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Homeland Security Dept. Proposal Moves Forward
Legislative Progress on Department of Homeland Security Proposal
With a vote of 295-132, the House of Representatives passed legislation on July 26 (H.R. 5005) to create a Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Modeled on the legislation approved by the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, the bill tracks most of the features of President Bush's initial proposal. One of the few major changes involves moving only the enforcement arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the new agency, rather than the entire INS, the remainder of which would stay within the Department of Justice. Another change was agreement to create an Office of Civil Rights within the department.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill (a new version of S. 2452) on July 25 that also is similar to the outlines of President George W. Bush's proposal. Key differences between the two bills revolve around the intelligence component of the new agency, the extent of civil service protections for the agency's employees, and clarification of the Freedom of Information Act's application to the agency. Moreover, the Senate bill would move the entire INS into the new department and upgrade the INS's status to one in which it would stand on top of its own directorate, headed by an undersecretary of homeland security for immigration affairs, rather than buried deeply within the Border and Transportation Security division headed by an assistant secretary, as envisioned in the other proposals. The Directorate of Immigration Affairs would incorporate the reforms of the INS envisioned by the Immigration Reform, Accountability, and Security Enhancement Act of 2002, proposed by Senators Kennedy and Brownback in May, as well as include an Office of Children's Services and an Agency for Immigration Hearings and Appeals (replacing the Executive Office of Immigration Review). The DHS would merge parts of over twenty federal agencies, include more than 170,000 employees, and boast a $37 billion budget. The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the homeland security bill after returning from its summer recess, and many in Congress are expecting the bill to be ready for the president's signature by Sept. 11.
Local/Federal Law Enforcement Cooperation
In a controversial move, Florida became the first state in the country to sign an agreement with the Justice Department allowing state and local law enforcement officials to assist the INS with enforcing immigration law. The agreement was described as being very limited, involving only 35 state and local police and aimed only at cases involving terrorism and national security. For additional information on this issue, see the Policy Beat from July 2002.
Continuation of Secret Detentions
At least for now, the U.S. government may continue to keep secret the names of those detained after Sept. 11, following the refusal of the New Jersey Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a state appellate case. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had challenged the June ruling of a New Jersey appeals court that the government could continue secret detentions. That decision had overturned a lower court's ruling that barred blanket closure of deportation hearings. The ACLU is deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to news reports, more than 1,200 individuals were detained after Sept. 11, with approximately 70 remaining in custody.
Senior Diplomat Asked to Resign
Following new allegations of visa fraud at a U.S. embassy overseas and lingering frustration among members of Congress regarding the role of Consular Affairs in issuing visas to some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Secretary of State Colin Powell asked for the resignation of Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan. Ms. Ryan, one of only two career ambassadors (the highest foreign service officer rank), was also the longest-serving diplomat in the State Department. Her departure, while portrayed as standard for an individual who had been appointed in a previous administration, was criticized by many career State Department employees and others outside the government who felt she was being used as a scapegoat. Under the Department of Homeland Security proposals, many of the policy and regulatory functions of Consular Affairs would be transferred to the new agency.
Extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
The Justice Department has extended TPS to Salvadorans for an additional year, arguing that El Salvador is still recovering from the effects of destructive earthquakes and cannot yet absorb returning immigrants. TPS 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. Approximately 260,000 Salvadorans had signed up for the program after it was announced in March 2001. Salvadoran migrants are estimated to send nearly $2 billion home each year, making a significant contribution to El Salvador's economy.
The Justice Department had announced in May that TPS was being extended for Hondurans and Nicaraguans for one year, with the re-registration deadline in July. Over 100,000 Hondurans and 5,000 Nicaraguans had been registered for TPS, though it appears that many Hondurans did not re-register.