President Bush reiterated his commitment to immigration reform at a summit meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on March 23.
A new "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America" initiative aimed at expanding free trade and coordination on security was announced at the meeting.
Although immigration was not on the official agenda, President Bush did make a public pledge to President Fox that he would continue to push Congress for immigration reform in line with principles he has put forward since proposing a temporary guest-worker program in January 2004.
Bush tempered his remarks, however, by pointing out that he could not pledge Congress would act since he is not a member of the legislative branch. President Bush's proposals for immigration reform have met with particularly strong political opposition from Republican Party members.
In the summit meeting, Bush also criticized an American group called the Minuteman Project, which will patrol the Arizona-Mexico border from April 1 to April 30 for undocumented immigrants. Bush called the group "vigilantes."
The group claims its activities are limited to observing and informing the Border Patrol of questionable activities. However, the Mexican government has asked U.S. officials to monitor the group to ensure that laws and consular rights are protected.
The three leaders also announced a proposal to standardize rules for screening persons and cargo arriving at any port of entry across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The proposal calls on cabinet secretaries to form working groups, which will outline implementation steps during the 90 days following the summit.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Mexico earlier in March in preparation for the summit talks. The visit has been largely noted as a diplomatic move to reduce tensions between the two nations arising from a recent U.S. State Department report criticizing Mexico's human rights record, and from remarks by the American ambassador to Mexico concerning high levels of border violence. Mexico has disputed the report and the ambassador's statements.
Secretary Rice also communicated the White House's disapproval of the Minuteman Project while stressing the need for cooperation on border security in light of possible attempted entries by terrorists. She also reaffirmed the administration's interest in promoting the temporary guest-worker proposal.
Congress Considers Merging Immigration and Customs Enforcement with Customs and Border Patrol
House and Senate oversight committees have begun considering a merger of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) bureaus.
In congressional hearings, proponents of the merger called the separation of responsibilities an artificial division that hampers immigration enforcement and border security efforts. The merger's opponents view realignment as a premature reaction to problems arising from the creation of DHS two years ago.
The two bureaus were formed when components of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs Service were reorganized and placed into the Department of Homeland Security, with ICE assuming responsibility for interior and investigative functions, and CBP overseeing border security.
Continued infighting, financial challenges, poor information sharing, and low morale have prompted the current merger proposal. ICE in particular has come under criticism for poor management and its lack of a defined mission, and the agency has recently experienced financial shortages (for more detail on these financial shortages, see the December 2004 Policy Beat).
The idea of the merger, first seriously proposed in a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage Foundation, is also the subject of investigations launched by the DHS Inspector General's office last month.
Supreme Court Okays Ruling Barring Employers from Asking About Immigration Status in Job Discrimination Suits
The Supreme Court let stand a lower court's ruling that an employer cannot inquire into the immigration status of an employee who has filed a lawsuit for job discrimination. The Court concurred with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Appeals Court, concluding that such an action would discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting unlawful workplace practices.
The workers filing the suit stated that their immigration status had been verified at the time of hiring.
The specific case in question involves a group of Hispanic and Southeast-Asian women who sued their company, NIBCO Inc., for discrimination after it required them to take an English-only job skills test.
The company, which produces piping products, demoted, transferred, and later fired the women after they performed poorly on the skills test. Legal status questions came into play as fact finding in the case proceeded.
U.S. Withdraws from International Court of Justice Oversight on Consular Rights
The U.S. has withdrawn itself from a protocol granting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) oversight of its observance of foreign nationals' consular rights.
The withdrawal comes after the ICJ ruled last year that the cases of 51 Mexican nationals on death row should be reopened because U.S. authorities failed to notify Mexican officials. The case was originally brought to the ICJ by the Mexican government.
The ICJ based this decision on the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which obligates member countries to notify the governments of arrested or imprisoned foreign nationals, and to inform them of their right to contact a consulate.
President Bush initially responded to the ruling with a February 28 order requiring state courts to examine whether the lack of consular notification prejudiced the trials or sentencings of the Mexican nationals. If so, retrials will be required. Administration lawyers have cited "foreign policy interests" for the presidential order.
However, concerns about the ICJ's interference with national and state courts caused the U.S. to subsequently withdraw itself from the court's jurisdiction on consular issues. The State Department announced the withdrawal March 10. The U.S. remains a signatory to the Vienna Convention.
While the cases involving the Mexican death row inmates must still adhere to the ICJ's ruling, the ICJ will not be able to adjudicate any future challenges to the U.S. concerning the consular rights of foreign nationals.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on March 28 for the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national on death row in Texas, to decide whether Medellin should be given a new hearing based on the ICJ ruling. Before the presidential order, a U.S. Court of Appeals had ruled that the ICJ's decision was not enforceable under U.S. law.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Makes Three Rulings in Favor of Asylum Seekers
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made several rulings expanding the grounds on which individuals can seek asylum. The rulings affect only the courts of nine Western states.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 7 that a homosexual man from Lebanon is eligible to seek asylum based on fear of persecution from the Lebanese government and Hezbollah paramilitary forces.
The court's opinion regarding Karouni v. Gonzales disagreed with U.S. immigration authorities who argued that the defendant had not demonstrated a reasonable fear of persecution, and that he could avoid such persecution by refraining from homosexual acts.
In another Ninth Circuit case decided on March 8, a Chinese man whose wife had been forcibly sterilized in 1985 under Chinese population policies was deemed eligible to seek asylum. The ruling, for the case Qu v. Gonzales, found that involuntary sterilization denies one of his or her "reproductive freedom" and thus "one who has suffered involuntary sterilization, either directly or because of the sterilization of a spouse, is entitled" to asylum.
Although a federal immigration judge had ruled that the man had no valid fear of persecution because his wife already had undergone the procedure, the Ninth Circuit stated the past sterilization represented a "permanent and continuing act of persecution."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that a young Somali woman could seek asylum based on her past subjection to female genital mutilation in her home country. The March 10 ruling in Mohammed v.Gonzales rejected an argument by immigration authorities that female genital mutilation by itself cannot be a basis for a claim of past persecution because it is "widely accepted and widely practiced."
The court concluded that a woman who has undergone such a procedure has suffered a "continuing harm" that automatically makes her eligible for asylum without having to prove fear of future persecution.
Policy Beat in Brief
Border Control. FBI Director Robert Mueller stated in congressional testimony that people from countries where Al Qaeda is active have been able to cross the Mexican border into the U.S.. In a separate hearing, James Loy, the Department of Homeland Security Deputy Director, also testified that illegal entry from Mexico may be viewed as "more advantageous than legal entry" by terrorists. However, both officials did not claim knowledge of specific entry by Al Qaeda members across the Mexican border.
Refugee Admissions. The State Department projects a reduction in the number of refugees it will be able to resettle in the United States this year to slightly more than half the 70,000 authorized by President Bush, or just 40,000 people. Congress has approved $764 million for refugee and migration assistance in fiscal year (FY) 2005, only a 2.2 percent cut from the $781 million in FY 2004. However, the department has stated that the costs have escalated to $3,500 per refugee from $2,200 in 2001 because of requirements for more thorough background checks as well as rising fuel prices, among other factors.
Inspector General's Report. The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General has found that land ports currently lack the ability to collect information on visitors upon their exit, thus preventing the identification of nonimmigrants who may have overstayed their visa terms. The report also expressed concern over the large number of travelers exempt from the US-VISIT program, which tracks the entry and exit of foreigners, as well as the time required by officers manning the program to perform background checks.
Mexican Migrant Survey. A recent Pew Hispanic Center survey of Mexican migrants in the U.S. shows that most are interested in settling in the U.S., but would participate in a temporary guest-worker program requiring them to return home after a few years of legal status. The study presents data on their demographics characteristics, how long they intend to stay in the U.S., and their willingness to participate in a temporary worker program.