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Republicans look to shore up visas issued each year in high-risk countries

The Secure Visas Act of 2010, mandates that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintain U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Visa Security Units (VSU) at the 14 consular posts that already have them and create units at the 16 other posts that ICE has designated as “highest-risk.”

The new legislation was penned by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and consists of companion bills in the Senate and House to improve the security of our nation’s visa issuing process.

Visa Security Units are critical for national security. Currently at VSU-staffed consular posts, 100 percent of applicants receive additional screening; at non-VSU posts, fewer than two percent of applications get extra screening.

“As President Obama said, the Christmas Day terror plot was the result of an unacceptable failure to connect the dots by our intelligence, homeland security, and State Department officials,” said Cornyn, Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. “To ensure this never happens again, we must take every possible step to close the serious security gaps and communication lapses that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board an American-bound plane with explosives that could have killed 300 passengers.”

The Senator believes the legislation would immediately jumpstart the dialogue and allow America to move a bill that addresses security lapses and gives DHS the authority needed to move out immediately to high-risk visa posts this year.

“Delays and inattention allowed for the Christmas terror plot to come too close to its objective, which was the mass killing of Americans; we must not delay any longer on plugging these serious security gaps,” Cornyn said.

According to Congressman Smith, “The visa security process is our first line of defense against terrorists and others who wish to do us harm. But under President Obama, establishment of new Visa Security Units has ground to a halt. If the Obama Administration will not exercise its authority to develop new VSUs at the highest risk posts identified by its own Department of Homeland Security, Congress must step in. Continued delays amount to continued danger for the American people.”

The bills come on the heels of the Obama administration’s admission that Abdulmutallab, who nearly blew up a Northwest Flight Christmas Day, had a valid visa. Abdulmutallab was issued a visa in July 2008, and even after his father expressed concerns to U.S. authorities, his visa was not revoked. This was also the case with several of the 9/11 hijackers.

Today the U.S. operates Visa Security Units in Riyadh, Dhahran, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Islamabad, Manila, Cairo, Caracas, Montreal, Hong Kong, Casablanca, Frankfurt, Amman and Jakarta. At these posts, 100 percent of the more than 900,000 applicants receive additional screening.

However, the Obama Administration has not increased the VSU’s and after the Christmas Day attempted terror attack, not a single VSP has been approved. Currently posts without a security unit, including those in the 16 locations designated as “highest risk” – less than two percent out of 5.8 million applications receive additional screening, Smith explains.

The Secure Visa Act mandates that new VSUs would be established in these ‘highest risk’ locations; Algeria, Colombia, India, Iraq, Jerusalem, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Syria, Tel Aviv, Turkey, United Kingdom and Yemen.

The Secure Visas Act also gives DHS greater authority to place units at additional new posts without bureaucratic delays. U.S. Reps Gus Biliraki (R-FL), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Steve King (R-IA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) also cosponsored the bill.

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