DHS May Axe Special Registration of Foreign Visitors
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is "preparing to abandon" Attorney General John Ashcroft's "Special Registration" program for foreign visitors, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper reported that approximately one year after the implementation of the foreign visitor registration program, DHS, which now holds authority over all related activities, is set to shut it down. The decision coincides with the second phase of the program, under which foreign visitors were required to appear and reregister at immigration offices within 10 days of the one-year anniversary of initial registration. During the November 2002-April 2003 initial registration process, approximately 83,000 male temporary immigrants in the U.S., ages 16 and older, from 25 predominantly Arab and Muslim countries were registered. Of these, 14,000 were placed in deportation proceedings for immigration offenses.
Special Registration has faced ongoing opposition from members of Congress as well as civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups who argue that the program does nothing to improve security while alienating potentially helpful immigrant communities. They maintain that security measures, e.g., Special Registration’s companion program at ports-of-entry, must be based on intelligence, not nationality-based criteria. Moreover, they assert that the requirements of the program have been poorly publicized and have sent misleading messages, and that there is a severe lack of resources. The government has argued that Special Registration is the first step in the federally mandated entry/exit program now called US-VISIT and is essential to enhancing national security. Government officials claim that dozens of criminals and seven individuals with potential terrorist links have been identified. (For more information on Special Registration and port-of-entry registration, see the April 2003 Spotlight and the February, March, and May 2003 Policy Beats. For more information on US-VISIT, see the May, June, and October 2003 Policy Beats.)
Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Eduardo Aguirre announced on November 13 an unprecedented effort by the U.S. government to integrate immigrants into American society. The program, which has been allotted $1.5 million this fiscal year, will assist new immigrants by providing them with information packets upon arrival in an effort to educate newcomers on civic integration and the U.S. naturalization process. The program will rely on community groups and non-profit organizations to connect immigrants with host communities. Chief of Citizenship Alfonso Aguilar will head the effort, which will start with a series of promotional campaigns over the next six months. The integration program will begin its pilot phase in five cities with large immigrant populations, including Washington, DC. Over the past decade, the U.S. has granted citizenship to more than six million legal permanent residents. (For more information on immigrant integration, see the October 2003 Special Issue.)
The Senate and House of Representatives have passed legislation designed to expand U.S. employers' ability to verify the employment status of the foreign born. The two chambers voted on the bill on November 12 and 20, respectively. The program is currently a pilot project created under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). It currently operates in six states and participation is optional except for certain employers including executive and legislative branches of the federal government and employers previously found to be in violation of hiring out-of-status workers. The program allows all participating employers access to a federal database that can verify immigrants’ employment eligibility. Currently the pilot program is set to expire November 30. If approved by President George W. Bush, however, the bill will extend the program for another five years and expand it to all 50 states by December 1, 2004. The General Accounting Office will also be required to review the program. Supporters argue that such an effort is needed to make employer sanctions a credible enforcement measure and to reduce discrimination. Yet, critics note that the program is optional for most employers, assert that it can be misused by them, and maintain that the inclusion of outdated and inaccurate information makes it an unreliable tool.
President George W. Bush on November 24 signed a $400 billion FY2004 defense bill that included provisions to benefit the estimated 56,000 immigrants who are not U.S. citizens but are nevertheless serving in the armed forces. The bill permits legal permanent residents on both active duty and in the reserves to apply for naturalization after one year of service. The previous law required three years of service before such individuals were eligible to apply for citizenship status. Other provisions included in the bill waive various naturalization application fees, permit interviews and oath ceremonies to be conducted at U.S. bases abroad, and extend benefits to relatives of immigrants killed while serving. In July 2002, Bush signed an executive order expediting citizenship proceedings for all immigrants on active duty. However, his order can be modified or eliminated at any time and does not extend benefits to those in the reserves – two points deemed essential by several legislators. (For more information on prior legislation, see the May 2003 Policy Beat. For more information on the foreign born in the armed services, see the July 2003 Spotlight.)