NEWS

Congressman Asks DHS Secretary: "Where Are Your Visa Screeners?"

By Matthew Harwood

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), ranking member on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight, has a pretty good question for Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano: "Where are all the visa screeners we gave you money for?"

According to CQ.com (subscription only), Bilirakis sent Napolitano a letter last week asking why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had not posted more personnel at consular offices overseas to screen visa applications after Congress allocated $500,000 explicitly for that purpose.

In 2002, the Homeland Security Act created the Visa Security Program, Bilirakis wrote, which "was intended to ensure that highly-trained agents with specialized knowledge in terrorism and security would provide enhanced capabilities to our first-line of defense against those who want to gain access to the United States for illegitimate purposes."

In his letter, Bilirakis notes that DHS still does not have a Visa Security unit posted at the U.S. consular office in London, where 23-year-old Nigerian jihadist Umar Farouk Abdulamutallab received his U.S. visa that he used to board Northwest Flight 253 with explosives sewn into his underwear on Christmas Day.

Bilirakis' letter followed another letter sent to Napolitano two weeks ago by all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We learned that the NSDD-38 applications for Yemen, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Frankfurt, and Amman are now pending with the Department of Homeland Security," the letter stated. "The Visa Security unit for Yemen has been pending since September 2008 while the others have been pending since September 2009."

Abdulmutallab received his training for the Christmas Day terrorist plot in Yemen by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a separate jihadist terrorist group allegedly connected to Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda organization.

On Jan. 22, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a signatory to that letter, introduced S. 2944 to give the Secretary of Homeland Security that explicit authority to refuse or revoke a visa, even if the Secretary of State has already granted the visa. The legislation also gives DHS the sole authority to issue, refuse, or revoke visas in 24 high-volume visa posts and high-risk countries as well as requires the department to deploy personnel to conduct on-site visa reviews, according to Cornyn's Web site. The legislation appropriates $30 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 to accomplish that goal.

Two days before Cornyn introduced his legislation, CQ.com reports Napolitano told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform that earlier law did not explicitly give the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to revoke visas, a power reserved by the State Department.

At that hearing, ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said that only 15 Visa Security units had been stood up at 220 consular posts worldwide. Collins called this "disturbing, when you consider that DHS and the State Department have identified 57 posts as being high-risk,” CQ.com reports.


♦ Photo of a U.S. visa by josephlee1001/Flickr

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