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Bill would waive special visa requirement for foreign journalists

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Bill would waive special visa requirement for foreign journalists

  • U.S. House Rep. Zoe Lofgren has proposed a bill that would change a federal immigration law requiring special visas for foreign news media.

Sep. 16, 2004 — Foreign reporters could come to the United States without special journalist visas under a bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Journalism is the only profession singled out in a federal law requiring journalists coming to the United States to work to obtain special visas from the Department of Homeland Security.

Fourteen journalists have been detained and sent home by U.S. officials since March 2003, according to Lofgren’s office. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is using the Immigration and Nationality Act, on the books since the 1980s, to require the visas.

The department offers a visa waiver program allowing citizens from 27 “friendly” nations to travel visa-free to the U.S. for up to 90 days for tourism or business, but eligibility is not extended to members of the foreign news media.

Lofgren introduced the bill after British journalist Elena Lappin, a reporter for The Guardian in London, was detained at Los Angeles International Airport on May 3 for not having a journalist’s visa.

“The problem is not misinterpretation of the law administered incorrectly by a few immigration agents,” Lofgren wrote in an e-mail response to questions. “It is with our immigration law that singles out the foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media.”

The bill “would allow journalists like Lappin to enter the U.S. just like other short-term business travelers,” Lofgren said. “The press should not be singled out and burdened with fewer options and higher standards for entry into the U.S.”

Democrat Reps. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Karen McCarthy of Missouri and Rep. Major Owens of New York are co-sponsoring the bill. Lofgren hopes the bill, in the House Committee on the Judiciary, will pass before Congress adjourns later this year, she said.

“It is now up to the Republican chairman of the immigration subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee to schedule a hearing and a markup of this bill,” Lofgren said.

(H.R. 4823) CB

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