Lawmakers are blocking system that’s vital to keeping nation safe 

What’s the best weapon to protect America from terrorist attacks? Common sense. Just ask Peter King.

The New York Republican chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. He thought the committee should look into radicalization among American Muslims. The theme of the hearing was nothing new. Last year, a committee in the Democrat-controlled Senate held one of its own.

The witness list was impressive — a slew of responsible experts representing various disciplines and viewpoints. Among them was Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca, who has developed one of country’s most progressive and effective outreach programs to Muslim leaders.

Yet days before the session convened, King found himself showered with vitriol. That irresponsible fear-mongering response to a prudent exercise in governance said much about what is wrong with homeland security today. All too often, political agendas trump practical measures.

The same know-nothing instinct that vilified King led Congress to kill a prudent and valuable program that encouraged other countries to join the Visa Waiver Program.

The program allows visa-free travel — for leisure or business — for up to 90 days among member states. It encourages commerce, tourism, and professional and cultural interchange between allies. Best of all, it improves security.

Countries participating in the program must meet higher-than-normal standards in combating terrorism, law enforcement border control, document security, and reporting information on lost and stolen passports. More importantly, they agree to share much more security-related information about travelers than what we get from the standard visa process.

After 9/11, the Homeland Security Department restructured the program to beef up security requirements and bring more countries in. Nine new countries were added.

Now, however, current law prevents adding new countries with a visa-refusal rate greater than
3 percent until Homeland Security develops and implements a system to biometrically track the departure of foreign visitors, which will likely never happen and has nothing to do with the program.

The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2011 would restore momentum to the program and give left-out nations an opportunity to participate.

The bill seems to have the support of the White House.

Congress has an opportunity to undo its poor decision to freeze the Visa Waiver Program.
 
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.

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