Congressman Gus Bilirakis speaks during a community forum May 1 at the Palm Harbor Library.
PALM HARBOR – Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, expressed the need for additional safeguards and background checks on foreign students applying for United States visas during a speaking engagement May 1 in Palm Harbor.
Addressing a community forum at Palm Harbor Library, Bilirakis said there is a strong need to screen students more closely to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country.
“This student visa program is broken,” he said. “This guy from Saudi Arabia they questioned the other day came over on a student visa. The 9/11 bombers, the Christmas bomber, they came over on a student visa.
“What we’re doing (now) is rubber stamping these applications, which is dangerous,” said Bilirakis. “There’s nothing wrong with kids coming over here for the right reasons. But there are about 1 to 2 percent that are not safe and they’re not being screened.”
With that in mind, Bilirakis sponsored House Bill 640, also known as the Student Visa Security Improvement Act, which was filed Feb. 13 and is currently in committee.
If passed, the bill would require the secretary of Homeland Security to strengthen student visa background checks and improve the monitoring of foreign students in the United States.
“This is a risk issue, a safety issue,” Bilirakis said. “So I’ve been working on that and placing visa security units around the world in high risk areas.”
On another front, Bilirakis, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and vice chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he has secured a new bed tower for the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, replacing the current facility that was built in 1971.
“The federal government decided to give us money for a new parking garage and a second story to the polytrauma unit,” said Bilirakis. “Then they gave us money to refurbish the bed tower. We said fine but with that money we can build a new bed tower and give back $500 million to the Treasury over 10 years. Finally, after a lot of pressure (the Veterans Administration) agreed.”
On the topic of gun control, Bilirakis reiterated his support for the Second Amendment, noting that the mental health of certain gun owners “is the big problem.”
He said any new legislation requiring background checks of gun buyers would duplicate current laws on the books.
“I want to solve the problem any way we possibly can,” said Bilirakis. “We need to take away guns from people that are mentally ill. I don’t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. We need to solve the problem, not pass legislation that’s not going to solve the issue. Once you put (new laws) on the books, they’re not reversible.”
On the topic of immigration, Bilirakis said he “has a problem” with the Obama Administration’s immigration proposal that would provide existing legal immigrants with a “path to citizenship.”
“I think we need to secure our borders first,” Bilirakis said.
When asked if anything can be done to break the gridlock in Congress, Bilirakis said relationships are the key.
“If you remember, things got done when Ronald Reagan was president,” he said. “Relationships that existed then are lacking now. We need leadership in the House and the Senate. Until we see that, you’re not going to see too much change.”
Bilirakis said he “crosses the aisle” constantly. “That’s how we get things done,” he said.