The Biden administration believes the American government alone can effectively vet U.S. visa applicants from terrorist-linked countries covered by former President Donald Trump’s travel ban, Breitbart News learned from the State Department Tuesday.
That same day, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a Senate panel that the U.S. relies heavily on information provided by the origin countries of individuals trying to enter America to vet them for criminal and terrorist ties effectively.
Wray conceded that America could not count on most countries listed on Trump’s travel ban to provide accurate information, if any, on potential travelers.
Hours after taking office on January 20, President Joe Biden repealed Trump’s travel ban on several nations, including seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.
To justify the bans, Trump cited concerns about foreign terrorist entry to the U.S. and American authorities’ ability to effectively screen visa applicants from terrorist exporting nations covered by the measure, such as Iran.
When he addressed the annual conference hosted by the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Orlando this year, Trump criticized Biden for lifting his travel ban.
Breitbart News asked the U.S. State Department to respond to that criticism and what the Biden administration plans to do to screen people seeking to enter the U.S. from the countries included in Trump’s travel measure.
A spokesperson for State indicated that the U.S. vetting system is strong enough to compensate for the absence of verifiable background information from the banned countries referenced by the FBI director.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” the State Department official responded on background.
“Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. Prohibiting entry to the United States by those who might pose a threat is key to protecting U.S. citizens here at home,” the official added.
Without mentioning anything about cooperation from foreign countries, the spokesperson told Breitbart News the Biden administration would solely rely on U.S. government agencies to conduct the screenings. The official pointed out:
Visa applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their application and afterward, to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States. This screening draws on information from the full range of U.S. government agencies, including thorough biographic and biometric screening against U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases.
No visas are issued until all concerns raised through the screening process are fully resolved. Whenever we uncover information that might suggest an individual is a potential threat, the Department shares that information with all appropriate U.S. government agencies.
The spokesperson acknowledged that the Biden administration might need to improve its vetting system to adapt to unforeseen threats. The official noted:
Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld an updated version of Trump’s travel ban that restricted U.S. entry to many citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea.
Trump expanded the travel ban in early 2020 to restrict entry to some citizens of six additional countries— Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sudan for having “subpar passport technology” and a “failure to sufficiently exchange information on ‘terrorism suspects and criminals,” Al Jazeera reported.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, the FBI director agreed that the vetting of potential foreign terrorists seeking to enter the U.S. depends not only on America’s criminal and terrorism databases.
It relies “heavily” on foreign governments providing background information on the travelers’ identity, and criminal or terrorist ties.
Wray’s comments came in response to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), who also asked:
[W]ithout cooperation from those governments, if a terrorist is not already in our own databases, we could “query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing to show up,” unless foreign governments work with us. Is that still the case?
“Certainly,” the FBI director responded. “We depend heavily on cooperation from foreign governments to make that kind of defense effective.”
Wray also agreed with Cotton that there is a lack of cooperation on potential migrants trying to enter the U.S. from some countries on Trump’s travel ban, namely Syria, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, Burma, North Korea.
Sen. Cotton proclaimed:
I just want to note before we close on this topic that all of those nations–Syria, Iran, Libya, Burma, North Korea–were among the nations from which President Biden lifted travel restrictions by executive order on his very first day in office without any plan in place to improve security for those travel situations.
Each of them represents a real threat to the United States.
Citing State figures, the Associated Press (AP) reported in January that more than 40,000 people were refused visas because of the ban.