Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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The Visa Waiver Program’s New and Improved Two-Tier System

Shane Bagwell

America’s most recent change to its immigration system has been a disastrous oversight of secondary consequences that often come as the result of hasty, reactionary politics. Updates to the Visa Waiver Program were generally positive, but a provision included in the update meant to restrict the travel rights of certain groups backfired. Here we will review the program, the changes, and the potential repairs planned for VWP.

The Visa Waiver Program authorizes citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, avoiding the burden of applying through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate prior to entry into the country.[1] Started in 1986, the program was intended to facilitate tourism and short-term business stays, while cutting red tape and shifting State Department resources to more high priority tasks.[2]

Countries which are currently authorized under the Visa Waiver Program:

VWP

 

In light of recent events around the world, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim sentiments have been inflamed, particularly in the west. As a result of these fears, the U.S. Congress passed the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015”, section 3 of which prevented persons from entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program if the person: “has been present, at any time on or after March 1, 2011, in Iraq or Syria, in a country designated as one that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, or in any other country or area of concern designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and regardless of whether the alien is a national of a program country, is not a national of Iraq or Syria, a country designated as a country that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, or any other country or area of concern.”

The second part of this change, that “regardless of whether the alien is a national of a program country” a person may be excluded as a member of a class due only to their other citizenship has been most troubling to civil rights advocates and others.[3] There has been particular uproar from the Iranian-American community, due in part to the fact that Iranian citizens are unable to renounce citizenship, and it passed down to children in certain situations. For example, Article 976 of the Civil Code of Iran states that a child born to an Iranian father, no matter where they may have been born, is an Iranian citizen. This means that, for citizenship purposes, a child whose grandfather was Iranian, but who has no cultural or political ties to Iran may be an Iranian citizen through patrilineal descent.

The second section of the act failed to make exceptions for any group visiting countries such as Syria or Iraq for legitimate purposes. The Obama administration announced that certain groups would be exempted from the visa requirement, such as journalists, humanitarian workers, those traveling on behalf of international organizations or local governments, as well as those who have visited Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes,” or travelled to Iran after July 14, 2015.[4] These actions have received pushback from Republicans, who believe that the unilateral granting of exemptions was not authorized in the bill.

PassportControl

Because the Visa Waiver Program is reciprocal, there is a likelihood that these restrictions will be matched by partner countries.[5] Rep. Jared Hauffman (CA-2)., in a letter to President Obama, stated that “[b]ecause the VWP is founded on reciprocity, our U.S. citizen constituents are concerned that this exclusion could result in our VWP partners severely restricting, or entirely ending, visa-free travel for certain U.S. citizens.” This presents an awkward circumstance for Americans who hold multiple citizenships, either by choice or involuntarily.

Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3) introduced the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 on January 13th to repeal the controversial section that applies only to dual nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries.[6]  The bill has received broad bipartisan support, but, in an unpredictable Congress, nothing is certain. As such, it is possible that the restrictions could remain in place, and that retaliatory measures could be taken reducing the utility of U.S. passports for dual nationals under the program.

Until the Equal Protection in Travel Act is signed in to law, the status of dual nations in Visa Waiver Program countries remains in flux. Without swift congressional action, the rules will remain in place, and could cause chaos for dual national travelers within the network. It is worth noting that Canadian citizens are visa exempt and are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program, and therefore the new restrictions do not apply to Canadian citizens who have dual nationality in one of the specified countries.[7]

Shane Bagwell is a 3L at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and a graduate of West Chester University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He currently serves as the President of the Military Law Association. His interests are Middle Eastern politics, international conflicts, and the law of land warfare. He is currently a law clerk for the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, Economic Crimes Division.

[1]     “Visa Waiver Program,” U.S. Dept. of State, https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/visa-waiver-program.html

[2]     Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act, Pub. L. 106-396, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-106publ396/html/PLAW-106publ396.htm

[3]     These Changes To Tighten Visa Waiver Program Are Now In Effect, NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/21/463846286/these-changes-to-tighten-visa-waiver-program-are-now-in-effect

[4]     Visa Waiver: U.S. Visa Rules Eased For Some European Travelers Who Visit Terrorist Hotspots, HNGN. http://www.hngn.com/articles/172169/20160122/visa-waiver-u-s-rules-eased-european-travelers-who-visit.htm

[5]     Austin, L. G. (2015, December 18). Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act short on prevention but punitive towards Iranian Americans, the Hill. http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/263661-visa-waiver-program-improvement-act-short-on-prevention

[6]     Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016, H.R.4380, 114th Cong. (Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary 1/13/2016)

[7]     8 CFR §212.1(a)

 

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TPS – A Viable Solution for Those Fleeing Gang Violence in El Salvador

Carolyn Mills

In San Salvador gang violence and killings are an everyday occurrence. Many people are fleeing the turmoil that the city is facing and heading to the United States in hopes of finding a safe haven. Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, could provide that safe haven. TPS  is granted to eligible nationals of designated countries suffering the effects of an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.[1] TPS could provide a potential solution to many escaping the threat of violence and the opportunity to live in the United States without fear of deportation.

CICL Blog Image 3

In the past 25 years since a civil war (with 75,000 civilian casualties), there has been a steady influx of El Salvadoran migrants to the United States. Gang violence and the recent breakdown of a truce between the country’s largest gangs, Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, has been the cause of the most recent spike in the countries death toll.[2] Newsweek reported that the onset of gang violence between rival gangs has skyrocketed, with a 70 percent increase in violent murders in the past year, overtaking neighboring Honduras in violence[3]. In fact, El Salvador has recently been named the most dangerous country in the Americas! In response to the violence, The Peace Corps has recently suspended all activity in El Salvador[4]. Unsurprisingly, the United States has seen an increase in Salvadoran migrants, often unaccompanied minors. Of the 4,450 people detained at the US-Mexico border in October and November 2015, 3,192 were unaccompanied minors. [5]

CICL Blog Image 2

On top of the massive gang violence, there have also been increased reports of human rights violations—instances of police and armed forces taking justice into their own hands and murdering innocent bystanders. [6] Some police are even calling for the extermination of area gang members.[7] In December 2015, the state Ombudsman of El Salvador found that 92% of the 2,202 human rights violations reported were from military and police personnel in the country.[8] In an effort to make El Salvador safer, it is apparent that due process of law and human rights are a sad casualty.

Those who are already in the United States are still living in fear. The Obama Administration has recently enacted a series of raids—deporting those on final orders of deportation. [9] Thus far, 121 adults and children have been taken and deported. Although none are from El Salvador yet, the fear remains the same in such a close-knit community.[10]

Some Salvadorans who are already here have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The most recent TPS status granted to Salvadorans was in response to the earthquakes in 2001 and has subsequently been renewed each year.[11]  TPS could be a viable solution. Not only does it provide El Salvadorans with some form of status, it would allow those who are proverbially ‘hiding in the shadows’ to come out and have proper work authorization.  By providing work authorization, individuals would pay taxes and become eligible for some public benefits. It would also stem the tide of legally insufficient asylum applications, which clog the already backed up immigration courts system.

Immigration Overload Flashpoint

A demonstrator that opposes illegal immigration, left, shouts at immigration supporters, Friday, July 4, 2014, outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif. Demonstrators on both sides of the immigration debate had gathered where the agency was foiled earlier this week in an attempt to bus in and process some of the immigrants who have flooded the Texas border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Conversely, some would argue that granting TPS would incentivize illegal immigration. However, I don’t think that’s the case. Fleeing on foot is not ideal. It’s expensive and risky. TPS does not provide a pathway to citizenship, but merely a band-aid, a temporary solution to a larger problem.

As a product of the DMV (DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia)—it’s hard. I have friends, neighbors and loved ones who have been impacted through this gang violence, whether fleeing from it or paying to keep their family members safe.

Without a doubt I am an advocate for the law and for justice, but I can’t see the justice in a system is that would deport people back into a chaotic and dangerous situation. It would be counterproductive to send human rights violators back to a country, while seemingly having no regard for the individuals who are being deported back into the same situation.[12] This is not to say that lawful immigration is not important, but what do you do when innocent people are being killed? There isn’t an easy solution, but I think that there is a very human side that many people aren’t seeing. These individuals are your friends and neighbors. They are people who have the same values as all of us. They want the same thing that you want – to live a life free from fear and to freely love and provide for their families.

Carolyn Mills is a graduate from of Bowie State University  and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Carolyn is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She serves as 2L Representative for the International Law Society.  Her interests and focus areas are on Central America and West Africa; she has traveled to both Guatemala and Honduras and hopes to visit Ghana this summer. She is currently a law clerk for the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Law Section.  

[1] http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/el-salvador-gang-warfare-death-rate-418201

[3] http://www.irishexaminer.com/world/el-salvador-is-worlds-murder-capital-374864.html

[4] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/El-Salvador-Voices-Concern-Over-US-Mass-Deportation-Plan-20160105-0032.html

[5] http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-el-salvador-peace-corps-20160123-story.html

[6] https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/carlos-rosales-ana-leonor-morales/emergence-of-social-cleansing-in-el-salvador

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.businessinsider.com/militarized-police-violence-in-latin-america

[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/obama-deportation-raids-families_us_568ac49ee4b0b958f65c5935

[10] Id.

[11] https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status/temporary-protected-status-designated-country-el-salvador

[12] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/08/el-salvador-defense-minister-deported-us-human-rights-abuses