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New Senate bill would require travelers from 38 ‘visa waiver’ countries to be fingerprinted

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Travelers to the United States from “visa waiver” nations would have to provide fingerprints and photos under a U.S. Senate bill to intensify scrutiny of foreigners, one of several border-tightening measures offered since the Paris attacks.

The measure is the latest to propose tightening U.S. border control since the Nov. 13 shootings and bombings in France by Islamic State militants that left 130 people dead, triggering a wave of fear across the United States.

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The bill was introduced on Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Jeff Flake. It would also require individuals who had visited Syria or Iraq in the last five years to get a traditional U.S. tourist visa before heading for the United States, rather than taking advantage of the “visa waiver” program.

Under that program, travelers from 38 countries, including much of Western Europe, can embark for the United States without first getting a visa from a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. About 20 million visitors a year enter the United States under the program, which allows them to stay 90 days.

U.S. officials privately admit they are more worried about possible Islamic State or other Europe-based militants using the visa waiver program to enter the United States than they are by the possibility that would-be attackers might hide among droves of U.S.-bound refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The Feinstein-Flake bill would also increase the fee charged by the United States to visa waiver travelers, now $14. Travelers who get visas from U.S. embassies or consulates now must pay a fee of $160. Feinstein and Flake did not say how high they wanted to raise the fee for visa waiver travelers.

The bill was greeted with skepticism by a travel industry representative. Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, said a pre-travel fingerprinting requirement could deter travelers from the United States.

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“The U.S. travel community strongly supports sensible security enhancements to the visa waiver program. What we cannot support are steps that ultimately dismantle the program and set back America’s economy and our efforts to protect the homeland,” the trade organization said in a statement.

Obama administration officials said they have already taken steps to tighten scrutiny of visa waiver travelers.

In August, the administration said it would require the use of an INTERPOL database containing reports of lost and stolen passports to screen passengers, and the reporting of suspected “foreign fighters” to international security agencies such as INTERPOL, a U.S. official said.

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However, the administration had not proposed either requiring visa waiver passengers to submit fingerprints in advance of travel or increasing fees. A congressional official said the fingerprinting requirement in the bill would most directly affect first-time travelers to the United States.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)

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US planning to slash troops in Germany: report

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US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to slash the number of troops it maintains in Germany by more than a quarter in the coming months, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The newspaper said the Defense Department would cut the number of military personnel by 9,500 from the current 34,500 permanently assigned to Germany postings.

The Journal also said a cap of 25,000 would be set on how many US troops could be inside German at any one time, whether in permanent postings or temporary rotations, half of the current allowance.

The move would significantly reduce the US commitment to European defense under the NATO umbrella, though it could also impact Pentagon operations related to Africa and the Middle East.

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Manhattan DA announces protesters arrested by NYPD will not be charged: ‘Our office has a moral imperative’

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The Manhattan District Attorney announced on Friday that his office would not be prosecuting protesters arrested for low-level crimes.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced that Unlawful Assembly and Disorderly Conduct would not be prosecuted during the demonstrations over police violence.

"“The prosecution of protestors charged with these low-level offenses undermines critical bonds between law enforcement and the communities we serve. Days after the killing of George Floyd, our nation and our city are at a crossroads in our continuing endeavor to confront racism and systemic injustice wherever it exists. Our office has a moral imperative to enact public policies which assure all New Yorkers that in our justice system and our society, black lives matter and police violence is a crime. We commend the thousands of our fellow New Yorkers who have peacefully assembled to demand these achievable aims, and our door is open to any New Yorker who wishes to be heard," Vance said in a statement.

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Chicago Police Board president files complaint alleging he was struck 5 times by cops at George Floyd protest

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On Friday, WTTW reported that Ghian Foreman, the president of the Chicago Police Board, has filed a complaint alleging he was beaten in the legs five times by police officers at a protest against the killing of George Floyd last Sunday.

The Chicago Police Board is an independent civilian commission that has power over police disciplinary cases.

"Foreman filed a complaint with the Citizens Office of Police Accountability alleging that he was struck by at least one officer during a protest sparked by the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, said Ephraim Eaddy, a spokesperson for the agency," said the report. "Foreman’s complaint, which identifies the officer Foreman said struck him, is one of 344 complaints of police misconduct filed with COPA between midnight May 29 and 7 a.m. Friday, Eaddy said. The complaint itself is confidential."

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