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Travel and Visa Restrictions Prepared Remarks
Today, President Trump reaffirmed his oath to protect our Nation by raising the bar of security around the world—ensuring that those who wish to enter our country are properly screened and vetted.
In issuing today's Proclamation, President Trump makes clear that certain countries who fail to meet minimum security and information sharing requirements will not enjoy the same freedom of travel to the United States as those who do.
The President’s Proclamation imposes travel restrictions on six countries who fail to meet these standards—Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
These restrictions are the product of a comprehensive and systematic global assessment conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the interagency.
These restrictions are tailored to country-specific deficiencies, as well as travel-related risk to the Homeland.
These restrictions do not reflect animus or bias against any particular country, region, ethnicity, race, or religion.
We follow the threat—there is no predetermined outcome.
These restrictions are the result of these countries’ unwillingness or inability to adhere to our identity management, information sharing, national security, and public safety assessment criteria—all of which has been communicated clearly and fully to every country.
As Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, it is my duty to fulfill the President’s utmost responsibility: protecting the American people.
I am confident that today’s Proclamation builds on the success we have achieved to date in raising the global baseline for security.
This afternoon, I would like to take the opportunity to speak to:
- Why DHS evaluates foreign identity management and information sharing;
- What we look for;
- How the process works, and;
- What we learned about the six countries covered in the President’s proclamation.
Section I: Why?
First and foremost—it is the fundamental right of any sovereign nation to know exactly who is entering their country and for what purpose.
For DHS, we must be able to answer three basic questions to determine admissibility of a foreign national:
- Is this person who they claim to be?
- Do they pose a threat to public security and safety?
- And, do they qualify for admission to our country under the Immigration and Nationality Act?
While the U.S. is the world’s most generous and welcoming country, unfortunately, there are evil people who seek to travel to the United States with the intent of harming and killing Americans.
For the safety of our towns and our families, we need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, the true identities and information about the people who seek to enter our country.
Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has built an infrastructure to detect terrorists seeking admission to the United States. However, we are still heavily dependent on documentation provided by a prospective traveler and the information provided by a foreign government.
For this reason, the United States Government continues to institute tougher vetting and tighter screening standards.
In March of 2017, President Trump imposed travel restrictions on seven countries that lacked either the capacity or the political will to adhere to these standards.
In doing so, the President exercised his legal authorities in Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act—an authority that was upheld by the Supreme Court in a June 2018 decision.
Pursuant to the President’s Executive Order 13780, DHS established identity management, information sharing, and public security assessment criteria that all countries must satisfy. Since then, we have systematically reviewed countries against the established criteria five times—or every 180 days.
The Department has also continued to assess ways to further improve its processes for measuring how countries perform under the assessment criteria.
From July 2018 through August 2019, DHS updated its methodology to assess compliance with the assessment criteria. This allowed for a more in-depth analysis and yielded more granularity and increased accuracy regarding each country’s performance on the criteria. As a result, this latest review gave us the most detailed picture yet into the degree of countries’ compliance.
Section II: What We Look For
As outlined by the President’s Proclamation, we’ve assessed countries against criteria that generally fall into the following three categories based on international standards and best practices:
Category #1: Identity-Management Information
- Does a country issue modern, electronic passports?
- Does a country report on the loss of theft of their nationals’ passports to Interpol or directly to the U.S.?
- And, does a country share, on request, other identity information that we can use to validate the identity of the passport holder?
Category #2: Information Sharing
- Does a country share information on known or suspected terrorists?
- Does a country share information on criminals in a manner that allows them to be identified prior to admission to the U.S.?
- And, does a country share examples of passports so we can train our officers to detect fraudulent documents or alterations?
Category #3: Terrorism and Public Safety Risk
- Does the country pose an elevated risk to the United States due to terrorist travel, crime or illegal migration?
In category three, we base this assessment on the collective knowledge of the Intelligence Community with respect to terrorist travel. It is also based on concrete operational statistics—such as the frequency with which a country’s nationals commit offenses while in the United States and violate the terms of their admission.
Risk is considered in addition to compliance because gaps and vulnerabilities that we identify are even more concerning when there is a greater likelihood—or past track record—of terrorists and criminals targeting the U.S. from the country.
Throughout this process, we have been transparent and communicative with countries. In March 2019, the U.S. Government formally demarched each country with the enhanced assessment criteria and engaged countries to answer questions, explored potential solutions and to develop compliance plans.
Now, let me explain how the process works.
Section III: How the Process Works
To evaluate a country’s performance against these criteria, DHS has established a consistent process in coordination with the Departments of State, Justice, and Defense—as well as the Intelligence Community.
DHS spent months collecting data from U.S. Embassies abroad, the Intelligence Community, DHS border and immigration enforcement actions, multilateral organizations and, when appropriate, direct engagement with the foreign government.
All of this information is evaluated by subject matter experts in the Department. The results are then put into an assessment model that ranks all countries in a consistent way. But this is just one part of the process.
Next, DHS takes its findings to our U.S. Government partners so that other factors, outside of DHS’s expertise, can be considered and evaluated.
Specifically, national security and foreign policy considerations for each country are factored in and evaluated.
Section IV: Six Countries
Through this assessment process, six countries have been identified for new travel restrictions. Together with the existing seven countries, these thirteen countries are among the lowest ranking countries in the world. To be clear—this is thirteen countries out of the approximately 200 countries in the world that we have assessed.
As mentioned previously, the six countries with new travel restrictions are Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.
Unlike the previous seven countries identified in 2017, the good news is that there are prospects for near-term improvement for these six countries—each has a functioning government, each has control of its territory, and each maintains productive relations with the United States. In addition, most have expressed a willingness to work with the U.S. to address their deficiencies.
However, the current identified deficiencies create vulnerabilities that terrorists, criminals and fraudulent actors could exploit to harm U.S. national security and public safety. As such, travel restrictions are necessary to mitigate the vulnerabilities.
For four countries – Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria – the President has imposed travel restrictions on immigrant visas.
The reason is straightforward – individuals who have entered the U.S. on immigrant visas are challenging to remove even if, after admission into the U.S., the individual is linked to disqualifying information such as terrorist connections, criminal ties, or misrepresented information.
And because each of these countries have deficiencies in sharing terrorist, criminal or identity information, it is likely that information reflecting that a visa applicant is a threat may not be available at the time the visa or entry is approved. This is unacceptable.
Two countries – Sudan and Tanzania – performed marginally better and the President decided to impose travel restrictions on Diversity Visas. This is a less severe sanction compared to the general restriction on immigrant visas, given the significantly fewer number of aliens affected.
As you can see, each of these restricted countries is restricted for a different reason. Subsequently, we are not imposing a blanket ban. Rather, our approach is tailored to minimize the risk that a terrorist or criminal uses a country’s identity management or information sharing deficiencies to gain residence in the United States.
We are confident in this tailored, country-by-country approach. Why? Because it has already yielded improvements in foreign government identity management and information sharing.
Perhaps most notably—in April of 2018, the President removed travel restrictions imposed on the Republic of Chad. After Chad shared its exemplars, improved lost and stolen passport reporting, and deepened its exchange of terrorism information, this country was removed from the list. This is proof that countries are becoming safer and that we’re raising the baseline for global security.
Furthermore, in the last year alone, we have seen notable improvements made by countries informed about their specific deficiencies.
- Two countries are sharing criminal information with the United States that they were not previously sharing.
- Two countries have begun or improved their reporting to Interpol.
- And three countries have provided examples of their passports to the U.S.
Impact of Restrictions
I say this to demonstrate that these restrictions are not permanent if a country commits to change.
In fact, the restrictions imposed by the President reflect our greater confidence that these countries can make meaningful improvements in a reasonable period of time. If the restricted countries do, the President may remove travel restrictions at any time.
Conversely, the President has also determined that if improvements are not made, additional restrictions may be added.
Reminders on Restrictions
Let me make two reminders before I wrap up.
First, as I said before, it is important to remember that this Proclamation only restricts entry on certain categories of immigrant visas. Family members can still visit their loved ones, businesses can still employ qualified candidates, and other visits can take place on a temporary basis with a non-immigrant visa.
The Proclamation applies to intending immigrants abroad who have not yet received an immigrant visa. Intending immigrants abroad who have a valid visa, but have not yet entered the United States, may still do so—so long as they meet all other conditions of admissibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Further, legal permanent residents may continue to reside in the United States, as long as they continue to meet the terms of their residency.
Second, the Department would also remind nationals of these six countries that decide to travel to the United States to adhere closely to the terms of their visa. Overstaying a visa could have significant immigration impacts on the traveler. It could also prolong the duration of these travel restrictions.
The Proclamation will take effect at 12:01am on February 21st – 21 days from today. Travelers on their way to the U.S. will not be denied entry as a result of the Proclamation before this date.
The Department is committed to an orderly implementation of the President’s decision once effective.
I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work of the employees of the Department that have undertaken this historic work and assessment. Because of their perseverance and dedication, the American people are safer.
I would also like to thank our interagency partners, specifically the Department of State, who has been side by side with the Department through much of this work.
And lastly, I applaud the President for taking this critical action to protect the American people and raise the baseline of security around the world.