The Equal Protection in Travel Act: Necessary to Correct Our Mistakes

Detail from a USA visa document with magnifying glass.
Detail from a USA visa document with magnifying glass.

While many across the world are busy planning summer vacations to visit family and loved ones, thousands of people's ability to do so has been restrained and unfairly burdened at the hands of Congress. Why? The sole explanation is because of their ancestral heritage and/or national origin.

Now how did we get here? How could Congress enact a law that is discriminatory on its face? A law that segregates out a population for different treatment based on their identity?

Last December, in the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino and Paris attacks, congress painted entire populations as the enemy. They wanted to seem like they were doing something, without actually understanding and determining whether their action was effective, necessary or counterproductive. Without even attempting to address what caused these attacks. When addressing the causation question, I don't mean the superficial answers of the perpetrators, the means and the motive. I mean the U.S. Government actions in regards to foreign policy decisions, failure to place respect for human rights of all before economic and political decisions.

So in haste, without substantive time for debate and to understand the bill and implications, Congress passed into law discriminatory provisions that prohibit travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for select populations based on their ancestral heritage and/or national origin. This law was passed under the spending bill package in December 2015. The law prohibits Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, and Sudanese dual nationals from traveling under the VWP. Now there is no individual security assessment done on a case by case basis. Persons based on their identity alone are cast out.

Let's just think about it, law abiding individuals have been denied the right to the same travel benefit as their neighbors, friends, co-workers, customers, for no reason of their own. Many of these people have never even set foot in Syria, Iraq, Sudan or Iran. Many are being treated differently because they have automatically inherited citizenship through their father, but were born in Europe and Europe is their home.

The security of our nation has been touted as the reason after all the law was named the Visa Waiver Program Terrorist Travel & Prevention Act. However, many have come to expect propaganda in the title of bills for messaging, that does not actually reflect the content of the bill nor based on neither objectivity nor facts.

Now that rationale minds have exposed the hecklers rhetoric and have come together, there is an opportunity to correct this mistake. Congressional members both Republican and Democrat in the House and Senate have introduced the Equal Protection in Travel Act. The Act will remove the discriminatory dual national provisions. It will restore our VWP partners citizens back to full citizens with the benefits provided to all, no longer categorizing some citizens as second class.

The actual security requirements in VWP Act remain intact. This includes but not limited to the VWP Act provisions of increased information sharing between VWP partners, reporting lost or stolen passports to Interpol, use of biometric passports, and Electronic System of Travel Application approval. Remember these security requirements are in addition to security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program put in place by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Now there is a tide coming from our VWP partners. Many have long expressed frustration and concern with the United States lack of equal treatment and admittance of their citizens under the program unlike bestowed upon U.S. Citizens, particularly member countries of the European Union. The VWP Act you can imagine creates waves for our VWP partners whom are contemplating their continued participation in the program and also imposing restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program. There is serious concern that our VWP partners will reciprocate the discriminatory restrictions by similarly imposing prohibition on travel of U.S. Citizens whom also have dual citizenship in the designated countries. If implemented, nearly over 740,000 (based on 2010 Census Data) Americans will be prohibited from traveling under the Visa Waiver Program because of their national origin as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. Will Congress act and correct their misstep? I hope so for the sake of our citizens.