Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Blog
We've written a number of times about the different legislative proposals in Congress that would admit Israel into the Visa Waiver Program without meeting a number of statutory requirements. Most recently, the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act (HR 938) coauthored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) passed the House on March 5, 2014 without an authorization admitting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program, while the Senate version that currently includes an authorization is stalled.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) authorizes the Attorney General and Secretary of State to allow temporary visitors from certain countries to come to the United States without nonimmigrant visas. Central to the Visa Waiver Program is a provision that guarantees reciprocal travel privileges for American citizens seeking to visit that country. Given Israel's long-held practice of detaining and denying entry to American citizens predominantly of Arab descent at the border, exempting Israel from meeting key requirements of the VWP will implicitly sanction the discriminatory treatment of US citizens traveling to Israel and Palestine.
In response to a question about the Administration's position on these legislative proposals, during a daily press briefing on Friday, March 21, US Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki said:
"At this time, Israel does not comply with many of the Visa Waiver Program - it's a mouthful - eligibility requirements. And also, reciprocal visa-free travel privileges for U.S. citizens is among the requirements for a Visa Waiver Program. The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel's border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program."
The State Department has clearly detailed the extent of profiling and discrimination experienced by US citizen travelers at the hands of Israeli authorities. We want to thank the Departments of State and Homeland Security for defending the rights of all Americans, even when faced with undue pressure by staunch pro-Israel Members on Capitol Hill.
AAI along with several civil and human rights groups have been vigorously opposing these legislative proposals, and it is precisely because of our efforts that these proposals have not advanced and lack support from the Administration.