Q&A – Abuse of the Visa Waiver Program

Q&A – Abuse of the Visa Waiver Program 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.       

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com      

Social: @brianmuddradio     

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.        

Today’s Entry: Submitted via Talkback. Asking about how many countries have Visa waivers in place in the US and how the program is being abused by those committing crimes within the United States.  

Bottom Line: Deeply entrenched within the larger illegal immigration crisis this country currently faces is a form of illegal immigration that’s become increasingly popular within foreign based organized criminal networks...abuse of the Visa Waiver Program. While there many examples of foreign nationals abusing the Visa Wavier Program, what’s currently been brought to the forefront is the abuse by Chilean gangs. The phenomenon isn’t new. Local reporting in Los Angeles dating back to 2019 details Chilean gangs flying into Southern California and carrying out sophisticated burglaries of homes and businesses. What has changed over the past five years is the pervasiveness of it and the breadth of it. Following a recent string of highly technical burglaries in Michigan local law enforcement stated: We’re confident it’s a group organized out of South America and they’re here targeting those high-end homes. It’s nationwide, it’s not just southeast Michigan or this region. It’s California, New York, it’s all over the country. The issue has become so pervasive it’s now being called ‘burglary tourism’.  

While the issue has grown nationwide, Southern California remains ground zero. One of the most experienced prosecutors in the country in dealing with the crisis is San Diego County DA Summer Stephan. Quoting him in a recent interview with NBC: The home is carefully selected. They’ve been watching from rented cars that blend into wealthy neighborhoods. They are masked, gloved and care little about cameras. They are in and out of your home in just minutes. Stephan went on to say that while the Visa Waiver Program is designed to boost tourism, what it’s become is a ‘burglary tourist visa’. He and many wonder why the Biden administration hasn’t chosen to address the exploited program in a way that would reign in those using it to enter the US to commit crimes. In addressing this, let’s start with the program.  

As noted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection: 

  • The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department, permits citizens of 41 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. In return, those 41 countries must permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes. 

The way eligibility is determined is through what’s known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Here’s how that process works: 

  • ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets. 

The way that process works provides the roadmap to basic reforms that could be easily implemented to crack down on crime. For example, since background and biographical information is collected as part of the eligibility process, it would be easy to implement law enforcement profiles of those who’ve been known to have a high propensity for criminal activity once here. Once that database of information is in the system it could then flag those fitting higher risk profiles for additional vetting procedures, IE enhanced questioning of the reasons for traveling into the US. Locations they intend to visit and the time and location they intend to leave from. If questioned individually, it would become much more likely inconsistencies within stories would become apparent. That’s but one of example of many possibilities of what may be done to protect Americans, independent of cutting off countries from the program altogether – which may also make sense.  

There are currently 41 countries who participate in the Visa Wavier Program with the United States. That includes our strongest allies like the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Israel, Australia and Japan. However, it also includes numerous smaller countries like San Marino, Latvia, Andorra and Malta. Of course, Chile is also on the list, and it just so happens that it’s one of the newest additions having been added only ten years ago. What’s unusual about Chile’s inclusion, is that it’s not typical for the region. In fact, Chile is the only country in North, Central or South America to participate in the Visa Wavier Program (that’s not a mistake – not even Canada participates). For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, the Obama administration nominated Chile for inclusion in 2013 and as of May 1st of 2014, the country was added to the program. This is why Chile has been the country of choice for organized criminals seeking to abuse the wavier process. There’s nowhere else for them in the region to come from using that method.  

Given the relative oddity of Chile’s inclusion and given the rampant abuses of the Visa Wavier Program by organized criminals entering the US through Chile, many are calling for an end to its inclusion – which is a decision the Biden administration could make at any time. The program was first established in 1986 to make it easier for those visiting from low-risk countries to enter the US for business or tourism reasons. Chile has not proven to be a low-risk country. On that note, last year as the Heritage Foundation identified, it’s a mandatory requirement of the Visa Wavier Program that criminal records are shared in real-time with the U.S. However, the left-wing government in Chile, which doesn’t commonly support law enforcement in its own country, doesn’t appear to be fully compliant with law enforcement in our country.  

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