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Congressman John Conyers

Representing the 13th District of Michigan

Conyers, Dingell, Kildee and Lawrence Urge Fixes to Visa Waiver Program

February 4, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, four Democratic members of the Michigan Congressional Delegation, U.S. Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Daniel T. Kildee (MI-5), and Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14) cosigned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson urging the Administration to establish waivers to protect dual nationals from discriminatory travel guidelines, and ensure that no American is treated differently due to their national origin or ancestry.

In the letter, the Members request that the Departments of State and Homeland Security implement their authority under Section 203 of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act to support American interests abroad; establish waivers to protect dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan; and to ensure uninterrupted visa-free travel to VWP countries for American citizens who have visited Iran for family, academic, or tourist related purposes.

Reps. Conyers, Dingell, Kildee and Lawrence stated, “As Members of Congress we must balance the need to maintain our national security with our responsibility to safeguard the civil rights and liberties of the American people. The recently implemented Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act may cause dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria to be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program. These recent changes to the long-established Visa Waiver Program, which is based on reciprocity, could result in discriminatory impact on U.S. citizens.

“Equal treatment of all American citizens is a central tenet of our national principles, regardless of their birthplace. We will continue to work on legislation, such as the Equal Protection Act of 2016, with our Congressional colleagues on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected, while strengthening the Visa Waiver Program.”

Additionally, Reps. Conyers, Dingell, Kildee and Lawrence are cosponsors of H.R. 4380, the Equal Protection Act of 2016, which was introduced on January 13, 2016 in response to discriminatory changes made in the VWP in December 2015.   If passed, the legislation would strike the dual national provisions to ensure that no one would be discriminated against on the basis of their nationality or ancestry.

Full text of the letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security can be read here or below.

 

February 4, 2016
 

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. State Department
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20520

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson and Secretary Kerry:

Thank you for the Administration’s January 21, 2016 announcement regarding implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. This announcement clarifies that the law allows for waivers of the new restrictions for certain journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and business travelers. While the announcement addressed a number of important concerns, we request that you take further action to guard against any harmful impacts to dual national American citizens and those traveling to Iran.

As you are aware, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, excludes from the Visa Waiver Program dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. The exclusions also apply to those traveling to these four countries unless a waiver is provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Because the VWP is founded on reciprocity, our U.S. citizen constituents are concerned that this exclusion could result in our VWP partners restricting, or entirely ending, visa-free travel for certain U.S. citizens. It is fundamental to our values as a nation that all citizens are treated equally and without regard to the birthplace of their family. A U.S. passport should confer to its holder the full benefits of citizenship, but for the first time in the Visa Waiver Program’s history, some of those who hold U.S. passports could be treated differently due to their national origin and ancestry and reciprocal rules imposed by VWP countries.

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation has been introduced in Congress to eliminate provisions of the VWP amendments restricting VWP travel for dual nationals. There is congressional support for fine-tuning the statute to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected as we improve security standards in the Visa Waiver Program. However, immediate action is required to ensure our security needs are met without undue harm to American citizens.

We believe that you have authority under Section 203 of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act to ensure the protection of our interests abroad and the rights of U.S. citizens. We encourage you to take the additional step of establishing waivers to protect dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan and to ensure uninterrupted visa-free travel for American citizens who have visited Iran for family, academic, or tourist related purposes. While heightened security for travelers in some instances is an important response to security threats, the case for including Iran in particular in such reforms is tenuous at best. This decisive action we are requesting will ensure that scrutiny is focused on the most serious security risks while assuring that all U.S. citizens have fair, equal, and uninterrupted access to visa-free travel to VWP countries.

More generally, we ask that you commit to further implementing the VWP amendments in such a manner that U.S. citizens who present no security risk are assured they will not face undue travel restrictions from VWP partners. For example, the new law should be interpreted to impact only true dual nationals. If an individual has not affirmatively acknowledged citizenship, never traveled under another country’s passport, or never been physically present in Iran or a similarly restricted nation, VWP travel should still be permitted.

We look forward to your timely response and to working with you to ensure the VWP amendments improve our national security without harming U.S. citizens or our national interests.

Sincerely,

_______________________                                                  _______________________ 

JARED HUFFMAN                                                              JOHN CONYERS, JR.

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  _______________________

ANNA G. ESHOO                                                                DEBBIE DINGELL

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  _______________________ 

MICHAEL M. HONDA                                                        STEVE COHEN

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

______________________                                                    ________________________

JANICE D. SCHAKOWSKY                                                DANNY K. DAVIS

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

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MARK TAKANO                                                                  KEITH ELLISON

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  ________________________

JAMES P. MCGOVERN                                                       MARK DESAULNIER

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  ________________________

CHARLES B. RANGEL                                                       JIM MCDERRMOTT

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

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ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON                                         BETO O’ROURKE

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  ________________________

MARCY KAPTUR                                                                BARBARA LEE

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_______________________                                                  ________________________

TED LIEU                                                                              YVETTE D. CLARKE

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

______________________                                                    ________________________

DONALD S. BEYER                                                             MARK POCAN

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_____________________                                                      ________________________

BRENDA L. LAWRENCE                                                   EARL BLUMENAUER

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

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DAN KILDEE

Member of Congress