AILA Commends Congress for Avoiding Riders Harming Refugees But Warns Against Discriminatory Visa Waiver Provisions in Funding Bill

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) commends Congress for putting forward an omnibus appropriations bill that largely rejected efforts to force through a myriad of anti-immigrant proposals or to shut down the U.S. refugee program. AILA is deeply disappointed however, that Congress included changes to the Visa Waiver Program that discriminate against nationals of certain countries. The bill is expected to be enacted later this week.

"AILA was relieved that harmful proposals scapegoating refugees after the attacks in Beirut and Paris were not included; such provisions would have prevented our nation from protecting Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing from war and persecution," said AILA President, Victor Nieblas Pradis. He continued, "Making sure our country is safe is absolutely critical, but refugees are not and were never the problem. It took Congress weeks to understand that, and we thank its leadership for ensuring America continues to protect refugees worldwide."

Mr. Nieblas cautioned, "However, the omnibus also contains changes to the Visa Waiver Program that are hasty and ill-advised. AILA would support sensible efforts to strengthen the program, but this proposal was literally adopted in a matter of days and bypassed all regular procedures. Most damaging is the bill's discriminatory exclusion from the Visa Waiver Program of nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Sudan who may have never even set foot in those countries. History has shown that blanket targeting of people by their ancestry or nationality is not a good way to protect Americans or safeguard our fundamental values of liberty and freedom. At a minimum, that discriminatory language should be taken out. Moreover, a sunset date should be set for its travel restrictions and exemption must be given to those who travel to those troubled countries for humanitarian or other legitimate reasons. The ambassadors of 28 European nations have cautioned that these changes could result in reciprocal restrictions being placed on U.S. citizens. This change is short-sighted to say the least."

Also included in the omnibus are extensions of several programs which AILA has long-supported, including the EB-5 Regional Center program, the Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver program, and the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker program. Mr. Nieblas noted, "The extension of these programs, albeit short-term, was essential to ensure doctors and religious workers continue to serve needy communities and to prevent a halt to investment and job creation in areas needing development. But the last minute authorization of vital programs cannot become regular practice. AILA urges Congress to get to work now to resolve differences so these programs are not in limbo again next September."

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. 15121609.