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Collins, Cantwell Legislation Extends Front Line of Defense to Stop Terrorists from Entering the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today announced that some of the key provisions of their bill, the Travel Facilitation and Safety Act of 2015, passed the Senate on a 75-20 vote and is now headed to the President’s desk. The provisions—which were also adopted by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in separate legislation—passed as part of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.

Senators Collins and Cantwell's legislation strengthens the security of travel to the United States by expanding the Department of Homeland Security’s Preclearance program and enhancing information sharing between the United States and Europe regarding the identities of suspected terrorists.  Under the Preclearance program, passengers are screened by a trained U.S. law enforcement professional at the point of departure rather than at the U.S. point of entry, enabling U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Officers to conduct interviews, capture biometrics, and conduct customs inspections before travelers board a plane for the United States.  These Preclearance measures not only improve security, but also streamline international travel by avoiding the need for further screening in the United States.

After terrorism incidents by ISIS in San Bernardino, California and Paris, France, this bill further strengthens aviation security around the world. ISIS has threatened and conducted attacks in many visa waiver partner countries and our NATO ally Turkey.  This week Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate that ISIS is likely to continue to attempt attacks in the US and Europe this year.

“The continued threat posed to aviation from terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS demands that we take immediate steps to improve security for flights bound to the United States,” said Senator Collins. “Expanding Preclearance operations is one of the most effective steps we can take to keep our borders and the borders of our allies safe.”

“We are moving our border controls to overseas airports with a new layer of security aimed at stopping potential terrorists from reaching our shores.  We need to stop these individuals from entering the U.S. in the first place, to prevent attacks—and this bill does that,” said Cantwell, the ranking member on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security. “This bill will make international travel safer for the American people and better protect our borders.”

The Collins-Cantwell bill would also encourage all U.S. visa waiver partner countries—38 countries across the globe including 30 in Europe—to work with the U.S. to set up pre-clearance operations, as well as authorize pilot programs to test emerging biometric technologies used to confirm travelers’ identities.

Currently, the U.S. has preclearance operations at 15 foreign airports in six different countries, in addition to a pre-inspection facility in Victoria, Canada for passenger and vehicle ferry traffic. The preclearance provision included in the customs bill conference report would assist in the expansion of U.S. pre-clearance operations in key overseas markets, such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, Turkey, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Earlier this year, Collins and Cantwell called for additional scrutiny of the visa waiver program which allows citizens from the 38 participating countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for 90 days or less.

Cantwell has worked to address threats in border protection since Ahmed Ressam - the Millennium Bomber – was caught entering the United States in Washington state using fake documents. She has supported the development of technologies at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington to improve scanning and airport security.

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