Senate Republicans to Obama: Stop Issuing Visas to Ebola Nations

(Above image: President Obama talks with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in the Oval Office, Oct. 16, 2014. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans fired off a letter addressed personally to President Obama expressing “grave concerns” about the lack of an Ebola travel ban and criticizing his “seemingly inflexible position.” The letter asks the President to immediately halt issuing visas to travelers from the three West African nations hardest-hit by Ebola: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Ranking Member of Senate Judiciary Committee
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Ranking Member of Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight over immigration and visa policies. The lead Republican on the committee is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Co-signatories include senators Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn.

[quote]”The Ebola epidemic is a national security issue, and a threat to global security. And, we couldn’t agree more with the American people that a travel ban must be put in place to protect our homeland and reduce any spread of the virus.”–letter to President Obama from Senate Judiciary Republicans[/quote]

The letter quotes State Department figures in reporting that since the Ebola outbreak began in March through September 27, 2014, visas were issued to 6,398 nationals from the three countries in question.

  • 3,135 for Liberians
  • 1,472 for Sierra Leoneans
  • 1,791 for Guineans

The Centers for Disease Control and Obama administration officials have insisted that a travel ban would make things worse, not better. However, dozens of countries have instituted travel bans and some experts say it should not be dismissed in the U.S. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found two-thirds of those polled back Ebola travel restrictions.

Read the senators’ letter to President Obama

Speaking yesterday after a cabinet meeting, President Obama reiterated his opposition to a travel ban.

[quote]”If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we’ve put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance. People do not readily disclose their information. They may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place. And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease. They’re less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly. And as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less.”–President Obama[/quote]

However, the President seemed to open a crack in the door for the first time indicating he could be convinced to consider travel restrictions in the future.

“Now, I continue to push and ask our experts whether, in fact, we are doing what’s adequate in order to protect the American people. If they come back to me and they say that there are some additional things that we need to do, I assure you we will do it.”

Read the President’s Oct. 16 remarks about Ebola

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