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April 19, 2016

Senate Effort to Lift Dual Nationals Restrictions Blocked

Washington, DC – The Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to approve legislation authorizing the Federal Aviaton Administration, but an amendment authored by Sen. Jeff Flake that would repeal discriminatory Visa Waiver Program (VWP) restrictions on certain dual nationals was blocked from consideration.

Senators have offered numerous amendments to the must-pass aviation bill as it is one of the few remaining pieces of legislation that is likely to pass prior to the November elections. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered his amendment (S.Amdt.3556) two weeks ago, which is a virtual copy of the Equal Protection in Travel Act (S. 2449). 

However, the measure encountered resistance from the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). Given the rules governing the consideration of legislation in the Senate, the committee with jurisdiction over a matter must often sign off on its consideration. 

Nevertheless, Sen. Flake continued to work to push the amendment forward. On the Senate floor earlier last week, Flake outlined a strong case for removing the dual national restriction. You can see the speech below:

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In the speech, Sen. Flake argues that the dual national restriction “does not provide any meaningful security benefit and instead it is a detriment to the country and the vast majority of dual nationals who provide a great benefit to the United States.”

Flake highlighted how difficult it is to actually enforce the restrictions given that they are imprecise and no rules govern who actually constitutes a dual national. Flake argued that the measure was largely unenforceable and “unfairly prohibits individual’s participation based on meaningless standards.”

The Arizona Senator also highlighted the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on American travelers, noting the European Commission’s recent concerns with the dual national restrictions and favorable view of the Equal Protection in Travel Act. According to Flake, “the United States passport is the most powerful in the world, and we need to ensure that it remains that way. We should not threaten that status for a provision that is both imprecise and impossible to administer.”

While Flake’s amendment was not considered as part of the FAA authorization, there may be further opportunities to add the lifting of dual nationals restrictions to other legislation. However, with key Senate leaders apparently opposed to undoing the discriminatory measures, there is a possibility the issue will not be resolved until after the elections or when a new Congress is sworn-in in January.

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