Visa Waiver Program Busts Open Door to ‘Perfect Storm of Crime’
Chilean criminals have been exploiting a visa waiver program to operate “burglary tourism” rings in U.S. cities, and the situation is so concerning that even Capitol Hill Democrats are calling for stricter scrutiny of visitors from the South American nation.
But FAIR has warned that bigger problems loom beyond the Andes, with visa waivers serving as an open invitation to more trouble from across the globe.
The U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables Chileans and foreign nationals from 39 other countries to bypass standard vetting processes in which individuals must fill out an application form, pay a $185 fee and appear in person at a U.S. Embassy to be interviewed by a consular officer.
With VWP, a traveler only submits an online form (cost: $21) via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Astoundingly, 99 percent of ESTA applications are approved within five seconds.
At the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security and Enforcement last week, an Orange County (Calif.) prosecutor testified about “burglary tourists” from Chile entering the U.S. through ESTA.
“There is a loophole in the Department of Homeland Security’s ESTA visa waiver program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of Chilean citizens, including violent criminals, to enter the United States without having their criminal records checked,” said Bradley Schoenleben. “It a perfect storm of crime.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has called on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to suspend the program. Reps. Mike Levin and Lou Correa, both D-Calif., followed suit, with Correa saying, “I am concerned that some citizens of Chile are abusing the visa waiver program to commit burglaries in my district and throughout the United States.”
Chile may not be the only bad actor. Though all VWP countries sign information-sharing agreements with the United States, not all have fully complied with the agreements. VWP’s loose and goosey structure leaves plenty of room for mischief.
Adopted as a pilot project at the urging of the tourist industry in 1986, VWP was made permanent in 2000 despite concerns voiced by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other immigration and national security experts.
Compounding VWP’s vulnerabilities, ESTA only vets visitors who are already in terrorist or criminal databases. Because VWP travelers do not have to provide biometric data such as fingerprints, facial scans or retina scans their information cannot be run through DHS or FBI screenings.
And yet another loophole: ESTA authorization, for what it’s worth, is required only for visitors arriving in the U.S. by air or by sea — not for VWP passport holders entering by land. As everyone knows, America’s southern border doesn’t present much of a barrier to entry these days.