Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved one of those amendments that no one pays attention to, but should. At the behest of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow the State Department to add Poland to the list of countries whose citizens don’t need visas to visit the United States.
The reason for the amendment is that Poland does not meet the statutory requirements for the Visa Waiver Program. The point of the program is to facilitate short-term travel from countries whose people are highly unlikely to become illegal aliens by remaining after their time here expires (“overstays” is the shorthand term). Current law permits only countries where our consular officers reject fewer than three percent of visa applications to be enrolled in the program (38 countries are on the current list). Poland’s rate has been between double and quadruple that threshold over the past several years.
The likelihood that waiving visas for Polish visitors would lead to increased illegal immigration isn’t mere speculation; Poland is estimated in 2013 to have been among the top 20 source countries of illegal aliens – 17th, to be exact, with more illegals here than Pakistan, Nigeria, or Venezuela. And new research suggests people overstaying visas account for the majority of new illegal immigration, meaning that Poland’s contribution to ongoing illegal immigration – even without this green light from the Senate – is probably larger than that ranking might suggest.
So why did the Senate appropriators vote to allow more illegal aliens to settle here? For the same reason other parts of our immigration system are so messed up: politicians see giving foreigners ever-easier access to the United States as a form of pork to be doled out for political ends. In this case, diplomacy and domestic politics coincide; Kirk’s press release touting the amendment’s passage gets at this combination with a subhead claiming that “Including Key Democratic Ally Poland in Program Would Boost Tourism to Chicago.” If by “tourism” he means “illegal immigration,” then I suppose he’s correct, though why being our ally should give your citizens unfettered ability to move here is not explained.
Kirk’s comments during the committee meeting itself were even more ridiculous, where he justified carving out an exception from current law for Poland this way: “It’s the best way to show Vladimir Putin that the United States is getting closer and closer to Poland as he gets closer and closer to Ukraine.” With analysis like this it’s no wonder Putin laughs at us.
Testifying before Congress 20 years ago Barbara Jordan said, “Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave.” The Kirk-Mikulski amendment to increase illegal immigration is just the latest example of why such credibility remains elusive.