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WASHINGTON — In this week’s Republican address, Rep. John Katko (R-NY) discusses the Obama administration’s failure to enforce a new visa waiver law—intended to keep Americans safe—in order to accommodate Iran.

“I am a former federal prosecutor, and I can tell you a law is only as good as how you enforce it,” said Rep. Katko. “This is not a time to start lowering our guard. And we should not put Iran’s feelings before America’s security interests.”

NOTE: The audio of the weekly address is available here, and the video will be available on speaker.gov.

Remarks of Rep. John Katko of New York
Weekly Republican Address
Washington, DC
February 6, 2016

In today’s interconnected world, hundreds of thousands of people enter and leave our country every day. One of the greatest security challenges we face is eliminating vulnerabilities in our visa system so terrorists can’t slip into our country.

In December, we passed a law to tighten the rules of our Visa Waiver Program so terrorists could not use it to come to the United States. The program allows people from certain countries to come here for up to 90 days without a visa. This is to make it easier for tourists and businesspeople from friendly countries like Britain to come here. And on the whole, the program works very well.

But ISIS has been recruiting people from these very same countries. So as a precaution, we added a new rule: If you have traveled to a country with significant terrorist activity—like Iraq, Iran, or Sudan—any time after 2011, you are not eligible for the program and must apply for a visa. We negotiated this requirement with the administration, and the president signed it into law.

Unfortunately, the administration is now carving loopholes into the law. Last month, the administration announced that it would grant waivers to people engaged in journalism, humanitarian work, or, for people traveling to Iraq or Iran, “legitimate business-related purposes.” These waivers have no basis in law. In fact, members of Congress explicitly rejected this idea when negotiating the bill with the administration. The bill we passed allows the secretary of Homeland Security to offer waivers for “law enforcement” or “national security” reasons only. But it is not at all clear how granting a waiver to a New York Times reporter is in our “law enforcement” or "national security" interests.

That’s why Congress is pressing this administration for a full report on who exactly are getting these waivers. We expect, at a minimum, the name and nationality of each traveler; the explicit, detailed national security or law enforcement justification for granting the waiver; and the number of people who are asking for and using these waivers in each category.  

I am a former federal prosecutor, and I can tell you a law is only as good as how you enforce it. This is not a time to start lowering our guard. And we should not put Iran’s feelings before America’s security interests. This law is a common sense measure we need to keep us safe, and we House Republicans will do all we can to make sure the administration enforces it in full. Thank you.