Rep Zoe Lofgren Statement on Immigration Hearing into Visa Obstacles Barring the Training of Libyan Pilots to Help the Libyan Government Defeat Extremists

April 3, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, delivered the following statement today during a joint hearing with the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee titled "Overturning 30 Years of Precedent:  Is the Administration Ignoring the Dangers of Training Libyan pilots and Nuclear Scientists?"

Click here for video of Rep. Lofgren's Statement.  Statement as delivered:

Based on the letters that the Majority has sent to the Department of Homeland Security, as well as their opening statements today, I believe their concerns can be summarized as follows: the Libyan government is fragile, there are extremist elements in the region that would do us harm, so we can't lift the visa restriction because these people might somehow harm us.

This argument, however, is entirely illogical.

First, as the Department of Defense—which initiated the request to rescind the visa restriction in the first place—makes clear, the whole point of lifting the visa restriction is to help the Libyan government defeat those very extremists.  Members on both sides of the aisle—including Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Saxby Chambliss—have recognized the critical importance of helping the new democratically elected Libyan government secure itself against militant extremism in the region.

But the visa restriction actually stand in the way.  Because the restriction affects all Libyans, it means we can't even train the pro-Western forces within the Libyan Air Force on the aircraft they need to secure their own country against extremist forces.  The Libyan government's ability to fight such forces depends on being able to move troops and equipment throughout the country.  And the country currently uses Lockheed C-130 military transport planes and Boeing CH-47 cargo helicopters to do that.

But according to the Defense Department, the fleet is aging and needs repair and replacement, and many more pilots and flight crew need to be trained.  There are proposals to buy additional aircraft and parts from U.S. companies and to provide training to pilots and flight crew, but the visa restriction stands in the way of those arrangements.

Members on the other side of the aisle may raise the unfortunate attacks in Benghazi at this hearing today.  But that event actually underscores why we should lift the visa restriction. 

On the night of the attack, it was one of those very same Lockheed C-130 transport planes that the Libyan government used to rescue and evacuate the surviving consular personnel at the U.S. compound in Benghazi.  Rather than used against us, that plane helped Americans survive. 

Now, will my colleagues on the other side of the aisle nevertheless raise the Benghazi attack, as well as other terrorist incidents within Libya, as grounds for keeping the visa restriction in place?  We must keep in mind that there is a difference between the extremist forces behind these incidents and the pro-Western Libyan military that is trying to defeat them.

And that's the point of lifting the visa restriction.  Like my Majority colleagues, it—the visa restriction—simply does not differentiate between the Libyan forces we are trying to help and the forces we are trying to defeat.  It bars friend and foe alike, and that just isn't smart policy.

It gets us to the second big reason we should rescind the visa restriction.  It simply isn't needed to keep America safe from harm.

We must bear in mind that the 30-year-old Libyan visa restriction is the only such country-specific visa ban of its kind.  It's an anachronistic relic of a by-gone era.

If a ban were necessary with respect to Libya—which is not designated a state sponsor of terrorism since the Bush Administration removed them from the list in 2006—wouldn't it be even more necessary with respect to countries that are actually designated as state sponsors of terrorism?

Well those bans don't exist.  There are no country-specific bans for Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba—the countries currently listed as state sponsors of terrorism.  Nor is there a ban for rogue nations like North Korea. 

And that's because our immigration laws provide plenty of authority to prevent the travel of individuals who pose a danger to the U.S. and its interests. 

Our immigration laws already require the denial of visas to persons with suspected ties to terrorism, as well as anyone who is otherwise suspected of posing a threat to national security. 

Our immigration laws also require consular officials to deny visas for an individual whose travel raises significant foreign policy concerns.  The same is true for any individual suspected of potentially violating the terms of their visa or admission to the U.S.

Over the years, including after the attacks of September 11, 2001, this country has not seen fit to erect more country-specific restrictions like the Libyan visa ban.  Instead, the U.S. moved in a very different direction—erecting bans that actually focused on whether admission of a particular individual was helpful or harmful to U.S. interests. 

In other words, we adopted policies that allowed us to let in our friends and to keep out our enemies, rather than barring them all.

Doesn't that just make more sense?

But, unfortunately, sense is rarely what congressional hearings are about these days.  And I'm afraid all we will see today are scare tactics and political attacks on the administration.  I hope not—I hope that my fear is not grounded.  

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