AILA Statement on the Markup of H.R. 5203 in the House Judiciary Committee

CONTACTS:
George Tzamaras
202-507-7649
gtzamaras@aila.org
Belle Woods
202-507-7675
bwoods@aila.org

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) submits the following statement regarding the markup of H.R. 5203, the "Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016":

"Protecting the nation from those who would do harm to us is essential, but this bill imposes a host of bureaucratic mandates that are unnecessary and do little to improve national security," said Victor Nieblas, AILA President. He continued, "Our visa system already includes rigorous methods to screen for anyone who is a safety threat. This bill would tie up every business traveler with excessive red tape, keep families apart with expensive and unnecessary DNA testing, target groups by nationality and faith for discriminatory treatment, and mandate in-person interviews of all visa applicants without regard to risk. H.R. 5203 would effectively shut down the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which saves thousands of lives every year. Simply put, H.R. 5203 would bring our immigration visa system to a grinding halt.

"Troubling provisions discriminate against nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen by requiring a completed security advisory opinion before such nationals may be issued visas. This bill takes the same ill-advised approach here as Congress did in the Visa Waiver Program reforms. History has shown that overbroad programs targeting people based on nationality, race, ethnic origin are not only ineffective at combatting terrorism, but diminish our cherished values of civil liberties," said Nieblas.

"DNA testing, background checks, and in-person interviews are all important tools that the State Department and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) use regularly when they identify security or fraud risks. But H.R. 5203 would mandate these costly and burdensome steps. Even the simple extension of a visa would require in-person interviews, when the applicant would already have undergone a thorough review to obtain the original visa.

"Anyone seeking a visa to come to the United States will encounter serious delays. This bill is a flashing neon sign telling businesses and visitors of every kind to go elsewhere. Seemingly unaware of the costs H.R. 5203 imposes on DHS's operations in the U.S., or perhaps wanting to hide that problem, the bill's drafters did not include any provision to pay for new personnel and operational requirements demanded in the bill," concluded Mr. Nieblas.

The measure would also raise the standard of review of visa applications to "clear and convincing evidence," an exceedingly high standard that is completely inappropriate for the visa process. The vast majority of visa applicants come to the United States for legitimate reasons such as joining a close family member, attending a business meeting or conference, filling an employment opportunity, tourism, or pursuing an educational opportunity. This high standard will pressure consular officers to issue more denials, even when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has already recognized the legitimacy of the basis for the visa through an approved petition.

Rather than focusing on those who might actually pose a threat to national security, H.R. 5203 would expand government involvement in the visa process to such an extent that the process would come to a halt. The current security clearance procedures are more than adequate for the vast majority of the traveling public and costs to implement the provisions of this bill are much higher than that which were contemplated by the authors.

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The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 16052500.