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Visa Waiver Program Overhaul is Discriminatory and Illegal

Visa Waiver Program Overhaul is Discriminatory and Illegal

At a time when America was busy denouncing Donald Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill that restricts Arabs and Muslims’ entry into the country.

The bill excludes Iraqis and Syrians from the Visa Waiver Program even if they are also citizens of countries from which travel to the United States is allowed without pre-approval.

For example, under the VWP, British citizens can visit the United States without obtaining a visa from the U.S. embassy in London. However, under the new legislation, if a Londoner who happens to have a Syrian father wants to visit the Grand Canyon with his friends, he will have to go through the tedious, bureaucratic process of getting a visa.

Citizens of participant nations who have visited Syria, Iraq, Sudan or Iran in the past five years are also excluded from the program.

This is clear discrimination based on national origin. The legislation violates the Constitution and fundamental American principles.

The bill, which was introduced as a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, is not only illegal; it is also ineffective.

The assumption that Syrians and Iraqis should be looked upon with suspicion because of their nationality is a dangerous one. Syria and Iraq have suffered from the horrors of terrorism more than any other place on Earth.

If this bill becomes law, it will further alienate European Muslims; and extremist ideologies are more likely to find fertile grounds to grow in isolated communities.

The legislation was proposed as an emotional reaction to the Paris tragedy and passed swiftly after the San Bernardino shooting.

Leadership requires critical thinking and calculated decisions.

Even the restrictions on individuals who have traveled to Syria and Iraq affect all the wrong people. Journalists who have visited those countries to expose ISIS’ terror; doctors who traveled there to tend to victims’ wounds and Muslims who went to Iraq to visit holy shrines in areas away from ISIS control would all be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program.

Meanwhile, the mastermind of the Paris attack, who trained and fought with ISIS in Syria, may still be able to travel to the United States without a visa because he slipped into Syria through Turkey. Official records do not reveal his Syria trip.

We fear this legislation will open the door for more racist laws that target our community in the name of national security. We’re reminded of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which lasted, in various forms, until 1943. We ask the Senate and President Obama to block this bill until all of its discriminatory provisions are amended.

Only 19 of the 435 U.S. Representatives voted against this bill. We salute the members of Congress who stood against the misguided majority to uphold the Constitution.

Michigan’s Debbie Dingell, John Conyers, Dan Kildee and Brenda Lawrence engaged Arab American activists and heads of organizations before voting against the bill. During these critical times, we rely on such leaders.

We extend special gratitude to Dingell who has defended our community and stood for diversity and inclusion at every turn without fear of political backlash.

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