November 30, 2023, Washington, D.C. –The National Immigration Project, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, Muslim Advocates, and Van Der Hout LLP today submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for information about how the United States is monitoring the Israeli government’s compliance with the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.
Under the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, nationals from certain designated countries can enter the U.S. as temporary visitors without first obtaining a visa. In order for a country to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, it must meet a number of conditions by law, including offering reciprocal privileges to U.S. citizens – i.e., treating all U.S. citizens the same, without imposing restrictions on entry into or visits within the partner country based on national or ethnic identities.
Months before Israel was admitted into the Visa Waiver Program, in July 2023, the United States and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established different classes of U.S. citizens subject to different treatment by Israel. In particular, the MOU singled out various categories of Palestinian-Americans based on their “residency” and authorized Israel to discriminate against U.S. citizens who are residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government has since prevented Palestinian Americans from entering Israel from the West Bank, raising new concerns regarding that government’s non-compliance with the Visa Waiver Program’s requirements and even the terms of the discriminatory MOU.
“Less than a month into its participation in the Visa Waiver Program, the Israeli government has flouted the basic requirements of the program,” said Amber Qureshi, Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Project. “This lack of oversight and disregard of even the most basic rule of law is emblematic of the carte blanche approach that the U.S. government has taken with regards to the Israeli government, whether through its complicity in that government’s unfolding genocide in Gaza or its failure to protect U.S. citizens from harm and discrimination when they seek to visit Israel.”
Advocates had raised concerns about Israel’s eligibility from the outset, highlighting the country’s long history of discriminatory treatment of Americans of Palestinian descent. These concerns were amplified following the signing of the MOU, with advocates noting that it was replete with provisions that enshrined Israel's discriminatory treatment of Palestinians, was in violation of the reciprocity requirements under the governing statute, and would inevitably result in discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin.
The National Immigration Project (NIPNLG) is a membership organization of attorneys, advocates, and community members who are driven by the belief that all people should be treated with dignity, live freely, and flourish. We litigate, advocate, educate, and build bridges across movements to ensure that those most impacted by the immigration and criminal systems are uplifted and supported. Learn more at nipnlg.org. Follow NIPNLG on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @NIPNLG.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.