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Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 5203, the ‘‘Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016”

May 25, 2016

Strengthening the security of the immigration and visa issuance process is a critical issue for all Americans. 

As one who believes our Nation should be a beacon of freedom and liberty, I very much appreciate the need to effectively combat terrorism, while maintaining our commitment to core values.

Unfortunately, H.R. 5203, the “Visa Integrity and Security Act,” fails to honor those core values.

This failing can largely be attributed to the fact that the bill reflects absolutely no input from Democratic Members of the Committee. Nor has this measure been the subject of any legislative hearing. 

Bereft of informed testimony and expert analysis, we have essentially no information about the bill's potential costs, both fiscal and social.  Yet, even a superficial review of H.R 5203 reveals its many flaws. 

To begin with, the bill – without any exception for age or any other factor -- singles out every national of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen by requiring that the Department of State complete individualized security opinions for visa applicants from these countries. 

As a result, vast amounts of agency time and resources would be dedicated to completing security advisory reports on, for example, infants, toddlers, and others who clearly pose no security risk.

An even more troublesome aspect of this provision is that it singles out a handful of majority Muslim countries thereby dehumanizing entire populations by treating all of their nationals as potential terrorists. 

Clearly, the more we dehumanize entire populations based on religion, the less likely they will become our allies against the real threat, namely, terrorists who seek to do our Nation harm.

History has shown that arbitrary across the board judgments based on broad characteristics, such as nationality, do nothing to enhance our security and only cast a cloud of suspicion over entire communities here in our country. 

Another critical flaw of this bill is the serious privacy concerns it presents.  Although H.R. 5203 mandates DNA testing for biological family-based immigrant applications, the bill has no provisions safeguarding this massive new database of DNA, that would include the DNA of potentially millions of non-criminals and American citizens.

Finally, this bill would require significant costs to implement, yet offers no comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system.

Just one provision of this bill -- the Visa Security Program -- would come at the cost of $120 million without meaningfully targeting law enforcement and intelligence resources on actual threats.

An immigration reform bill – such as the measure that passed the Senate in 2013 or the bill that had 201 House cosponsors in the last Congress – would allow law-abiding immigrants to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. 

Measures such as those it would make us safer by enabling law enforcement and intelligence agencies to focus resources on the most pressing cases.

Rather than rushing to consider legislation absolutely devoid of deliberative process, we should devote our efforts to developing meaningful and informed solutions.

Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to oppose H.R. 5203, and I yield back the balance of my time.

114th Congress