Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents have begun interviewing thousands of Iraqi-born individuals as part of an intensified effort at understanding better and gaining information about possible domestic security threats. In a continuing FBI effort to work with, rather than antagonize, ethnic and religious communities targeted for particular scrutiny, the FBI also intends to assure immigrants that hate crimes committed against them will be investigated. The interviews, which the FBI says are voluntary, are being carried out in cooperation with officials of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), a division of the new Homeland Security Department. The interviews are aimed specifically at Iraqi-born immigrants, and visitors to the U.S., although some sources have reported interviews of U.S. citizens of Iraqi descent. A particular aim of these interviews is also to learn of possible imminent biological or chemical threats to the U.S. and about operations taking place in Iraq that could affect U.S. troops. According to the officials, similar interviews during the 1991 Gulf War yielded valuable information about conditions in Baghdad and possible military targets. Of the estimated 90,000 foreign-born Iraqis living in the U.S., officials expect to interview approximately 11,000. Proponents of the interviews state that the initiative can be seen as a way of building a new level of trust between U.S. officials and immigrants, especially those of Middle Eastern descent. Critics of the interviews emphasize that many of these Iraqis are refugees who fled Saddam Hussein's regime and assert that this initiative only adds to other recent U.S. measures that equate immigrants with terrorists.
The FBI and BICE have also begun to apprehend specific Iraqi individuals known to be in the U.S. illegally. BICE officials estimate that there are between 3,000 and 7,000 unauthorized Iraqi immigrants nationwide. This initiative comes on the heels of the March 20 announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft granting the FBI and U.S. marshals the power to detain and arrest foreign citizens for alleged civil immigration violations without prior criminal charges — an authority previously reserved for immigration officers and, under explicit agreements, certain other state and local law enforcement agencies.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has enlisted several government departments and agencies in a national anti-terrorism effort dubbed Operation Liberty Shield, which aims to detain asylum seekers from countries thought to have ties to Al Qaeda or other groups designated as terrorist organizations. The operation, which was officially announced on March 17, will also monitor terrorist suspects, enhance the protection of infrastructure, and boost public health preparedness. The full list of affected nationals remains classified, but the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights says the 33 countries are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen, as well as Palestinian asylum seekers from Gaza and the West Bank. Asylum seekers from these countries will remain in custody while their claims are processed, which can take anywhere from several months to a year or more. Officials say these measures are necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. as asylum seekers, and assert that the initiative will affect fewer than 600 people a year, mostly from Iraq. DHS officials emphasize that asylum seekers from the listed countries are just as likely as other asylum seekers to be granted asylum, and that the fact of detention will have no bearing on the outcome of individual asylum cases. Critics, including human rights groups, civil liberties activists, and Senator Edward Kennedy, say the plan is worded in such a way that it could apply to thousands of people. Asylum seekers who arrived in the U.S. prior to March 18, 2003 will not be detained.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced the results of an intensive review of a subset of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and determined that as of April 15, Uruguay will be eliminated from the list of those approved. "Uruguay's program designation appears to facilitate high-risk travel to the United States. For the past three years Uruguay has experienced a recession that has caused its citizens to seek to use the VWP to live and work illegally in the United States," Ashcroft concluded in a report summarized in the Federal Register March 7, 2003. The VWP permits nationals of 27 countries to enter the U.S. for 90 days or less for the purposes of business or pleasure, without first applying for a visa. Uruguayans will now have to obtain a visa before entering the United States. Ashcroft also decided, after reviewing the results of the report, that Italy, Belgium and Portugal will continue to participate in the VWP, although Belgium's participation will be reevaluated in 2004. The U.S. Department of State will work with the Government of Portugal to address their concerns about the timeliness of reporting lost or stolen passports.
The U.S. government has announced regulations whereby nationals from 54 countries wishing to enter the United States will undergo additional scrutiny. The list includes citizens of British Commonwealth countries and Ireland who are residents of Canada and Bermuda, but not citizens of these two countries. The new regulations are part of the national effort to increase U.S. domestic security following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The countries are as follows: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Cameroon, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji Islands, Ghana, Granada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, The Bahamas, The Gambia, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Mexican-born U.S. citizens and their children who were naturalized or born in the U.S. before 1998 rushed to meet a March deadline to file applications for Mexican citizenship, which if successful will secure them dual citizenship. In December 1997, an amendment was passed to the Mexican constitution that permitted certain persons of Mexican origin who had assumed citizenship in another country and their children (born abroad or in Mexico) to regain citizenship rights in Mexico. The window of time during which it was possible to apply for these rights closed on March 20, 2003. As a result, Mexican consulates faced a flood of applicants. Figures from the 2000 Census show that 7.8 million persons born in Mexico now live in the U.S., of whom 1.6 million are U.S. citizens. Consulate officials in Los Angeles and elsewhere appear confident that the Mexican Congress will extend the deadline period in light of the large numbers of last-minute applicants. Since 1998, Mexicans who have have naturalized in other countries have automatically retained their Mexican citizenship.
Angolans living in the United States lost their temporary protected status (TPS) as of March 29, following a determination by the federal government that conditions in Angola no longer warrant TPS designation. TPS allows foreign nationals from specific countries, who are currently residing in the U.S., exceptional protection from deportation due to environmental disasters, civil unrest, or other extraordinary conditions in their home country. The State Department estimates that around 70,000 refugees and 860,000 internally displaced persons have returned to their homes in Angola since peace accords were signed in February 2002 after a 27-year civil war. Critics of the government decision to let Angolans' TPS expire say that constant fighting and unrest in certain areas, along with some eight million scattered land mines, continue to threaten the stability of the country.