[Congressional Record: June 25, 2002 (House)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
ISSUANCE OF VISAS IS NOW A NATIONAL SECURITY FUNCTION
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the
gentleman from Florida (Mr. Weldon) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. WELDON of Florida. Mr. Speaker, tomorrow the Subcommittee on
Civil Service, Census and Agency Organization will begin examination of
one of the most vital components of the President's homeland security
proposal. Our homeland security starts abroad, and nothing is more
important than who gets issued a visa.
The issuance of visas can no longer be thought of as a mere
diplomatic function. It is now a national security issue, and must be
our first line of defense. While the President recognizes the
importance of visa issuance and the obvious problems, the current
proposed legislation does not go far enough. The entire visa program
should be part of the proposed Homeland Security Department.
The State Department views the issuance of visas as a diplomatic
tool. The day is past when it should be viewed this way. It is now
clearly a national security function. The fragmented approach, where
the Secretary of Homeland Security issues regulations regarding visas,
but actual operational control remains under the State Department, is
Just as we work hard to prevent biological, chemical, or other
weapons of mass destruction from making their way to our shores, so we
must keep terrorists, deadly weapons in and of themselves, keep them
from coming into our homeland. A strong visa issuance program is
essential to achieve that objective.
We are all too aware of the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11
terrorists had obtained ``appropriate'' visas. This is unacceptable. No
longer can the issuing of visas be a diplomatic function; it must be a
security function, with proper scrutiny only a trained agent can apply.
Diplomats are trained to be diplomats. Visa issuance should not be
about speed and service with a smile.
Recent news reports have brought to light a program in Saudi Arabia
called ``visa express.'' It allows private Saudi travel agents to
process visa paperwork on behalf of Saudi residents. Three of the
September 11 terrorists obtained
their visas this way, never being interviewed by anyone in the consular
When the program began, it was advertised as helping qualified
applicants obtain U.S. visas quickly and easily. Applicants will no
longer have to take time off from work, they said, no longer have to
wait in long lines or under the hot sun in crowded waiting rooms. I am
quoting from State Department documents.
Here are some of the September 11 terrorists who came into this
country under the visa express program. Salem Al-Hamzi, age 20, arrived
in the United States with a tourist visa obtained through visa express.
Here is another one: Khalid Al-Midhar, a 25-year-old gentleman. He
was one of the people on Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.
Here is another one: Abdulaziz Al-Omari, 28, arrived in the U.S. on a
tourist visa in June of 2001, a pilot of the American Airlines Flight
111 that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centers.
Now, under this program, the Saudi citizens just go to a Saudi travel
agent, and they fill out a two-page form. They paid a fee and went home
and waited for their visas to arrive in the mail. There was no
interview with any American official. One senior consular affairs
official describes the program as an open-door policy for terrorists to
come into the United States.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that we have our priorities out of order
here. This is not customer service; it is national security. Visa
issuance must be in the homeland security system from top to bottom.
This is the only way the Secretary of Homeland Security will be able to
completely and thoroughly protect our borders, by preventing terrorists
from ever making it into our homeland.
We must change the culture of the way we issue visas. It is no longer
sufficient for this process to be an entry-level position for a person
at a college. It is simply too vital to our national security.
Mr. Speaker, security begins abroad. I feel the burden is on the
administration to prove to us why the Bureau of Consular Affairs is
fragmented and a pseudo part of homeland security. Thus far, they have
not convinced me of the need for this fragmentation in this area. I
support putting all of consular affairs in homeland security.
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