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Jun 17, 2023 | In The News

LOS ANGELES – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy visited Santa Ana Friday to meet with Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and several local congressional representatives to discuss the issue of ‘burglary tourism’.

McCarthy said he will pursue holding up money for Homeland Security next week if the agency doesn’t crack down on the abuse of visas in Chile by people who come to the United States and burglarize homes, then jump bail when caught.

McCarthy said he was alerted to the so-called “burglary tourism” problem when Spitzer, who served as McCarthy’s whip in the state Assembly when they were state lawmakers, texted him.

“I’m here today because of a challenge we have here in America,” McCarthy said at a news conference outside the district attorney’s offices. “I’m here because of an old friend I served with in the state Assembly.”

Part of the problem is that due to an agreement between the U.S. and Chile, anyone applying for a tourist passport does not have to undergo a criminal background check. Instead, they are asked if they have a criminal history, “and obviously they lie,” Rep. Young Kim, R-Mission Viejo, said.

Chile is one of 40 countries involved in the Visa waiver program, which allows citizens to visit the US without the requirements of a regular Visa.

“My belief is that Chile is not adhering to the requirements of the Visa waiver program, specifically as it regards to sharing information for those who are seeking to come to the United States,” said Rep. Mike Levin.

Levin and Lou Correa shared with FOX 11 that they sent a letter to the Chilean ambassador and Secretary of State demanding a change.

“They are the only country from Latin America we have this relationship with. They’re one of our strongest allies in the region, and we’re just asking them to hold up their end of the deal and if they can’t, they shouldn’t be part of the program,” Levin added.

The burglary rings are sophisticated and make use of uniforms, camouflage and tools to jam home security systems, McCarthy said. Then they launder the stolen goods through banks in China, he added.

McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said new laws aren’t needed. He said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken already have the authority to crack down on the abuse of the visa program but have so far not done anything.

“My concern is they have not taken the action,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy did not directly respond when he was asked if he had been briefed about reported plans Homeland Security was negotiating with Chile to address the abuse of the visas, but he said, “Why hasn’t (Mayorkas) briefed Congress about it?”

McCarthy acknowledged that local congressional Democrats have also supported addressing the issue with Chile. McCarthy said even if Biden administration officials were working on a plan they should still suspend Chile’s participation in the program because it would apply pressure on the country to crack down on the abuse.

Mayorkas “shouldn’t sit around till the negotiations are done,” McCarthy said.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who serves on the appropriations committee, said he will press Mayorkas to do something about the visa abuse.

Spitzer complained that “100 percent” of the burglars who are arrested and charged fail to show up for court after they are released without having to post bail because authorities cannot access any criminal backgrounds on the defendants.

“They’re let out on zero bail and guess what? One hundred percent of the Chileans we have charged, 100% are no-shows at future appearances,” Spitzer said. “Big shocker.”

One victim, whose name was not released at the news conference, said her family had home security and house sitters watch their residence when they left town and were still victimized.

“We had lost much financially, but we also lost our sense of security,” she said. “I feel like I’m living a nightmare.”

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Cypress, said the federal government could replace Chile with another country in the special visa program such as Uruguay if Chile won’t reform its participation.


Fox 11 Los Angeles

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