Democrat Kyrsten Sinema Calls for Visa Waiver Program Crackdown

Two Arizona Congress members, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Matt Salmon, introduced federal legislation aimed at cracking down on what they say are security gaps in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from 38 countries "to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less" if they meet certain requirements.

Sinema's joining forces with a right-wing congressional colleague was seen by many as a here-she-goes-again moment.

The Sinema-Salmon legislation comes just days after she shocked many of her constituents by joining Republicans in voting for a bill tightening the refugee vetting process, for which she received a barrage of criticism for her actions. She was called a DINO (Democrat in name only) and accused of betraying her progressive values for political capital with the GOP.

“The Islamic State is a legitimate, immediate threat to the United States," Sinema said in a statement, and after the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, she and Salmon claim they are very worried that ISIS and other terror networks could use this "program to gain access to the U.S."

According to a statement from her office, the bill she and Salmon introduced “suspends the visa waiver program for individuals who have traveled in the last five years to a country designated as a state sponsor of terror (Iran, Sudan, Syria), or to a specified list of countries with active global terror networks (Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria).”

There are also provisions in the bill that allow the U.S. Secretary of State to add additional countries to the threat list at any time.

“To keep our country safe and secure, we must address the serious security gaps in the visa waiver program, [and] we’ve introduced this sensible, bipartisan solution to strengthen the program and reduce the threat of terrorists entering the United States from other countries,” Sinema says.
The Visa Waver Program was established in 1986 “to eliminate barriers to travel, to facilitate tourism, and to promote better relations with U.S. allies,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Nearly a third of people who travel to the United States temporarily come using the VWP program, and most are business travelers or tourists — the Department of Homeland Security reports that in 2013, 7,168,958 people received VWP waivers for travel or pleasure and 2,798,130 came for business.

“The visa waiver program is an excellent program that benefits our economy and helps us grow jobs, as well as ties with our allies,” Salmon said in a statement.

“But as we ease entrance for our friends, we open the door for some that would seek to harm us. During a time of so many diverse threats, taking commonsense precautions to ensure Americans are safe at home is the duty of every Representative.”
Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but judging by reaction to her latest move on her Facebook wall, many are still furious about last week’s vote and see the bipartisan bill as more of the same from her:

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser