On Thursday, the Senate will vote on S. 744, a highly flawed comprehensive immigration “reform” bill. As is often the case with comprehensive bills, S. 744 is full of handouts, pork, and special-interest deals. One example of this lies in provisions that would extend the funding of BrandUSA, a government-run public-relations corporation meant to promote international travel to the U.S.
Under current law, the U.S. Corporation for Travel Promotion, created by Congress in 2011 and better known as Brand USA, would receive up to $100 million a year until 2015 in matching funds from the government to spend on promoting travel to the United States. Under S. 744, however, Brand USA would receive this funding indefinitely.
Brand USA is full of “mismanagement, waste, and cronyism,” as a Senate report last year made clear. Just a few notable instances of such waste include:
- A lavish launch party in London that cost over $200,000;
- $84,000 in legal fees for services including the development of a lobbying strategy, despite the fact that Brand USA is prohibited by Congress from engaging in lobbying activities; and
- Volunteer board members have billed their time at a rate of $258 an hour, claiming it as in-kind support worthy of matching federal funds.
Currently, Brand USA is funded partly by a $10 travel promotion fee on every visitor using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), the program used to screen and authorize visitors from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) member nations. VWP makes it easier for low-risk, pre-cleared individuals to visit the U.S. and spend their money here. What this means essentially is that Brand USA’s efforts to promote international travel are funded in part by taxing other international travelers.
Of course, just when you thought Congress couldn’t get this issue more wrong, S. 744 adds another $16 fee to fund border processing efforts. Reducing wait times and easing legitimate travel across the border is certainly an important goal and one vital to encouraging greater international travel to the U.S., but funding it on the backs of other international travelers seems to work at a cross purpose.
Instead of indefinitely extending the funding of BrandUSA, the U.S. should be returning those responsibilities to the private sector and removing key barriers to visiting the U.S. Indeed, beyond abolishing Brand USA, Congress and the Administration should remove other barriers, such as the 100 percent visa interview requirement, which is not risk-based and has only led to long interview wait times and additional expenses. The U.S. should also expand the VWP by removing mandates that are neither cost-effective nor security enhancing.
Immigration reform should make it easier and less burdensome for visitors to come to the U.S. Sadly, S. 744 does just the opposite.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly linked funding for BrandUSA to “casino cronyism” and incorrectly explained how funding for BrandUSA would change under S. 744. It also misstated when and how provisions affecting BrandUSA were added to the bill.