Identifying, Stopping Terrorists Seeking to Enter U.S. is Aim of Collins, Cantwell Bill

Senators’ legislation would help expand U.S. security presence at foreign airports, authorize pilot program for biometric security technology

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today announced introduction of the Travel Facilitation and Safety Act of 2015—a bipartisan bill that aims to identify and stop terrorists seeking to enter the United States. The legislation would expand U.S. pre-clearance operations in foreign countries and foreign airports—enabling U.S. government personnel to conduct immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections before travelers depart for the United States.

These pre-clearance measures would not only improve security, but also make international travel more efficient.

The bill would also require the Director of National Intelligence to set up a process to ensure biographic and biometric information about known or suspected terrorists derived from the U.S.-held terrorism databases is shared with visa waiver partner countries. It would also require the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to consider whether those visa waiver countries are using this information for border protection and immigration screening as part of the criteria necessary to remain eligible for the U.S. visa waiver program.

“This bipartisan legislation aims to accelerate and expand the existing and successful program that allows immigration officials to fully vet the biographic and biometric information of passengers and deny, as appropriate, entry into the United States before a person boards an aircraft destined for the United States,” said Senator Collins.  “Equally important, this bill will ensure that biographic and biometric information derived from U.S. terrorism databases are used by Visa Waiver countries in their screening of refugees and asylum-seekers to prevent terrorists known to the United States from sneaking into Europe via the migrant paths that have emerged from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”

“At a time when we face growing threats from abroad we need to use every tool at our disposal to keep Americans safe,” said Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security. “By expanding the presence of U.S. security officials at foreign airports, this legislation would boost our ability to stop individuals who would do harm before they cross our borders.”

The 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 U.S. is currently in negotiations to set up 10 more pre-clearance facilities in nine foreign countries.  

Further, the bill would require the U.S. Director of National Intelligence to set up a process to ensure U.S.-held biographic and biometric information about known or suspected international terrorists is shared with visa waiver partner countries. It would also require the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to consider whether those visa waiver countries are using this information for border protection and immigration screening as part of the criteria necessary to remain eligible for the U.S. visa waiver program.

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