WASHINGTON – Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has introduced a bill that would prevent a Muslim travel ban from going into effect if presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump wins the presidential election.
Trump has said the temporary ban would stop Islamic terrorists from using the legal immigration process to obtain a visa to enter the U.S.
The Freedom of Religion Act would outlaw a “religious litmus test” for immigrants, refugees, and visitors seeking admission to the U.S. Since there is no litmus test right now, PJM asked Beyer why he decided to move ahead with the bill anyway.
“No, there is no litmus test – we just don’t want there to be one. So some would say today that it’s redundant, but because of the rhetoric of the campaign it’s a forward-looking way of just trying to cut off this debate,” Beyer said on Capitol Hill. “What we’re trying to say is your religious beliefs shouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether you are granted admission or not.”
Some Republicans have proposed reducing the number of nonimmigrant tourist visas issued in countries where terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda are present. Beyer was asked how the U.S. could prevent future attacks without any changes to the visa process for citizens of countries in the Middle East.
“Well, we’ve done it successfully so far. I mean, since 9/11 we’ve taken some over 700,000 immigrants and not a single one has been arrested in this country for an act of terror,” he said. “So, right now, if you are a Syrian refugee trying to come here it’s incredibly different to get through the Homeland Security. It’s up to a two-year wait. So what we don’t want is to say, ‘you’re a Muslim from Syria – no.’ Let’s go through the process.”
A consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia issued 11 of the 15 visas to the Saudis who carried out the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Beyer said 9/11 showed there was a “misuse” of the visa waiver program. At the time, the “Visa Express” program was in effect, which sped up the process for Saudi applicants seeking entry to the U.S.
“Visa waiver generally is pretty strict – although it’s based largely on the percentage of people that overstay. If that percentage is really low, the country can qualify for visa waiver,” Beyer said.
Beyer said the U.S. should not “automatically” rule out any countries in the Middle East for participation in the visa waiver program, which would give them visa-free entry to the U.S.
“There could very well be somewhere like the [United Arab] Emirates where it makes sense — but again, the visa waiver is about overstaying but also has to be merged with the Homeland Security background checks,” he said.
So far, a large group of Democratic lawmakers have signed on to the legislation as co-sponsors, including Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Mike Honda (D=Calif.). Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) is currently the only Republican co-sponsor.