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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2001 / 16 Teves, 5762

Jan C. Ting

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Consumer Reports

What the 'shoe-bomber' knew that we continue to ignore -- ONE frightening aspect, among many, of the attempted "shoe-bombing" on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami is the ability of the perpetrator, carrying explosives and an apparently fraudulent British passport, to board an airplane headed for the United States without having to obtain a U.S. visa.

Before 1986, the United States required visas of nearly all foreign visitors, and showing of such visas was required to board commercial aircraft bound for this country. Prospective visitors had to submit their passports and visa applications in advance to U.S. consular officers, who could require personal interviews before issuing visas. This process also gave our consular officers an opportunity to examine the passports to assure the authenticity and intactness of passports.

In 1986, Congress authorized the visa-waiver program, which allows temporary visitors from several mainly European countries to enter the United States without visas. Passport holders from these countries need only buy an airline ticket to travel here.

Originally intended to reduce administrative burden and expense at U.S. consulates, and to facilitate foreign tourism to the United States, the visa-waiver program allowed Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen now suspected of involvement in the terrorist hijackings of Sept. 11, to enter this country without a visa earlier this year to seek pilot training.

Thousands of passports have been reported stolen in Europe. The "shoe-bombing" incident on the Paris to Miami flight is yet another warning to the United States to close the visa-waiver loophole.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced that the visa-waiver program is under review. In 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 16 million foreign visitors entered the United States under visa waiver. Most foreign tourists and temporary visitors for business now enter the United States without visas.

True, suspension of the visa- waiver program would hurt already diminished foreign tourism following Sept. 11, and it would further burden our already overworked U.S. consulates. But the case for immediate suspension of this program is now overwhelming. Until we come up with a better way of screening temporary visitors, the requirement of a U.S. visa must be restored for visitors from the 29 current visa-waiver countries.

JWR contributor Jan C. Ting is professor of law at the James E. Beasley School of Law, Temple University. He was appointed Assistant Commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1990, and served there until 1993. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Jan C. Ting