You know what it’s like when you are in line for a rollercoaster and there’s this faster line at the front people keep popping into? In terms of getting into the U.S.A., the people in the line you are in are all applying for a traditional visa, and the people in the fast line are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The VWP was created in 1986 to make it easier for travelers from low-risk countries to come to the U.S. for tourism or business. The program now has 40 member countries, with more eager to join. This is an exclusive club, and like all clubs, it has rules.
Playing Loose With the Rules
Chile, admitted to the VWP in 2014 and now Latin America’s only member, may be flouting those rules. To maintain the integrity of the VWP, the U.S. should bring them into line or suspend them.
If we fail to do so, the consequences will be felt in American homes and communities. That’s why Congressmen Lou Correa (D-CA) and Mike Levin (D-CA)—despite their party’s support for Biden’s open borders policies—wrote to Ambassador of Chile Juan Gabriel Valdés last month.
Noting that the “Orange County District Attorney’s office had charged 14 Chileans with burglaries and other related crimes in Orange County after entering the United States under the VWP,” the two Democrats said these “dramatically increasing” incidents of crimes gave them “strong concerns regarding Chile’s participation” in the program. More specifically, they honed in on how “inadequate background information and other history on such individuals” has made the VWP vulnerable in Chile.
On this matter, of course, Correa and Levin are correct. And despite the mountains of illegal immigration being encouraged and facilitated under their party’s watch through DHS’s growing list of unauthorized mass parole programs, conservatives should welcome the fact that some Democrats support upholding critical standards in the VWP. Indeed, the number of criminals entering the country via the VWP may be small in comparison to the tens of thousands of illegal aliens that the administration releases into the interior every month, but that doesn’t mean it is not worth addressing. Every offense committed by an alien with a serious criminal record is a preventable one, and with bipartisan support, it may be possible to prevent Chile’s abuse of the VWP.
Following the Rules and Follow-Through
VWP membership means that most Chileans can bypass the visa process, in which a foreign national must fill out an application form, pay a $185 fee, and appear in person at a U.S. Embassy to be interviewed by a consular officer. With the VWP, an intending traveler only has to fill out an online application, which costs $21, under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). If ESTA gives the green light, VWP-member nationals can travel to the U.S. without a visa for tourism or for business for up to 90 days. In exchange, the VWP countries extend similar visa-free travel to Americans.
Because of this easy access, the VWP is limited to countries with low rates of illegal immigration who have committed to sharing information with U.S. authorities to prevent known criminals or terrorists from taking advantage of the program. Chile had to sign several information-sharing agreements before it was allowed into the VWP. But signing these agreements doesn’t mean much if countries fail to follow through.
VWP members are supposed to share their country’s criminal records in real-time with U.S. authorities. But if a VWP member country doesn’t share its records properly with the U.S., or if the authorities don’t respond to requests for follow-up investigations, the integrity of the program is undermined. Chile’s president, Gabriel Boric, comes from the far Left—a political faction that doesn’t tend to support law enforcement—so it should come as no surprise that criminals have started using the VWP to enter the U.S. on his watch. But domestic political leanings are no excuse for failing to adhere to an international agreement. DHS should insist on the Chileans keeping their part of the VWP deal or else suspend them from the program.
Latin America’s only other VWP member, Argentina, was allowed into the VWP in 1999 but was kicked out in 2002, under the George W. Bush administration, when the U.S. saw a “pronounced increase in the number of Argentine nationals attempting to use the VWP to enter the United States to live and work illegally.”
To maintain its privilege of being Latin America’s only VWP member, Chile needs to ensure that its citizens with criminal records or suspected affiliations are known to U.S. immigration authorities so they cannot exploit the privilege of visa-free travel to injure or rob Americans in California or anywhere else. If any crimes are committed by its citizens, Chile needs to assist with the investigation, prosecution, and repatriation of the offenders, just as the U.S. would.
This piece originally appeared in 1945