Nationals from 27 countries (including Western Europe) can enter the U.S. without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program.
Today, roughly one half of temporary visitors to the U.S. come in under the relatively new Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The streamlined visitor entry program became permanent in 2000 just in time for 9/11. In fact, Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted 9/11 conspirator, entered the U.S. on the VWP, Feb 23, 2001. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was also a would-be VWP entrant.
In a review of the program when it was in pilot prior to 2000, INS inspectors found that "identified terrorists and criminals believed they would receive less scrutiny during the inspection process if they applied under the VWPP and would have a greater chance of entering without being intercepted.”
That’s for sure – there is no U.S. consular interview or pre-inspection for travelers from VWP countries. Their first encounter with U.S. officials is on U.S. soil where they are pretty much waived through if they have a passport from a VWP country. After all, these are mostly Western countries with which we have relaxed travel reciprocity agreements. But wait, the current issue of the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal notes in an article (The Role Of Immigration In A Coordinated National Security Policy, Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, Vol 21:383 2007 by Donald Kerwin and Margaret D. Stock) [PDF] that a "A recent quantitative study of more than 300 Islamic terrorists found that forty-one percent were nationals ofWestern countries…"
No surprise, the article finds that “Terrorists both live in VWP countries and can be expected to use stolen passports from VWP countries.”.
Belgium recently had the highest rate of stolen passports in the world. Part of a Belgian passport’s value on the black market is as an entrée to the U.S. on the VWP.
Though the USA PATRIOT Act now requires participating countries to issue machine-readable passports which include biometric identifiers and and other recent U.S. law requires these countries to track and report lost or stolen passports, don’t expect major changes soon since the VWP supposedly provides economic benefits to the U.S. and convenience to U.S. travelers.
The Law Journal reports
An April 2004 report by the DHS Inspector General criticized: (1) the program’s uncertain leadership; (2) its failure to perform mandatory reviews of participating countries; (3) its failure to collect information on the use of fraudulent passports in the program; (4) inadequate training on passport fraud for inspectors at ports-of-entry; and (5) the ability of VWP participants to avoid the US-VISIT entry/exit system. The program remains the U.S. immigration system’s area of greatest vulnerability. (Italics added)
When Donald Kerwin, the Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. and an advisor on immigration to the promiscuously open-borders U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is alarmed, the situation is truly dire.