In the wake of Islamic State's (ISIS) lethal Brussels bombings Tuesday in which 34 were murdered and around 200 others were wounded, a top US lawmaker has warned Belgian terrorists are still able to enter America without a visa or thorough security checks.
Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon late Tuesday that Congress has warned the administration of US President Barack Obama that Belgium is a terror hotspot, but despite repeated requests the current program has not been changed.
According to the US visa waiver program citizens of Belgium, which is a partner nation in the program, can enter America with minimal background checks – meaning radicalized Muslims can legally travel to the US at will.
“The visa waiver reform, this is something we have been perusing and the (Obama) administration has brushed us off at every turn,” DeSantis told Washington Free Beacon.
He noted the current program does not require serious security checks on travelers from terror hotspots, such as the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels that has been a key terror breeding ground.
DeSantis and other lawmakers first raised the warning after the ISIS attacks in Paris in November, in which 130 people were murdered. The core members of the terror cell hailed from Molenbeek, but the US administration has yet to change its policy on the enclave.
"It’s the case that if those folks are citizens of Belgium they qualify for the visa waiver program and can hop on a plane and get here. Clearly, that is not adequate given what happened," said the Representative.
He said the Obama administration "even takes the position it’s safer to allow someone to come in on a visa waiver than make them get one, it’s kind of crazy. You’re not going to be able to have intelligence on everyone there because there are so many potential recruits. It’s a clear vulnerability."
"Paris attackers could have come here"
DeSantis added that the administration has not been deporting those who overstay their visas, potentially allowing racialized jihadists to disappear in America to plan an attack.
"There’s no enforcement once they get here. Hundreds of thousands of people come over and then overstay (their visas). You are not going to be removed under current policy under this administration."
During a hearing on the program back in December, he said, "at least six of the Paris attackers could have attempted to enter the country under this program."
Regarding Molenbeek, he warned the neighborhood "is a hellhole that is filled with Belgian national Islamic radicals who qualify to travel to the US without a visa under the visa waiver program."
Speaking with the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday, he said that the Paris attacks had made him realize jihadist attacks could come from Europe and not just Syria and other terror bastions.
"The problem was not just people coming from Syria. There was a major vulnerability from places in Europe and this Molenbeek neighborhood was one of the most egregious that I had seen.”
Homeland Security: Policy remains the same
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday acknowledged Belgium is indeed still part of the visa waiver program, and no change has been made in the policy following the attacks.
“Though we do not require Belgian citizens to have a visa to travel here for business or tourism purposes, both the Transportation Security Administration and US Customs and Border Protection have procedures in place to identify and prevent travel here from Belgium by individuals of suspicion,” DHS secretary Jeh Johnson said in in a statement.
“All travelers arriving in the United States are vetted against the US Terrorist Screening Database, regardless of whether they arrive with a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorization," he said.
"We continually evaluate whether more screening is necessary, particularly in light of today’s attacks."
However, DeSantis said the screening methods are not sufficient as the US is limited in being able to vet jihadists on the terrorist database, as there is such a large number of radicalized European Muslims.