(CNSNews.com) – The House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation requiring the administration to produce an annual scorecard assessing how well countries around the world are securing their borders against travel by terrorists and foreign fighters.
The U.S. government would then be able to provide more focused capacity-building assistance to partners needing help to close gaps in border security – but also to suspend foreign assistance to prod governments that are not meeting minimum standards, to improve.
The Counterterrorism Screening and Assistance Act, which passed with overwhelming support, was authored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) early this year, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) attack on Paris last November.
“The horrific terror attack in Paris that killed over 100 people showed us just how easy it is for terrorists to move undetected across borders,” Zeldin said Monday. “This attack was largely carried out by European nationals – many of whom traveled to train and fight in Syria and then later returned to Europe through Greece and Turkey.”
“Although local authorities already knew some of the attackers, they were still able to move across borders without detection, and in some cases used fraudulent passports,” he said. “It’s essential that the United States works with the international community to monitor and stop the movement of terrorists abroad.”
The bill passed by a 371-2 margin, with the nays coming from libertarian Republican Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.).
It requires the State Department to submit a report to Congress every two years, identifying countries as high-, medium- or low-risk for travel by terrorists and foreign fighters.
Factors examined will include proximity to the U.S., last points of departure to the U.S., visa application and rejection rates, recent threats, travel trends and terror threat environments in each country.
The bill says U.S. assistance to foreign governments should be prioritized for countries determined to have the highest risk.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), informing Congress, may then provide training and non-lethal equipment and border security systems to governments, if doing so will further U.S. homeland security interests, or help the foreign government’s ability to mitigate terrorist and other threats.
“It is important for the national security of the United States to assist foreign partners in closing security gaps which may allow terrorists and foreign fighters to travel internationally, avoiding detection,” the text states.
“Building foreign partner capacity to combat terrorist travel helps extend the United States security beyond its border to mitigate threats before they reach the United States.”
Speaking on the House floor in support of the bill, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said that as long as terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS maintain safe havens, “we are under constant threat at home.”
“Given the high number of foreign fighters returning home from ISIS strongholds in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, there is a recognized and urgent need for improved border security and information sharing between governments,” he said.
Royce said the provision allowing for a suspension of assistance would provide similar incentives to those the U.S. employs in response to human rights or trafficking violations, calling it “important leverage.”
Countries that risk losing U.S. assistance will include those that do not make meaningful attempts to identify and monitor terrorists and foreign fighters within their territory; do not cooperate with and exchange counterterrorism information with other governments; do not employ effective screening and border-crossing controls; and do not have controls in place to prevent forgery, counterfeiting and fraudulent use of passports.