(NationalSecurity.news) Several lawmakers who identified Belgium as one of Europe’s terrorism hotspots months ago are warning again following the recent attacks that radicalized individuals living in the country are still allowed to travel to the U.S. without first obtain a visa and undergoing a security background check.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon this week that existing flaws in the visa waiver program – which helps facilitate easier travel to the United States from countries that include Belgium – have created a loophole that can be exploited by radicalized individuals who live in the excluded countries. And he is warning again, on the heels of the latest ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in another European nation, that these flaws remain.
“The visa waiver reform, this is something we have been perusing and the [Obama] administration has brushed us off at every turn,” DeSantis told the WFB, noting that current visa policies do not require additional scrutiny of persons coming into the U.S. from known terrorism centers like the Belgian city of Molenbeek, which hosts a large Muslim community and is a principle terrorism training site.
“It’s the case that if those folks are citizens of Belgium they qualify for the visa waiver program and can hop on a plane and get here,” he said. “Clearly, that is not adequate given what happened.”
In fact, he continued, the Obama administration “even takes the position it’s safer to allow someone to come in on a visa waiver than make them get one, it’s kind of crazy,” DeSantis said. “You’re not going to be able to have intelligence on everyone there because there are so many potential recruits. It’s a clear vulnerability.”
Worse, he noted, the administration has been lax about deporting anyone who overstays their visa. That means radicalized individuals could essentially disappear inside the U.S. as they plan attacks.
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“There’s no enforcement once they get here,” DeSantis told the WFB. “Hundreds of thousands of people come over and then overstay. You are not going to be removed under current policy under this administration.”
DeSantis and other lawmakers identified Belgium as a terrorist hotspot following the November 2015 ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris. Authorities and intelligence officials later identified five of the Paris attackers as French nationals, two of whom had been living in Belgium. A sixth terrorist was actually a Belgian national.
Citizens from both countries are able to freely travel to the U.S. without scrutiny by appropriate federal agencies.
“At least six of the Paris attackers could have attempted to enter the country under this program,” DeSantis said in December during a congressional hearing on flaws in the visa waiver program.
The administration downplayed any concerns about those who seek to travel to the U.S. from Belgium.
“Though we do not require Belgian citizens to have a visa to travel here for business or tourism purposes, both the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have procedures in place to identify and prevent travel here from Belgium by individuals of suspicion,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a statement Tuesday.
“All travelers arriving in the United States are vetted against the U.S. Terrorist Screening Database, regardless of whether they arrive with a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorization,” Johnson added. “We continually evaluate whether more screening is necessary, particularly in light of today’s attacks.”
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