Reports of Chilean criminal gangs who have entered the US under the ‘Visa Waiver Program’ are growing

Reports of Chilean criminal gangs who have entered the US under the ‘Visa Waiver Program’ are growing
Reports of Chilean criminal gangs who have entered the US under the ‘Visa Waiver Program’ are growing

A program that allows visa-free entry to the United States for citizens of Chile, along with 40 other countries, is once again at the center of criticism after the arrest of members of criminal gangs who loot luxury homes in several states.

The Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reported on Friday, citing US media, that crime carried out by Chileans in the United States once again raised the concerns of the US police. The authorities estimate that about 100 groups or gangs operate in the northern country, the media added.

The reports and complaints specify that the main person responsible for the situation is the ‘Visa Waiver Program’ (VWP), in which 41 countries participate whose citizens enter the United States without a visa for up to 90 days, at the end of which must go.

On Thursday, the newspaper NewsNation reported an alarming increase in Chilean gangs robbing American communities. The media said that criminal gangs “are robbing American homes” and included in a report the complaint made by the Sheriff of Oakland County, Michigan, which blames the government and the ‘Visa Waiver Program’.

Sheriff Mike Bouchard told NewsNation that, what he described as, teams of thieves from South America are using sophisticated techniques to break into luxury homes and steal millions. And he points out that the visa program they use makes it easier for some international gangs to enter the country “and stay here without much scrutiny.”

Bouchard added to that outlet that Oakland police “believe that thieves receive sophisticated training, teaching them professionally orchestrated robbery techniques.”

Why authorities blame the ‘Visa Waiver Program’

The police officer pointed out that, according to the information his office has, the groups that allegedly perpetrate robberies in their communities “come from Chile, the only South American country that qualifies for the VWP,” a benefit authorized by Congress for citizens of countries with high income on business or tourism trips.

But Oakland police estimate that the benefit is giving these people “a lower level of scrutiny at the border and allowing them to travel to the United States for up to 90 days.”

According to Bouchard, the number of robberies has become so “overwhelming” that Oakland police “have had to ask the federal government for help” to address the problem. “We are not going to stop it as a local agency or even with state and federal partners. It has to be stopped by national policy,” the Sheriff said.

The newspaper said these alleged groups of highly trained Chilean thieves steal cash, jewelry, safes and luxury handbags from luxurious homes.

El Mercurio said that the United States ambassador accredited in Santiago, the Chilean capital, Bernadette Meehan, said that “I will not say that Chile is exempt from the risk of leaving the program, because you must always meet your requirements.”

Chile’s participation in this visa program in doubt

The complaint made by the Oakland police is not the first to warn about this. On April 25, Univision Noticias reported that a leak of details of a secret meeting between Meehan and parliamentary members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies showed the risk of the South American country being excluded from a program.

A week earlier, the El Mostrador site revealed conversations between Meehan and Chilean congressmen related to the concerns of the Washington government after the arrest of several Chilean citizens who entered the United States under the VWP accused of robberies in luxury residences.

Due to the secret nature of the meeting, what was discussed in the House hearing was not to be shared. However, due to the leak, Ambassador Meehan announced that she was suspending the delivery of reports on Chile’s permanence in the program.

The meeting was held behind closed doors on April 16 with the objective of the diplomat explaining Chile’s situation regarding the travel requirement after numerous requests from Republicans to remove the country from the list of privileged nations, the site explained. Mercopress publication.

Not only the federal and state US authorities are concerned about the increase in robbery crimes committed by gangs made up of Chileans who use the VWP to enter the United States. The site reported on April 4 that millionaire Elon Musk, president of Tesla, Space illegally entering homes in the United States.

Musk wrote in the comments of the note: “It will only get worse unless action is taken.”

Concerns in Chile about the continuity of the visa exception program have been going on for almost a year, after an appeal was submitted by the US embassy with a complaint from the Orange County, California, prosecutor’s office regarding the lack of collaboration of the Santiago government in the delivery of criminal records of criminals arrested and accused of robberies in luxury homes.

At the beginning of June of last year, the Chilean government acknowledged that it was concerned and that it feared losing the privilege of being left out of the VWP due to the capture of several Chileans accused of stealing homes in the state of California.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the South American country, Alberto van Klaveren, expressed the concerns of the president, Gabriel Boric, during an interview with Radio Infinita, in Santiago, capital of Chile. Following the complaint filed in May 2023, the Chilean government committed to collaborating with Washington to improve police communications between both countries.

The Chilean Foreign Ministry said at that time that both governments “continued to advance in compliance with the work plan within the framework of the VWP requested by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

In July of last year, after the nervousness generated by the US diplomatic complaint, Van Klaveren said that “the signing of the implementation agreement is another milestone in bilateral relations between Chile and the United States, which turned 200 years old in 2023. We continue to be part of the small group of countries that have the Visa Waiver Program he pointed.

But almost a year later and due to the leak recorded in April and the complaint made this week by the Oakland Sheriff, it is unknown at what stage the Joe Biden government’s confidence in Chile’s participation in the program is.

The VWP was established in 1986 with the goal of removing unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and allowing the Department of State (DOS) to focus its consular resources in other areas. Citizens of VWP countries must meet the qualification requirements to travel without a visa using the program and, therefore, some do not qualify to use the immigration benefit.

VWP travelers need to have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before their trip, pass through security filters at the port of entry to the United States and be registered in the Department’s US-VISIT program of Homeland Security (DHS).

Chile estimates that each year about 350,000 of its citizens enter the United States under the VWP.

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