The PJ Tatler

Should the U.S. Rethink Visa Waivers for French Citizens?

This week’s Paris attacks have sparked discussion in Washington about the wisdom of the visa waiver program that makes it easier for French nationals — including terrorists — to come into the United States.

As the attack on Charlie Hebdo hit the headlines, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), one of the national security hawks in the upper chamber, told Fox that thousands of foreign fighters have trained with ISIS and are a “deep concern” as they may return to their home countries or move easily across borders with travel agreements.

“The problem is that we have a visa waiver program with France,” she said. “And so, if we don’t have track of all those individuals, they could also travel to the United States of America. So this is critical that we get control over who these people are and make sure that they cannot only go back and affect countries like France, like we unfortunately saw terribly with what happened in Paris, but also our country.”

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) noted that France has “a much more serious foreign fighter issue than we do.”

“And they also have a much more hostile inner population in the Muslim community in — in France than we do in the United States,” King said. “The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are patriotic Americans. In France, they have more isolated communities of Muslims who are hostile toward the government.”

The Visa Waiver Program includes 38 countries whose citizens can travel to the U.S. visa-free for fewer than 90 days when they meet certain requirements. The majority of included countries are in Europe, including nations such as the Netherlands where concerns run high about growing roots of radical Islamists.

“Besides 150 or whatever the number is that we have to worry about from the U.S., there could be thousands of Europeans who have gone to Syria who have come into the U.S. without having to get a visa. So we have to be very concerned. The number I’ve heard from France is at least 600 alone, and we know the Brits have let a lot get out. There’s certainly well over 1,000 anyway who could come into the U.S. without having to get a visa,” King told CNN.

“I think that we do have to take another look at the visa waiver program to see if there’s anything else that we should be doing and also we’ll have to see how carefully the Europeans are monitoring who goes and how much they’re sharing all of that intelligence with us. So we have to — this requires a full, I believe, full-scale investigation.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said his committee has “launched an investigation into these foreign fighters to determine how can we more properly identify them, both over there and then stop them from getting over here.”

“The difficulty here is identifying these individuals as they’re over there and stopping them from getting on airplanes to return to the United States or get on an airplane with an explosive device that they can blow up either western Europe or the United States,” McCaul told CNN.

Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) noted that a plan to better share information on airline passenger lists has been stalled in European parliament since 2013.

“We have a situation where those E.U. citizens come to the U.S. without having to go through a visa process, just showing their passports, so… we will be safer here in the U.S. if they make those changes in Europe,” Keating said on CNN. “And I think, sadly, it took these events to bring that message home. I think you will see those changes in Europe, and they’ll make Europe stronger and safer, and it will make the U.S. stronger and safer as well.”

The two brothers who attack Charlie Hebdo, Cherif and Said Kouachi, were on the U.S. no-fly list. Both were native Frenchmen.

But House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the U.S. needs to revoke the passports of citizens who left to train with terrorist groups along with examining the potential danger of European citizens coming to the U.S. via the Visa Waiver Program.

“A French national’s passport and visa can be used to come to the United States,” Royce said this week. “…I worked very, very closely on this issue of the no-fly list with the FBI on what we can do to actually get all of the data from the Europeans in terms of whatever we have on any French national or German national, et cetera, who is doing that type of training or going out to fight with ISIS, because they — them returning to Europe is a direct threat to them eventually, potentially coming here.”

Ayotte said the bottom line comes down to good intelligence.

“And we need to be making sure that when we do capture terrorists that we fully interrogate them, find out what they know and make sure that we are developing good intelligence on not only ISIS, al-Qaeda, all the affiliated groups, in making sure that that intelligence is shared among our allies as well,” she said.