase Guns & Explosives 

Schumer:  We Need To Focus Our Attention Where It Matters – On Individuals Who Are Coming Here To Do Us Harm

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced a new two-pronged push to ensure that ISIS terrorists are not able to slip into the United States through the Visa Waiver Program or allowed to purchase firearms and explosives. As many as 20 million visitors come into the United States each year through the program, which allows international visitors from designated countries to legally bypass the traditional visa process. Experts have raised concerns about the prospect of an ISIS recruit attempting to travel to the U.S. on a fraudulent paper passport issued by a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, which would allow that individual to avoid biometric screening and an in-person interview before departure, which is required of prospective refugees, along with multiple other checks. In addition, Schumer said Congress should immediately close the loophole that allows people on the terrorist watch list to purchase firearms and explosives. 

“The recent attack in Paris was an attack on free peoples everywhere, and the United States must make sure that terrorists cannot enter this country or purchase firearms and explosions” said Schumer. “Congress should immediately take action to guard against terrorists sneaking in through the Visa Waiver program as well as the dangerous and indefensible loophole that allows people on the terrorist watch list to purchase guns and explosives. I will be urging my colleagues to start focusing on the real solutions to the dangers posed by ISIS.”

Schumer explained that the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which designates certain countries whose citizens have valid passports and can therefore travel to the U.S. for a short visit without going through the traditional visa processes. In order to travel to the U.S., these passengers must fill out a series of informational requests online; they are then checked against a series of databases in the U.S. like the terror watch lists and INTERPOL. However, Schumer said that because the process is expedited and utilized by millions of travelers every year, we must be vigilant to prevent the disastrous consequences, should a terrorist enter the U.S. through the VWP.

Compared to the refugee program, the timeline for VWP processing is much shorter – sometimes approved within moments – as opposed to a year and a half or two years for the typical refugee admissions process. One of the principle differences between the two programs is that the VWP is processed online, whereas at least two in-person interviews are required for the refugee program at a processing center abroad before someone can come into the U.S. Schumer said the VWP should have tighter checks, in part because it admits far more people into the U.S. than the refugee program.

Schumer said the VWP deserves more scrutiny for three reasons. First, because it is a much larger program. In fact, while the refugee program has admitted up to  70,000 refugees per year over the last few years, the VWP admits roughly 20 million foreign nationals per year. Only 2,000 of these refugees have come from Syria over the last four years. Second, the VWP requires fewer checks than the refugee program, which requires processes like an in-person interview and multiple national security screenings. And third, the VWP program’s approval process is much faster. While being admitted to the U.S. as a refugee can take roughly 18 to 24 months, the VWP system approves online applications nearly instantaneously, and then that approval is valid for two years, subject to recurrent vetting.

In addition, Schumer explained that, under current federal law, the federal government cannot stop the sale of guns or explosives to known or suspected terrorists unless they meet one of nine other disqualifying criteria, such as being a convicted felon or domestic abuser. Therefore, ISIS bombers and other could have no problems purchasing a virtually unlimited amount of weapons in the United States, despite being on the terrorist watch list. Schumer today announced that he would be pushing the eminently commonsense step to prevent known terrorists from purchasing a gun. Schumer pointed to a June 2011 video in which Adam Gadahn, an American born al Qaeda member, urged other terrorists to exploit weakness in federal gun laws as an easy means of obtaining weapons for use in terrorist attacks.

Schumer has been a longtime leading advocate of closing the loophole that allows people to buy guns online, at gun shows and in private transactions without a background check. That loophole allows those who are not able to pass a background check - felons, spousal abusers, the adjudicated mentally ill - to purchase a gun without difficulty.

At present, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) does not reveal information about a potential buyer's status as a known or suspected terrorist. Schumer said the Attorney General should be able to block known or suspected terrorists who the government believes are buying a gun or explosives to engage in terrorist activity from passing a background check.


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