Republicans Oppose Lifting Visa Restrictions on Libyans Because…#Benghazi

The interior of the burnt US consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 13, 2012. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages)

The interior of the burnt US consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 13, 2012. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages)

“It makes no sense to me!” roared Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The Utah Republican, joined by other GOP members, on Thursday spoke passionately about blocking an Obama administration plan to rescind a restriction on Libyans from coming to the United States to study nuclear science. Why? Reasons one, two and three seemed to be: Benghazi.

Chaffetz’s House Oversight and Government Reform National Security subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee’s Information and Border Security subcommittee held a joint hearing focused specifically on the proposed change.

At issue is a US a federal regulatory code provision that places a number of restrictions on Libyan nationals or any person acting on behalf of a Libyan entity inside the United States who is “engaging in aviation maintenance, flight operations, or nuclear-related studies or training is terminated.” Among the limitation are provisions related to Visas for skilled students and workers: “Employment authorization or practical training” and “Request for reinstatement of student status.”

The Obama administration proposed rescinding the regulation after Moammar Gadhafi was removed from power in Libya and later killed.

Since, the Obama administration has attempted to help Libya establish a functional democratic-leaning government and squash Islamic extremist groups causing instability there.

Big mistake, Republicans say. In fact, Republicans see it as something of a moral failing, and on Thursday renewed their calls to avoid providing any aid to Tripoli until the perpetrators of the September 2012 attack in Benghazi that left four Americans dead are apprehended — or killed — and Washington can be sure no extremists are operating inside Libya.

For over two weeks following the Benghazi attack, “we couldn’t even send our FBI into eastern Libya … because it was so dangerous,” Chaffetz said. “Yet, we want to give those same people visas to come into the United States to study nuclear scientists? Wow!”

Government officials pushed back, arguing multiple US agencies have in place multiple screening processes to ensure the opposite of Chaffetz’s assertion: That Libyans applying for Visas to study nuclear science are not doing so to launch attacks inside the US nor return to work for al-Qaida.

“Over the past 31 years and since the implementation of [the Libyan restriction], the U.S. government has constructed a Visa vetting process that leverages state-of-the-art technology, extensive information sharing, highly-skilled and trained officers, and thorough interagency cooperation,” lan Bersin, assistant homeland security secretary of international affairs and DHS’s chief diplomatic officer, told the House panels.

Democratic members used their allotted time, as did Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., to argue scuttling the Libyan Visa restriction “ seems reasonable … given fall of Gadhafi.”

Tierney and other Democrats pointed out the Defense Department is among the US agencies lobbying to get rid of the Libya policy.

“DoD, not known for being soft on terror,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., “ is requesting that the Libya [restriction] be rescinded.”

The system described by DHS’s Bersin “keeps out the good guys and keeps in the good guys,” Conyers said. “Libya, and our relationship, with Libya has changed dramatically since the policy was promulgated in 1983.”

Republicans are having none of that kind of thinking.

Chaffetz wants even more restrictions on Libyans, saying he “will sponsor a bill that says if you are from a state sponsor of terror, you cannot get a Visa.”

And Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., was breathless in his criticism of a February 2013 memo on the subject penned by Bersin and sent to then-DHS chief Janet Napolitano.

“The memo fails to mention the attack in Benghazi,” Goodlatte said. “The provision was put in place to protect Americans from terrorists from dangerous countries. The Obama administration contends it is no longer needed.”

Showing the administration’s desired lifting of the Visas-for-Libyans restriction is going nowhere in the House, Goodlatte declared a threat to the US from inside the North African country “persists today.”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett