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Lawmakers Questioning Visa Issues and Changes

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SACRAMENTO --

In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, lawmakers are considering whether stronger screening efforts might prevent would-be terrorists from entering the country.

One of the San Bernardino shooters, Tashfeen Malik, came to the U.S. legally under a fiancee visa, despite being involved in radical Islamic circles.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed a bill that would strengthen restrictions for visa waiver programs, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. and stay without a visa, for 90 days or less.

Feinstein’s bill would not allow anyone who visited Iraq or Syria within the past five years to enter the U.S. under the waiver program, but would be mandated to enter through a tourist visa instead.

"Just fixing the visa problem, it isn't going to solve the whole problem because what we have here is a radicalization of individuals who have been here for many years,” said Hector Barajas, political analyst and former spokesman for the California Republican Party.

Her bill says first-time visitors must be fingerprinted, and screened at U.S. embassies in their home countries, rather than in the U.S.

"It's making sure that we know who is here in the country, that we've got background checks on them and that there are certain individuals we end up monitoring,” Barajas.

"There's already a lot of delays from countries that we call the targeted countries of terrorism,” said immigration attorney Douglas Lehrman.

Lehrman says the policy may be discriminatory, and wouldn’t have stopped San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik who came to the U.S. under a fiancee visa, not a waiver.

"Hindsight is 2020, should we have gone through her passport, is everyone whose gone to the hajj going to be a suspect?" Lehrman asks.

He says terrorists can radicalize just as easily once they've entered the U.S.

"That's going to be the hardest to track and we're not going to be able to prevent all of those,” said terrorism expert and Sacramento State professor Stephanie Mizrahi.

To fight terrorism in the U.S., experts say, will mean multiple agencies collaborating more often.

"Make the assessment, change our policies accordingly. What you will see is a lot more coordination between immigration and law enforcement,” said Lehrman.

Feinstein’s proposal is being watched closely by the nation’s tourism industry, which fears tough measures may complicate or reduce travel to the United States.

U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a statement a House of Representative’s alternative to Feinstein’s bill is, he believes, a more limited approach that would bring “thoughtful solutions that will enhance America’s security.”

He warned congress against a knee jerk reaction that could hurt the tourism industry.