First Phase of US-VISIT Becomes Operational
The Department of Homeland Security on January 5 will implement the first phase of its program to electronically track the entry and exit of foreign visitors using biographical information and biometric identifiers. The U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology System (US-VISIT) will incorporate and supersede previous special registration and foreign-student tracking programs. The system, announced April 29, 2003 to meet the requirements of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (as revised in 2000, 2001, and 2002 legislation) will serve as a new nationwide border security and enforcement tool. The program will be operational at 115 airports and 14 seaports for entry control, and at up to 30 airports and one seaport via self-serve kiosks for exit control. Foreign visitors with visas will be required to have two inkless fingerprints and a digital picture taken upon entry and verified upon departure. Future plans for US-VISIT include entry and exit control at all ports, including land ports, by January 2006. U.S. citizens, foreign visitors from 27 Visa Waiver Countries, and Canadian citizens will not be affected by the new requirements. However, the biometric data of visitors from Visa Waiver countries will be gathered automatically as of October 26, 2004, by which date such information must be included in all passports. (See the May, June, and October 2003 Policy Beats for more information on US-VISIT).
Homeland Department Secretary Tom Ridge in a speech on December 10 expressed the need to "determine how [to] legalize the presence" of the approximately nine to twelve million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Two days later, the White House confirmed that officials are pursuing an immigration review that could lead to the legalization of the country's unauthorized population. The goal expressed by some officials is two-fold: to reveal and document the large unauthorized population as part of a broader security approach, and to create an immigration enforcement policy to deter and prevent future illegal entries. Those in favor of a regularization plan claim that it is not in the United States' interests to maintain a large and growing undocumented population that contributes to the economy and yet cannot demand basic workers' rights. Critics of regularization decry the breakdown of the rule of law that grants legal status to those who entered or remained by illegal means. It is expected that U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexico's President Vicente Fox will discuss migration-related topics, including the potential legalization of millions of unauthorized Mexicans living in the U.S., during their next meeting January 11, 2004 in Mexico. In 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that Mexicans accounted for 70 percent of the total unauthorized population.
Canada's new Prime Minister Paul Martin on December 12 announced the creation of the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness headed by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan. The new ministry includes a Border Services agency to consolidate border functions from various government agencies, and it also consolidates all agencies with intelligence components through one chain of command. McLellan's position, formerly held by John Manley, most closely corresponds to that of Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Martin also appointed several other high-level officials that day, including Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada Judy Sgro. Sgro replaced former minister Denis Coderre and will manage the immigration and citizenship services functions of Canada, similar to her U.S. counterpart Eduardo Aguirre, Jr. at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. and Canadian officials have worked closely to heighten security at their land border crossings while facilitating the flow of goods and services. McLellan's and Sgro's appointments came on the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration — an accord created to enhance security and information-sharing along the shared border. (See Insight No. 2 for more information on the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration).
The settlements for two class-action lawsuits granting permanent resident status to over 100,000 unauthorized immigrants are expected to be approved in early January 2004. The settlements were submitted for the approval of the U.S. Eastern California District Court in late November 2003. Both lawsuits were filed over 15 years ago in connection with immigrants who were disqualified for amnesty, and therefore application for permanent resident status, under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) for having traveled outside of the U.S. during their residence. The law included a provision for amnesty for all unauthorized immigrants who had lived continuously in the U.S. from 1982 to 1987, but the interpretation of "continuously" has been in dispute. After being appealed eight times by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the decision to settle the lawsuits was made by the Department of Homeland Security, into which the INS was folded in early 2003. If approved, those individuals who qualify for amnesty under the lawsuits will have one year to apply for legal status.