The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (DOS) have announced their plans to require the eventual use of passports or other accepted secure documents for certain persons, including U.S., Mexican, and Canadian citizens who are entering or reentering the United States.
Called the “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative,” the new rules would require all people moving to and from North and South America (including the U.S., Mexico, and Canada), Bermuda, and the Caribbean to have a passport or other acceptable document when arriving at U.S. border crossings.
Currently, United States citizens, as well as nonimmigrant citizens of Canada and the Overseas Territory of Bermuda, are not required to present a passport or visa to enter the United States from those locations.
In a statement, DHS and DOS claim the new initiative will “strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors.”
President Bush stated on April 14 that he was surprised by the announcement, and he has asked DHS and DOS to look at alternate methods for tightening security. Critics believe the initiative may be prohibitively costly for commerce and tourism purposes, particularly for American citizens. American passports currently cost $97.
If the travel initiative is ultimately enacted, the requirements will be phased in over the next three years, with Caribbean, Bermudans, and Central/South American travelers obligated to present passports at U.S. air and sea crossings by the end of 2005. All air and sea travel, including travel to Mexico and Canada, would be covered by the initiative by the end of 2006, and land-border crossings would be added by December 31, 2007.
Acceptable documents are expected to demonstrate the citizenship and identity of the bearer, enable electronic data verification, and present significant security features (possibly including biometric identifiers). This would make a passport the preferred travel document.
However, Mexican Border Crossing Cards, which serve as a replacement for a passport and visa for Mexicans traveling from a contiguous territory, may also be accepted. Additionally, frequent traveler program cards such as those for the Customs and Border Protection’s Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), NEXUS and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) programs are also expected to be utilized.
DHS and DOS announced the initiative in a press release on April 6 and formally published it as an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), a precursor to a formal rule in the Federal Register.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act requires all travelers at U.S. ports of entry to present a passport or other identifying document by January 1, 2008.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that it intends to add over 500 additional Border Patrol agents to the Arizona border, concurrent with the beginning of the effort in April known as the Minuteman Project. The controversial, civilian volunteer-driven Minuteman project reported undocumented immigrants crossing from Mexico to Arizona’s San Pedro Valley to the area’s Border Patrol.
Several unnamed government officials have stated the Border Patrol plans to assign additional agents, including 155 immediate transfers and 350 new trainees, to the Arizona border. Another 200 temporary agents are also expected to staff the region during the busy spring and summer season.
The Minuteman Project did not cause the violence some expected, although one migrant claimed Minuteman volunteers held him against his will and forced him to take pictures with one of them. The Minuteman Project leaders disputed the account, but released that volunteer from their operations.
Although scheduled to last through the month of April, the organizers declared victory on April 20, citing a reduction in migrant crossings, and formally ended the project. The founders are now working to expand the patrols to five additional locations, and possibly to the Canadian border.
While reports from both Mexican and U.S. officials confirm that the number of border crossings dropped in the target region in April, the presence of Mexican police and military personnel is also believed to have affected migrant flows.
The Mexican government has been actively discouraging border crossings along the San Pedro Valley, fearing violence or conflict. Local American businesses in the area suffered because of the decrease in day crossers from Mexico.
Senate Considers REAL ID Act, Immigration Amendments
The Senate unanimously approved on April 21 a supplemental emergency spending bill that may have far-reaching implications for immigration.
The bill contains amendments to the Afghanistan-Iraq emergency aid bill to expand visa opportunities for foreign workers. The amendments would utilize approximately 140,000 unused skilled-worker visas from previous years to help cope with current shortages of nurses and engineers.
Rules governing temporary visas for H-2B guest workers would be relaxed to allow about 35,000 more employees into the U.S. this fiscal year to meet the needs of the lumber, tourism, and fishing industries, among others.
The Senate also approved an amendment to add over 1,000 border patrol agents to the border this fiscal year. The measure provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with an additional $390 million to hire 650 more border patrol agents, 250 new immigration investigators, and 168 new immigration enforcement agents and deportation officers.
Two additional immigration-related amendments failed to win sufficient support in the Senate. The AgJobs measure, offered by Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), would have provided a path for permanent residency for certain agricultural workers. It won a 53-vote majority, but failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to cut off debate and prevent a filibuster.
Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) offered a counter-proposal to end a filibuster on the measure — which would have provided temporary legal status for agriculture workers but no path to citizenship — but it only won 21 votes.
An amendment to add the REAL ID Act’s provisions to the Afghanistan-Iraq emergency aid bill was never introduced in the Senate. The amendment would have prevented federal agencies from accepting state-issued documents available to undocumented immigrants and strengthened standards for asylum applications, among other provisions.
The House of Representatives has included the REAL ID Act’s provisions in its version of the emergency spending bill, which passed in February. The White House strongly supports including the REAL ID provisions in the final emergency spending bill legislation.
The Democratic leadership, while it opposes REAL ID, has indicated there will be little opportunity to prevent it from being attached to the bill’s final draft.
A conference committee now must meet to negotiate a final compromise version of the emergency spending bill.
The Utah legislature passed a bill on April 19 declaring that state education accountability policies take priority over the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).
The NCLBA, among other things, requires states to assess the academic achievement and English-language proficiency of English-language learners (ELLs). It also requires that states identify, test, and separately report the scores of ELLs on state standardized tests, and holds them accountable for the progress of ELLs in acquiring English proficiency.
The Utah state legislation declares that provisions of the NCLBA are secondary to Utah education standards and that the state should spend as little money as possible to comply with the act.
While critics believe the action could put Utah at risk for losing $76 million in federal funding, supporters believe the new law is consistent with states’ rights and will allow Utah to better address a growing gap between minority and white students in the state.
The National Education Association (NEA) filed a lawsuit opposing the NCLBA the following day, charging that the government has not provided sufficient federal funds to cover the costs of the act.
With its large number of ELL students, the Laredo Independent School District in Texas has had to use non-NCLBA funds to comply with NCLBA mandates; it is among the plaintiffs in the NEA case.
US-VISIT. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun piloting procedures to verify the exit date of visitors to the United States for a major U.S. security program. The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which electronically tracks the entry and exit of foreign visitors using biographical information and biometric identifiers, requires most passengers to take inkless fingerprints and a digital picture upon entry, but to date has not been able to verify their status upon departure. The exit procedures are now operating in 10 airports and one seaport, and are expected to expand to 80 airports by the end of 2005.
Biometric Passports. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has concluded it will not have the technology available to read high-tech passports from visa-waiver countries this fall, even if those countries meet the October 26, 2005 deadline to produce them. In Congressional testimony, a DHS representative said the agency would not have enough passport readers to deploy them to every post by the deadline. Because 80 percent of visa-waiver countries are expected to miss the October 26 deadline, the European Union has asked for a one-year extension.
In other news, the United States Department of State (DOS) has announced its plans to modify the design of the new electronic passport to make it more secure. Critics believe the passports, which contain an embedded radio chip with a digitized photograph and biographical information, are vulnerable to tampering or identity fraud.
U.S.-Mexico. Alberto Gonzales discussed cross-border law enforcement issues and border violence with Mexican President Vicente Fox, as well as the Mexican Attorney General, during a visit to Mexico City in late March. Violence along the Mexican border has become an increasing concern of the Department of State, which issued a travel advisory in January warning Americans against the deteriorating security situation there.
Immigration Status. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has proposed clarifying current rules to state that officers can (but are not required to) make limited immigration queries about convicted felons — including violent gang members — who may have reentered the United States illegally. The clarification would amend Special Order 40, which has prevented LAPD officers from inquiring about legal residency status since 1979. Critics believe the new rule will deter the immigrant community from reporting crimes and seeking policy assistance. However, proponents of the new policy emphasize that its scope is limited to convicted felons.