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EXCLUSIVE: Two Republican senators are introducing a bill that they say would secure the Department of Homeland Security’s Visa Waiver Program by requiring information sharing agreements between government agencies and involved countries, and creating stricter penalties for non-compliance, months after a British citizen with a long criminal history entered the U.S. and took members of a Texas Synagogue hostage earlier this year.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz plan to introduce the legislation, “Securing the Visa Waiver Program Act,” on Monday.
The bill would codify an agreement between countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in order to better share information about suspected terrorists and other individuals who may be on the terrorist watch list. In addition, it would enhance law enforcement cooperation, sharing of criminal history information and set up an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance by involved countries.
“Travel to America is a privilege, not a right,” Rubio told Fox News Digital in a statement. “If foreign governments are not sharing critical information with us, then their citizens should not be able to enter the country as easily. This should be common sense. It is time to close this security loophole so we can protect the American people.”
MALIK FAISAL AKRAM: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT TEXAS SYNAGOGUE HOSTAGE SUSPECT
Cruz added: “As Americans, we should know who is coming into our country, whether they are here to work or here to visit. Information-sharing agreements will help our Homeland Security Department recognize threats in advance, so we can stop the next Beth Israel Synagogue hostage crisis before it begins.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for up to 90 days without having to obtain visas. About 20 million people travel on the program every year.
The legislation comes after British citizen Malik Faisal Akram took hostage four members of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, during a nearly 11-hour standoff in January.
The standoff ended after law enforcement shot and killed Akram and the hostages were freed.
Lawmakers said the bill is designed to address “critical vulnerabilities” exposed by Akram’s ability to enter the United States before the hostage event.
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The man, from Blackburn, England, didn’t tip any security safeguards when entering the U.S., despite a lengthy criminal history spanning several decades.
The FBI has extended investigations to London and Tel Aviv to determine whether Akram acted alone or as part of a larger terror cell.
Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.