The Obama administration will not be lifting the 30-year-old ban on Libyans attending American flight schools and being trained as nuclear scientist, at least not in the immediate future, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, testifies before the House Homeland Security Full Committee, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The U.S. is able to track Westerners who travel to and from Syria, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says. But inside Syria, there are intelligence gaps. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
“I do not intend to lift that prohibition at this time,” Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee. “I don't believe that legislation to prevent me from lifting it is necessary. I believe given the current environment, I do not intend to lift it at this time.
The administration stirred controversy last year when it began the process of lifting the ban to allow Libyans to come to the United States to attend flight school, work in aircraft maintenance or flight operations, or to study or seek training in nuclear science. The administration asserted that U.S.-Libyan relations were normalized after the fall of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
The ban on Libyans from training as pilots or nuclear scientists was put in place in the 1980s after a string of terror attacks during the Gadhafi regime.
The decision came after intense pressure from Congress, as three House Republicans sponsored legislation to prevent the administration from lifting the 30-year ban.
The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), represents 51,000 pilots who fly for 31 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, opposed lifting the ban in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). In their letter, Captain Lee Moak wrote “given the political instability in Libya and the transitory nature of the government, ALPA is concerned that information relevant to a background check on Libyan nationals would be unreliable if not entirely unavailable.”
The House bill to keep the ban in place was sponsored by Goodlatte, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). The three said they are glad the administration reconsidered.
“Given the ongoing terrorist activity in Libya, there is no reason that the Obama Administration should have ever contemplated lifting a decades-old ban on Libyans coming to our country to train as pilots or nuclear scientists,” the three House Republicans said in a joint statement.
“The fact is that Libya’s government remains unstable today and the country is becoming more dangerous as rival rebel groups battle each other for control of Libya’s cities,” the three said. “It’s necessary that we keep this ban on Libyans in place so that we protect Americans and our national security from threats in Libya. Despite assurances from Secretary Johnson that he won’t lift this ban any time soon, the House plans to move forward with legislation to prevent future Administrations from changing this policy.”