Sunday, February 20, 2005

Please, members of Congress, do something about an arrant case of discrimination against a loyal American friend.

Citizens of Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark — all the “old” members of the European Union — do not need visas to come to the United States and stay here for up to 90 days. Citizens of Poland, however, must go through the long-winding bureaucratic visa application.

Poland is the only former Soviet satellite that provided significant military support in Iraq, thereby incurring German and French anger. By example, Poland helped persuade other European countries to tone down anti-American rhetoric on the Iraq war. Despite this positive record, Poland not only received no military aid (or any other aid, e.g., scholarships for Polish students), but it is not even allowed to join the visa-less club. Is Poland being taken for granted?

Virtually all Polish political parties and Polish-Americans — some 9 million of them — support the proposal to allow Poles to come to the United States without visas. A year ago, before Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski visited the White House, he promised to raise the issue of visas with President Bush. He did — to no effect.

Last summer, when Lech Walesa visited Washington, he was to do the same. Apparently under his influence, Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, submitted a Senate bill to admit Poles without visas. No such bill was submitted in the House.

It is not the president but Congress that decides which countries are to join the visa-less club. But President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could ask the Republican majority to rectify an injustice to the Poles.

During Miss Rice’s Feb. 5 Warsaw visit, the Feb. 9 meeting was announced between Presidents Bush and Mr. Kwasniewski in Washington. Then a “road map” for easing the visa problem was to have been made public.

At the very best, a temporary suspension of the visa requirement is now envisaged sometime in the future. The pretext for the U.S. position is that many Poles overstay their welcome once in this country. Are Poles the only Europeans who commit this awful crime? It’s safe to say many people overstay their visa expiration date.

A particular annoyance for Poles is the $100 charge by the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Poland just for the visa application form. Since most who apply do not get the visa, this is a huge loss for them.

A road map? White House pressure would convince Congress to vote positively on this issue. Discrimination against non-Germanic Central Europeans, especially Polish Catholics, is flourishing. Congress should change this policy.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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