A new Homeland Security Bill, which is intended to implement the 9/11 Commission's key recommendations, will not pass before the November 2 elections because of an impasse over its contentious immigration and intelligence provisions. Despite numerous private staff meetings and a public session on October 20, the Congressional leaders appointed to a conference committee have been unable to resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions, passed on October 6 and 8, respectively.
Both bills would create a national intelligence director to coordinate the activities of the CIA and several other intelligence agencies throughout the government.
The House bill, the 9/11 Recommendations Implementations Act (HR 10), expands the categories of undocumented migrants subject to deportation. Also, it would require asylum seekers accused of involvement in terrorist and guerilla warfare to prove that race, religion, nationality, or political opinion would be a "central reason" for their persecution if deported. The 1951 Geneva Convention requires only a "well-founded fear of persecution" to qualify for refugee status.
While the first draft of the bill allowed the U.S. to deport alien criminals and terrorist suspects, the final version was amended to empower the Secretary of Homeland Security to detain such suspects indefinitely.
The Senate bill, the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (S 2845), focuses only on the intelligence-related recommendations of the commission. This bill would create a civil liberties board to safeguard individuals' rights as the nation combats terrorism.
Several influential parties, including the 9/11 Commission and the White House, have urged Congress to agree upon a bill closer to the Senate version and pass it before the national election on November 2. However, a compromise was not reached in time. If the conference committee agrees on a compromise bill, the full Congress would have to return to Washington and pass the bill in both houses by a majority vote; it is estimated that it would take three working days for Congress to return.
The cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for 2005 was reached on October 1, 2004, the first day of the 2005 fiscal year (FY 2005). United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes H-1B applications, will no longer accept petitions until April 2005; authorization can be granted no sooner than October 1, 2005.
The H-1B visa, which many technology companies use, allows foreign workers in professional occupations to be employed in the United States for up to six years. U.S. businesses do not have to prove that U.S. workers were unable to fill a job before applying for the visa; they are required to pay the prevailing wage to the visa holder. The H-1B cap was 195,000 from FY 2001 until FY 2003, but returned this year to the 65,000 annual limit imposed by the 1990 Immigration Act.
While institutions of higher education, nonprofit research groups, and governmental research organizations are already exempt from the cap, businesses are seeking further exemptions for foreign workers with master's and doctorate degrees from U.S. academic institutions.
The Office of Citizenship, a unit within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has prepared a comprehensive new booklet geared toward helping new legal permanent residents settle in the U.S.. Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants, is designed to set the stage for greater USCIS activism in immigrant integration; the agency previously provided little or no social services-related information to newly arrived immigrants.
More than 100 pages long, the guidebook covers rights and responsibilities, useful tips for everyday life, an introduction to American democracy, and a description of the citizenship process. Hard copies in more than 10 languages will be distributed to libraries and community organizations.
To supplement its integration efforts, USCIS is also working on a revision of the naturalization test, which could be available as early as 2006.
Presidential Debate. President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry briefly stated their positions on immigration in response to a question during the third Presidential election debate on October 13. President Bush said he had improved border security by placing additional personnel and technology at the border, and had proposed a temporary worker card for new migrant employees. Senator Kerry emphasized that he would strengthen border controls, authorize a guest worker program, focus on stronger enforcement against illegal workforce hiring, and initiate a long-term earned legalization program.
The GAO Report. Two new Government Accountability Office Reports criticize government programs designed to facilitate and enforce immigration law. GAO Report 04-881, "Consular Identification Cards Accepted Within the United States, but Consistent Federal Guidance Needed," indicates that despite the presence of improved security features, the consular identification cards may be used fraudulently to help undocumented migrants avoid apprehension. This is due in part to the lack of coordinated federal guidance regarding these cards' acceptable uses. Consular identification cards, which do not guarantee legal residency, help governments track their citizens who reside abroad.
GAO Report 05-81, "Management Challenges Remain in Transforming Immigration Programs," argues that folding the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not resulted in unified policies or procedures for some operations. In addition, there is no adequate system for employee feedback.
Terrorist Watch Lists. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General's Report, "DHS Challenges in Consolidating Terrorist Watch List Information," concludes that U.S. efforts to identify terrorists using a consolidated watch list have not succeeded thus far. The report concludes that DHS must play a lead role in oversight for the watch list, which is checked against application data during the screening of visa applications and during primary inspection at U.S. entry points.
Digital Fingerprinting. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unit unveiled on October 7 new, computerized workstations that allow Border Patrol agents to access the fingerprint database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The agents digitally record fingerprints, which are automatically compared against the FBI database. Known as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the database contains 43 million records from the FBI's criminal files.
Refugee Review. The United States Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration announced on October 4 that the U.S. exceeded its goal for admitting 50,000 refugees in fiscal year (FY) 2004, which ended on October 1. The United States resettled 52,875 refugees in FY 2004, the highest one-year total since 2001.