Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cosponsored legislation introduced this week to prevent foreign governments from exploiting U.S. immigration laws in an effort to undermine American democracy. The bipartisan Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes (DETER) Act makes “improper interference in U.S. elections” a violation of U.S. immigration law, preventing violators from obtaining a visa to enter the United States. A provision authored by Grassley also makes violators deportable.
“Foreign adversaries seeking to disrupt our elections are not welcome in the United States, and should not be eligible for visas to come do us harm. This bill prevents enemies of democracy from obtaining a visa and authorizes the deportation of those who came here for the purposes of interfering in our elections,” Grassley said.
The DETER Act was first introduced last Congress. During committee consideration, Grassley, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, amended the legislation to authorize the deportation of foreign nationals who are already in the United States and are engaged in election interference. The bill was unanimously reported to the full Senate. It was reintroduced this week with the Grassley amendment by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. It is also cosponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
The bill responds to threats like those revealed by the Special Counsel’s indictment of Russians who traveled to the United States with the explicit purpose of learning more about American political and electoral processes and how they could interfere with such processes. The Special Counsel’s indictment described how two of the thirteen individuals gathered intelligence during a three-week trip in June 2014.
According to the indictment, the individuals “falsely claimed they were traveling for personal reasons.” While in the United States, the individuals traveled to Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and New York “for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the [Internet Research Agency’s] operations.” A third individual attempted to travel to the United States, but did not receive a visa, and an additional co-conspirator, who is not listed in the indictment, traveled to Atlanta in November 2014.
The bill defines “improper interference in United States elections” as conduct by an alien that (1) violates federal criminal, voting rights or campaign finance law or is under the direction of a foreign government; and (2) interferes with any general or primary federal, state, or local election or caucus, including the campaign of any candidate; or any ballot measure, including an amendment, bond issue, initiative, recall, referral, or referendum.