President Bush signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on August 2 after hard fought battles to pass the bill in both houses of Congress. Both proponents and critics of the agreement had used CAFTA's predicted immigration effects in support of their arguments. CAFTA stipulates the rules for the free movement of goods and services between the U.S., Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Unlike previous hemispheric free trade agreements (including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement), CAFTA does not include any explicit immigration provisions. Both NAFTA countries and Chile enjoy special professional worker visa policies.
However, the real immigration debate centers on the issue of unauthorized migration. In both the NAFTA and CAFTA debates, proponents argued that by bolstering the local economy through free trade, workers are less likely to migrate to the United States in search of jobs.
President Bush stated when he sent the accord to Congress that, “If you're concerned about immigration to this country, then you must understand that CAFTA and the benefits of CAFTA will help create new opportunity in Central American countries, which will mean someone will be able to find good work at home, somebody will be able to provide for their family at home, as opposed to having to make the long trip to the United States. CAFTA is good immigration policy, as well as good trade policy.”
Critics argue that the evidence from NAFTA does not necessarily support this position. The unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. more than doubled between 1990 and 2000, with most of that growth after 1994 when NAFTA came into effect. A widely discussed model predicted that NAFTA would create a "migration hump" — with immigration increasing in the short run and subsequently decreasing.
However, the data available on Mexico-U.S. migration flows, from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, presents an unclear picture of whether this “hump” actually materialized, particularly considering that other factors — such as Mexico's 1994 financial crisis, the restructuring of the Mexican economy (a continuation of policies enacted prior to NAFTA), Mexican unemployment, and a strong U.S. economy — may have contributed to increased unauthorized migration since 1994. The effects of September 11 and the U.S. economic downturn in 2001 have likely influenced the subsequent decrease in migration flows.
Predictions of CAFTA's immigration effects range widely. Some experts argue that the increased interaction and exchange between countries brought by free trade agreements creates transnational ties that foster increased migration.
Other experts, such as economist Joseph Stiglitz and Trade Policy Advisor Jon Huenemann, argue that CAFTA probably will not have big immigration implications.
Migration flows from CAFTA countries have fluctuated in the past (in contrast to the steady increase seen from Mexico) due to factors related to political instability, civil violence, and natural disasters, suggesting that migration will continue to stem from economic and political events not necessarily related to the new accord.
A New Hampshire judge ruled on August 12 that local police efforts to control illegal immigration through criminal trespassing charges were unconstitutional.
The police departments of New Ipswich and Hudson, NH received national attention for charging at least nine unauthorized immigrants, mostly Mexican, of criminal trespassing. Police issued the charges after pulling over immigrants in routine traffic stops.
The New Hampshire trespassing law says that a person is guilty “if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place.” The citations included a $1,000 fine, but not a prison sentence for a conviction. The officers said that their actions were not intended to facilitate deportation of the immigrants, only to protect the local citizens.
The police chiefs of the two localities say they began using the criminal trespassing charge due to frustration that federal authorities were not doing enough to enforce immigration law. Some police departments in other parts of the country were considering emulating the measures if upheld in New Hampshire courts.
Judge L. Phillips Runyon III of the Jaffrey/Peterborough District Court stated in his decision that such actions were unconstitutional because Congress intended for immigration enforcement to be covered exclusively by federal law.
However, he pointed out that federal legislation does allow local police to be trained as “deputies” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to supplement enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Immigrants, regardless of legal status, age, or insurance coverage, receive on average half of the health care services received by native-born Americans as measured by health care spending, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health.
On average, immigrants receive $1,139 worth of health care services a year, compared to $2,564 received by native-born Americans. Native-born Latinos spent $1,870, and foreign-born Latinos only $962 on health care services.
Uninsured or publicly insured immigrants — those blamed by some for imposing large public healthcare costs — spent 44 percent less on healthcare than U.S.-born persons who were publicly insured through Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or other government programs.
The study also found that immigrant children visited the doctor fewer times, took less medicine, and made fewer trips to the emergency room than U.S.-born children. In addition, 74 percent less was spent per capita on their healthcare. Their emergency trips also cost nearly three times as much as those for nonimmigrant children, which the authors believe suggests immigrant families missed regular checkups and waited until conditions had worsened before seeking care.
The study was based on data from 21,241 people in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's 1998 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which is the most recent data available.
Many states do not thoroughly check the immigration status of applicants for Medicaid despite a 1996 law limiting Medicaid access to U.S. citizens, nationals, and qualified aliens, according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) allows states to accept self-declarations of citizenship in determining eligibility for Medicaid in order to accelerate the application process. Of the 47 states accepting self declarations, 44 require evidence to back up claims of citizenship if staff have reason to question someone's declaration.
However, the Inspector General's study found that only 20 of the 47 states conducted quality control activities to verify statements of citizenship. Of the 11 states requiring, or sometimes requiring documentation to qualify, four accept documentation not accepted by CMS or the Social Security Administration.
The report did not examine the extent to which non-citizens might be exploiting the weakness in the verification system, but only the potential for such abuse.
H-1B Visa Quota. Officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on August 12 that they would not accept any applications for H-1B visas for high-tech and specialty workers filed after August 10, as they had already received enough visas to fill the 2006 quota. The cutoff came more than a month earlier than last year. Current laws allow for 65,000 H-1B visas each fiscal year for foreigners in specialty professions, such as scientists, engineers, and computer programmers. However, USCIS is accepting applications for two special categories of H-1B visas: the additional 20,000 visas set aside by Congress in the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004 for foreign applicants with U.S. master's or higher degrees, and the visas for foreign workers employed by universities or certain nonprofit and government organizations, which are not counted in the annual cap.
Electronic Passports. The United States will begin issuing passports with electronic computer chips beginning in December 2005, according to an announcement by the State Department on August 9. The chip will hold the same information already contained in the passport, including the holder's name, date and place of birth, gender, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number, and photo. “Anti-skimming” technology will prevent unauthorized access to the chip's contents. Current plans call for all U.S. passport agencies to issue electronic passports by October 2006.
Radio Frequency IDs. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the next phase of US-VISIT on August 4, initializing the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology at five land ports of entry. US-VISIT is a tracking system intended to verify and record the identity of U.S. visitors entering and leaving the country. The new technology is intended to expedite the verification process. Under the pilot radio frequency program, border crossers will carry RFID tags embedded in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) paper Forms I-94A — the standard arrival and departure record issued at ports of entry.
New Immigration Data. The Office of Immigration Statistics has released two new sets of data with information on the number of immigrant arrivals and adjustments in fiscal year 2004, and the number of foreign nationals naturalized in 2004. These new reports provide statistics on the characteristics of arrivals and naturalizations separated by country of birth, state, or metropolitan area.
TPS Extension. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced in late July that Somalis with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may register for a 12-month extension. The extension will authorize those eligible to continue living and working in the U.S. until September 17, 2006. USCIS is issuing the extension based on the continuation of “extraordinary and temporary” conditions in Somalia. The State Department agreed in 1999 to admit as many as 12,000 Somali Bantu from camps along the Somali-Kenyan border; the refugees began arriving in spring 2003.
Lawsuit Against Arizona Proposition 200. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona Proposition 200, which limits undocumented immigrants' access to some public benefits. The judges ruled that the plaintiffs, including undocumented immigrants, a firefighter, and a state employee, did not demonstrate that they had been injured by the law's implementation, and therefore did not have the right to sue.
GAO Reports. Provisions in Congressional Appropriations Acts that prevent the Border Patrol from spending funds on permanent highway checkpoints along the Arizona-Mexico border have caused a “substantial drop” in arrests of undocumented immigrants, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The fiscal year 2003 and 2004 Appropriations Acts mandated that checkpoints be relocated at least once every seven days along the 260-mile stretch of border in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. The GAO recommended that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) develop performance measures for the productivity and effectiveness of border checkpoints, and include the resulting information and ideas for possible improvements in CBP's Performance and Annual Report.
A separate GAO report found that on average, CBP processed international airline passengers within 45 minutes, but that in some cases, CBP recorded wait times as long as five hours. In 15 of the 20 airports for which CBP recorded wait times, there were multiple instances in which wait times exceeded one hour. The GAO recommended that CBP continue to develop flexibility in its staffing model to create the most efficient inspection processes, and suggested that CBP develop milestones for the completion of the One Face at the Border (OFAB) training program, which cross-trains inspectors in customs, immigration, and agricultural inspections.
A third GAO study reported that Visa Security Officers (VSOs) in Saudi Arabia strengthened visa security by offering their law enforcement and immigration experience, and that they were able to access law enforcement databases not readily available to consular officers. However, the requirement that VSOs review every visa application limits their ability to provide other fraud prevention and detection training. The GAO recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develop a strategic plan to guide the operations of the Visa Security Program in Saudi Arabia and the expansion of the VSO program to other embassies and consulates, and that Congress consider amending the requirement that officers review all visa applications in Saudi Arabia.