Washington, DC – Senator John Cornyn (TX) and Representative Lamar Smith (TX-21) introduced companion bills in the Senate and House today to improve the security of our nation’s visa issuing process.  The Secure Visas Act of 2010, HR 4758, mandates that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintain U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Visa Security Units (VSU) at the 14 consular posts that already have them and create units at the 16 other posts that ICE has designated as “highest-risk.” 

VSUs are critical for national security: at VSU-staffed consular posts, 100 percent of applicants receive additional screening; at non-VSU posts, fewer than 2% of applications get extra screening.

Senator Cornyn, Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, said: 

As President Obama said, the Christmas day terror plot was the result of an unacceptable failure to connect the dots by our intelligence, homeland security, and State Department officials. To ensure this never happens again, we must take every possible step to close the serious security gaps and communication lapses that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board an American-bound plane with explosives that could have killed 300 passengers.

“This legislation would do just that. It would immediately jumpstart the dialogue and allow us to move a bill that addresses these security lapses and gives DHS the authority needed to move out immediately to high-risk visa posts this fiscal year,” Sen. Cornyn said.

“Delays and inattention allowed for the Christmas terror plot to come too close to its objective, which was the mass killing of Americans; we must not delay any longer on plugging these serious security gaps.”

Representative Smith, Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee, said:

“The visa security process is our first line of defense against terrorists and others who wish to do us harm. But under President Obama, establishment of new Visa Security Units has ground to a halt.  If the Obama Administration will not exercise its authority to develop new VSUs at the highest risk posts identified by its own Department of Homeland Security, Congress must step in.  Continued delays amount to continued danger for the American people.”

The bills follow the Obama administration’s admission that Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, had a valid visa at the time of the attempted terror attack.  Abdulmutallab was issued a visa in July 2008, and even after his father expressed concerns to U.S. authorities, his visa was not revoked.  Several of the 9/11 hijackers also obtained U.S. visas.

After 9/11, Congress recognized that terrorists could exploit the U.S. visa system, and created the Visa Security Program to increase the security of the visa process at U.S. embassies and consulates.  Today, Visa Security Units are operating in Riyadh, Dhahran, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Islamabad, Manila, Cairo, Caracas, Montreal, Hong Kong, Casablanca, Frankfurt, Amman and Jakarta.  At these posts, 100 percent – more than 900,000 – of applicants receive additional screening. 

But from President Obama’s inauguration and until the time that Congress increased pressure after the Christmas Day attempted terror attack, not a single new VSP was approved by the Obama administration.  At posts without a security unit – including those in the 16 locations designated as “highest risk” – less than two percent out of 5.8 million applications receive additional screening. 

The Secure Visas Act mandates new VSUs be established in the following ‘highest risk’ locations: Algeria, Colombia, India, Iraq, Jerusalem, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Syria, Tel Aviv, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Yemen.

The Secure Visas Act also gives DHS greater authority to place units at additional new posts without bureaucratic delays.  And it mandates that in the event a visa is revoked after it has been issued, all appropriate consular, law enforcement and terrorist screening databases are immediately updated to reflect the revocation.

In addition to Smith, the House bill is cosponsored by Representatives Gus Bilirakis, Elton Gallegly, Gregg Harper, Steve King, and Dan Lungren.