GOP Slams Obama Visa Waiver for Certain Travelers to Iran, Syria: ‘Blatantly Breaking the Law’

tracking visa overstays Nick Ut, AP
Nick Ut/AP

The Obama administration is excluding large categories of Visa Waiver Program travelers who have recently traveled to terrorist hotspots including Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Sudan from the new requirement that they must first obtain a visa to come to the U.S.

The move has Republican lawmakers calling foul and arguing that the Obama administration is once again trying to circumvent the law.

Thursday the administration announced that it has started to implement the legally mandated security changes to the Visa Waiver Program — requiring that individuals with dual citizenship and people who have traveled to countries known for terrorism, such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Sudan, since March 1, 2011 must first obtain a visa before coming to the U.S.

Included in the announcement is the administration’s plan to use its waiver authority to exempt large categories of travelers who visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria for official duties like government, journalism or humanitarian purposes or to Iran and Iraq for business purposes from the visa requirement.

According to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the waivers amount to an abuse of the administration’s waiver authority that “flies in the face of reason and congressional intent.”

“[T]he Obama Administration is essentially rewriting the law by blowing wide open a small window of discretion that Congress gave it for law enforcement and national security reasons,” the Virginia lawmaker said in reaction to the administration’s announcement.

“In fact, the categories of people that the Obama Administration is exempting from the law were expressly rejected by Congress. This needlessly compromises our national security and the safety of the American people,” he added.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and the author of the legislation requiring such travelers to obtain visas, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), accused the Obama administration of “blatantly breaking the law” by incorporating such exemptions.

“All waivers announced by the White House were explicitly rejected by Congress during our negotiations with the Administration,” the pair said in a joint statement. “This is not a difference of opinion over statutory interpretation, it is a clear contradiction of the law and the agreement we reached with the White House.”

They added, “President Obama is again putting his relationship with Iran’s supreme leader over the security of Americans.”

According to the House Homeland Security Committee the waive authority was intended for certain individuals, not large categories of Visa Waiver Program travelers.