DHS Modifies Border and Visitor Policies
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson on August 10 announced the expansion of the expedited removal program, which allows inspectors to deport unauthorized aliens without a hearing before an immigration judge. The program, which was first authorized by the Illegal Immigration and Reform Responsibility Act of 1996, originally applied to aliens at airports. It was expanded to cover seaports in November 2002, and will now go beyond official ports-of-entry to include aliens caught within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders who have spent less than 14 days in the United States.
Critics have expressed concern about this expanded role for the Border Patrol and the subsequently planned agent training, fearing that the new policy lacks adequate protections for people fleeing persecution. Supporters laud the expansion of law enforcement authority at the border, claiming that it will prevent the release of persons who cannot be detained due to lack of facility space. According to DHS, 90 percent of unauthorized people released fail to appear for their appointed court date with an immigration judge.
President George W. Bush has signed legislation extending the deadline by which nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries must provide biometric passports upon entering the United States. The new deadline is October 25, 2005, which is also the date by which U.S. ports-of-entry must have the equipment to read such passports. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had requested a two-year extension in order to resolve technical problems with the program, as well as to deal with privacy questions. There were also concerns that the 27 VWP countries, whose citizens are granted visa-free entry into the U.S. for up to 90 days, would not be able to meet the tight biometric passport requirements. In response, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) sponsored legislation agreeing to a one-year extension. To enhance security in the interim, nationals of VWP countries will be subject to the US-VISIT program as of September 30, 2004. (For more information about US-VISIT, see the January 2004 Policy Beat.)
In addition, by September 2004, automated exit procedures will be expanded from pilot programs at the Baltimore-Washington International and Miami airports to 12 additional cities. These programs will require foreign visitors to check out either at automated kiosks or with US-VISIT exit attendants.
In a move expected to facilitate cross-border trade and tourism, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson on August 10 announced that holders of U.S.-issued border crossing cards would be allowed to stay in the United States for up to 30 days at a time, rather than the 72 hours now permitted. Cardholders, who undergo a security check and must have their biometric fingerprints and photographs on record, are allowed to travel within 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border, except in Arizona, where they can travel within 75 miles of the border. In contrast, Canadian visitors are allowed to stay for six months, and many do not need visas. The extension will affect Mexican nationals and U.S. residents in border communities.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it will issue employment authorization documents (EADs) for a time period that more closely reflects the amount of time for which they are needed, rather than a standard 12 months with a requirement for annual renewal. The new EADs, which should be available as early as October, are expected to lighten the bureaucratic burden on legitimate work permit holders, reduce confusion among employers, and reduce unnecessary additions to the USCIS workload and processing backlogs. The USCIS, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, announced the change in a notice in the July 30 Federal Register.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 6 terminated the temporary protected status (TPS) of 292 Montserratians who have resided in the United States since a 1997 eruption destroyed much of their Eastern Caribbean island. The Montserratians must leave the United States by February 27, 2005, or face deportation. The revocation of TPS status represents a departure from the past because the justification notice recognizes that the danger has not ceased in Montserrat. Because the situation is not likely to improve in the foreseeable future, it can no longer be considered "temporary." The volcano continues to erupt and the southern half of the island, one of Great Britain's remaining overseas territories, remains uninhabitable.
TPS is designed for foreign nationals residing in the United States whose nations are facing or recuperating from devastating natural disasters, internal conflict, or other exceptional conditions. It allows those who qualify and register legal permission to stay in the United States for a designated time period. Holders of that status also are granted work authorization, but do not receive government assistance or permanent residence.