Congress Reacts to Administration’s Implementation Plan for Changes to Visa Waiver Program
On January 21, the Administration announced plans to begin implementing changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) included in the omnibus appropriations bill funding the government through the end of FY 2016. The VWP permits citizens from approved countries to enter the United States visa-free for up to 90 days. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R. 2029), included language that would make individuals who are citizens of, or recently traveled to, specified countries ineligible for entry to the United States under the VWP, requiring them to obtain a nonimmigrant visa. While lawmakers originally sought to tighten the VWP’s requirements to stem the flow of foreign fighters, the appropriations bill also limited eligibility for dual citizens of, or those who have recently traveled to, Iran. Iranian officials reportedly voiced concerns that this language violated the terms of the nuclear deal recently reached between it, the United States, and other major world powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
As part of its plans to implement the program, the Administration announced several categories of individuals potentially eligible for a waiver, which may be granted by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security if in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. These categories include “[i]ndividuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015).”
Republican lawmakers quickly reacted, taking issue with the Administration’s released interpretation of the law and alleging the plan violated the restrictions set out by Congress in the law. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said “President Obama’s decision to grant blanket waivers to these people flies in the face of Congress’s intent, and the Administration knows that. The Administration must follow the law as written and as it agreed to, not as it wants it to be. That is the best way to keep America safe.” Lawmakers may hold oversight hearings or take other actions in the coming weeks in objection to the Administration’s planned implementation of the VWP.
This Week’s Hearings:
Due to inclement weather in Washington, the below schedule is subject to change.
- Wednesday, January 27: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Canada’s Fast-Track Refugee Plan: Unanswered Questions and Implications for U.S. National Security.”
- Thursday, January 28: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations will hold a hearing titled “Adequacy of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children From Human Trafficking.”
- Thursday, January 28: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a meeting to consider legislation, including 247, the Expatriate Terrorist Act.
Executive Branch Activity
Supreme Court Will Consider Challenge to President’s Executive Actions on Immigration
On January 19, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider a challenge to President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration (United States v. Texas). Texas federal Judge Andrew Hanen originally blocked the President’s proposed actions in February while this case, brought by 26 states, is considered by the courts. The injunction halts the creation of a new deferred deportation program for parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. It also calls on the Department of Homeland Security to stop expansion of the Obama Administration’s 2012 program deferring deportation for certain immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. A divided three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Hanlen’s injunction; the Obama Administration subsequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments have not yet been confirmed, but will likely be scheduled for April 2016 with a final ruling to be issued by the end of June.