Some things have an inevitability about them. For instance, as surely as the night follows the day, if you give this president or his cabinet a legislative inch, they are sure to go a mile or more with it, congressional intent be damned. Not to mention that this Congress never learns its lessons, always giving the president that inch and then expressing dismay and outrage when he abuses it.
Such is the case with the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act (VWPIA), which was folded into the omnibus budget bill passed last month and signed by the president into law. Other than the VWPIA, there was precious little in that bill to give solace to those of us who would like to see immigration laws enforced fully and fairly.
Some welcome and overdue features contained in the bill were designed to tighten up the visa waiver program. It has become increasingly evident that the program as constructed (which has undergone no substantive changes since prior to the events of 9/11) was no longer capable of providing the umbrella of security needed to confront global terrorism realities.
One of the provisions of the VWPIA prohibits use of the visa waiver program by travelers who have been in Syria or Iraq anytime from March 1, 2011, onward or who are "dual nationals" of Syria or Iraq, or other countries designated as state supporters or sponsors of terror (such as Sudan and Iran). Instead, these individuals are required to seek visas through interviews with American consular officers, although the law carves out exceptions for citizens of visa-waiver-participating countries who served in military or civilian government capacities in Syria, Iraq, or other designated countries.
There were sound reasons to impose these restrictions, as shown by abuse of the refugee system both in Europe and the United States by nationals of such countries who, when undetected, go on to become citizens of their new homes even when they actively work against them as agents of their prior government, or as terrorists and terrorist supporters. These are the "dual nationals" to whom the proviso was directed. While we can do nothing about dual nationals of mal-intent who have infiltrated our own system until they are detected, there is no reason to take unnecessary risks with foreign dual nationals emanating from the countries specified; thus the new consular interview requirement.
Significantly, however, the law also provides that the Homeland Security secretary can issue waivers, including for dual nationals. (This is the "inch" referred to above.) No sooner had the VWPIA become law than Iran began publicly grumbling about this proviso, arguing that it would impede the country's post-sanctions economic development and thus violate the nuclear arms "non-treaty" agreement. Shockingly, Secretary of State Kerry immediately responded to Iranian complaints by floating the idea of applying waivers to these "dual nationals", even though the injured-economy argument seemed specious, at least to me. I speculated that it was more likely Iran was actually concerned that the new regimen might impede its continuing and aggressive program of theft of sensitive military equipment, plans, technology, and materiel — transfers of which will, logically, remain banned subsequent to lifting of embargoes and sanctions as part of the nuclear deal.
My suspicions about Iranian motivations deepened with the announcement of the U.S.- Iran "prisoner swap", which on the U.S. side exclusively involved "dual nationals" who had actively worked to procure forbidden technologies and materiel on behalf of the Islamic Republic. In the netherworld of espionage, transfers of information and technology and the like often take place through the use of intermediaries — "cut outs" who are on the surface citizens of friendly or neutral nations — whose profiles would exactly fit the kind of dual nationals the new law specified would no longer benefit from visa-free travel to the United States. These are the kinds of people the spies in our midst deal with to pass along their stolen goods for ultimate delivery to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the fists and guardians of all that is wrong with the Islamic Republic.
Note that it was the naval arm of the IRGC that seized two U.S. Navy riverine vessels, along with their sailors, in the Persian Gulf even as the arms deal and swap were being finalized. Although they gave both sailors and boats back in short order, they did so in the most humiliating way possible, and were later reported to have stolen two SIM cards from the boats' satellite phones. While this sounds irritating but petty, some sources suggest that the reason is much more sinister: The IRGC has learned how to "spoof" the satellite global positioning systems (GPS) of our military aircraft and, in doing so, can actually seize control of the craft with disastrous results. Taking the cards ensures that they remain current on the state of our GPS technology.
This is precisely the kind of technology transfer that the United States should be vigorously guarding against whenever and wherever it can, and what the new VWPIA provisions were designed to assist in ensuring. Notwithstanding these sound national security and defense reasons— and sadly predictably — the administration has thrown caution to the wind and, as Kerry virtually promised, carved out a broad-based waiver to the VWP dual nationals prohibition.
The IRGC must be laughing out loud: first they pick our pocket with one hand, and then they watch us empty our wallet into the other voluntarily.
Many members of Congress, though, are not laughing. They assert that it was an egregious violation of rules that had been agreed upon between Congress and the administration even prior to the law's passage. A hearing has been scheduled for February 10 to explore the matter more fully.