Kaptur Should be Leading the Fight
It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, but I’m not feeling very much love for the State Department. Yesterday Poland’s newly-elected President, Lech Kaczynski,
sought to persuade President Bush and key members of Congress to make it easier for Polish citizens to visit America. The U.S. is treating our strongest most steadfast ally in Europe like a terrorist nation. While 27 Western European Countries are on the Visa Waiver Program there is a conspicuous absence of Poland. Historical there have been very close ties between the two countries.
The Polish relationship dates back to the Revolutionary War era when Polish Generals Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski made outstanding and critical contributions in the fight for American independence. During the Cold War's darkest days two Poles, Pope John Paul II and Solidarity's Lech Walesa, along with U.S. President Reagan, served as principal catalysts for leading hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans out of their enslaved existence and into the sunshine of freedom. Today, Poland continues the brave tradition of standing alongside its American friends in Afghanistan and Iraq, unlike Germany and France who have been on the Waiver Program for more than a decade.
Struggling to build a capitalistic economy after more than 40 years of Communist rule, Poland's per capita Gross Domestic Product is $12,700 compared to the $30,900 average for VWP participants. Some Poles and Americans believe that this circumstance is a prime impediment to entry into the program.
In the past two years, U.S. Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and U.S. Representatives Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) sponsored legislation to put Poland into the VWP, but their efforts have stalled possibly because some State Department officials and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) consider Poland unqualified because too many Polish visa applicants are rejected by U.S. consular officers. Certainly our U.S. Representative from Toledo Marcy Kaptur should be a major advocate for getting Poland Waiver status. Lately, she's been completely off the radar screen - on everything.
The issue has a significant domestic political consideration. The Polish-American Association estimates there are 9 million Americans of Polish descent in the country. It should not go unnoticed by politicians that 90 percent of Poles are Catholic, and their American cousins are key swing voters with heaviest concentrations in New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Poland's first freely-elected President and Nobel Laureate, Lech Walesa, described entry into the VWP as a 'matter of honor' for Poland. As president in 1991, he unilaterally abolished visa requirements for U.S. citizens visiting Poland and he expected that the United States would respond in kind.
It's about time the U.S. did.