INS Included in Homeland Security Proposal
On June 6, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed a permanent Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, an agency that would include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Customs, the Secret Service, and the Transportation Security Administration, among others. The INS would be part of the Border and Transportation Security pillar. The Department of Homeland Security also would have legal authority over visa issuance. Congress has begun holding hearings on this proposal, which has similarities with an earlier proposal by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), S2452, as well as with the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (the Hart-Rudman Commission). Immigrant advocates, the business community, and members of Congress have raised questions about the meaning of such changes in terms of the country's overall immigration policy and previous INS restructuring proposals. They also have voiced more general concerns regarding the impact of such changes on the non-enforcement components of the INS, including benefits adjudication, citizenship, and the refugee program.
Registering and Monitoring Non-Immigrants
On June 13, the Justice Department published regulations regarding the proposed National Security Entry-Exit Registration System announced by the attorney general earlier that month. The regulations note that the attorney general already has the authority to register and fingerprint non-immigrants who remain in the U.S. over 30 days. The proposal is expected to affect approximately 100,000 visa holders in its first year. Initial efforts would focus on nationals visiting from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria, as well as unspecified others who may pose "national security concerns." These visitors would be fingerprinted and photographed at the border, would need to register if they stayed beyond thirty days (and every 12 months thereafter), and would need to "sign out" upon their departure. Those who fail to do so would have their information entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Some analysts and advocates have expressed concern regarding the potential for racial profiling and whether the program will simply provide an illusion of effectiveness against terrorism rather than real security. In related news, the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which will affect all foreign students in the United States, is scheduled to go on-line July 1.
Opposition to Local Enforcement of Immigration Laws Continues
This spring, press reports began circulating that the Justice Department (DOJ)'s Office of Legal Counsel had written a legal opinion that local law enforcement has "inherent authority" to enforce civil violations of immigration law, in contrast to long-standing federal policy. Since that time, state and local governments (including over two dozen police forces), immigrant advocates, and others have expressed public opposition to this interpretation. They are concerned that it would undermine the nascent trust between immigrant communities and police departments, and actually harm community policing by deterring immigrants from reporting crimes and testifying as witnesses. It appears that no final decisions have yet been made by the White House as to whether and how to proceed on this issue. For more information on the legal merits of the DOJ recommendation, see the MPI memo on this issue.
Inquiry Regarding Detention of Haitians
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently agreed to investigate the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) policy of singling out Haitians for detention in Miami-Dade County. Immigration advocates claim that the new INS policy, one that shifted in December 2001 after the rescue of a boatload of Haitians off of Miami's coast, is discriminatory. Previously, most Haitians were released after establishing a "credible fear of persecution" while their applications were pending, as is the case with other nationalities. However, the INS is denying Haitians the parole customarily extended to nearly all other nationalities pending their asylum hearing. The Justice Department has argued that the detention of Haitian asylum seekers saves lives by deterring a mass exodus and deaths at sea of other Haitians. Immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit regarding the Haitian-only detention policy in March 2002.