January 29, 2019
IRLI sues State Dept. for details on order to fast-track visa applications
WASHINGTON – The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Department of State seeking agency records related to an Obama-era executive order, Executive Order (EO) #13597. That order fast-tracked nonimmigrant visa (NIV) processing worldwide, and expanded the number of NIVs from select countries, raising questions about whether national security was compromised as a result.
The EO directed the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase NIV processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent each, and to ensure that 80 percent of worldwide NIV applicants are scheduled for a visa interview within a mere three weeks of the time their applications are received.
Although the Obama administration said at the time that the goal of the EO was to improve visa processing times, promote travel, and spur economic growth, few details are known about whether the order allowed national security risks to avoid even the standard level of scrutiny previously applied to applicants. The IRLI lawsuits filed pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act seek to provide the missing details.
IRLI has received reports that President Obama’s EO caused intense pressure on consular officers worldwide to rush through the visa applicant interviews, making it difficult for officers to assess the credibility of many NIV applicants.
In June 2017, President Trump amended President Obama’s EO and removed the goal that 80 percent of NIV applicants be interviewed within three weeks of the time their applications are received. IRLI has recently received reports, however, that many diplomatic posts worldwide are ignoring President Trump’s amended EO, and are continuing to follow the Obama-era EO in conducting interviews within three weeks to meet performance goals. Such conduct may pose national security risks to the United States because consular officers are not being allowed adequate time to screen NIV applicants in order to prevent entry of foreign nationals who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terrorist acts.
A State Department official said at the time of President Trump’s action that the policy change was necessary because “every visa decision is a national security decision.” President Trump’s amended EO allows the Bureau of Consular Affairs to facilitate legitimate travel while ensuring that visa applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States.
The records sought through the lawsuits may also be able to show the extent of noncompliance by the State Department with President Trump’s amended EO.
“This appears to be yet another example of deep-state commitment to immigration policies that are not in America’s best interests,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Pressuring our immigration officials to fast-track visa applications only increases the risk that foreign nationals with bad intentions will get into our country. Our government’s primary responsibility should be to safeguard its citizens, and this order was inconsistent with that.”
The cases are Federation for American Immigration Reform v. U.S. Department of State, No. 19-180 (D.D.C.), and Federation for American Immigration Reform v. U.S. Department of State, No. 19-181 (D.D.C.).
For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • [email protected]
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