Justice, Homeland Security Departments Announce Changes
Attorney General John Ashcroft on April 24 announced that undocumented immigrants could be detained indefinitely, without bond, if the government provides evidence that their release might threaten national security. In a move based on the case of a detained Haitian undocumented immigrant, the Justice Department argued that although the individual in question had no links to terrorism, his release could prompt a "mass influx" of Haitian refugees. This influx, in turn, was considered an indirect threat to national security because of its potential to divert immigration and Coast Guard resources currently allocated to homeland security and the fight against terrorism.
The Justice Department's ruling overturned a Board of Immigration Appeals decision to uphold an immigration judge's release of Haitian asylum seeker David Joseph on a $2,500 bond, pending his hearing. Immigration advocates and civil liberties groups have criticized the ruling, arguing that immigrants are not being given the chance to be judged on their individual circumstances or to prove that they do not pose threats to national security. They also point to the tremendous financial costs of detaining large numbers of immigrants.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on April 29 announced that the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Program (NSEERS) would be replaced by a new entry/exit system for foreigners entering the U.S.. The new program will be called the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology System (USVISIT), and will aim to track all those coming to the U.S. to work, study, and visit. As a result of the implementation of USVISIT, which is scheduled to begin its first phase of operations by 2003 at international air and seaports, the NSEERS Special Registration Program will end. Special Registration currently requires registration with immigration authorities by nonimmigrant men (that is, those who are in the U.S. on temporary visas), who are aged 16 and older and come from any one of 25 countries. The designated countries are predominantly Arab and Muslim, as well as states where Al Qaeda is thought to be particularly active. This spring, lawmakers voiced concerns that Special Registration was ineffective in promoting national security, and that it was limiting the efficient provision of immigration services. For more information on NSEERS and Special Registration see the Policy Beat in the February and March issues and April's Spotlight on Special Registration.
April 25 marked the final deadline for the fourth call-in group of the special registration program, a component of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Program (NSEERS). Special Registration, which began in January, had registered a total of 74,538 men as of April 18, 2003. The program requires registration with immigration authorities by nonimmigrant men (that is, those who are in the U.S. on temporary visas), who are aged 16 and older and come from any one of 25 countries. The designated countries are predominantly Arab and Muslim, as well as states where Al Qaeda is thought to be particularly active. The fourth call-in group includes temporary foreign visitors who are male, 16 years of age or older, are nationals or citizens of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan or Kuwait, and who were present in the United States before October 1, 2002. For more information on Special Registration see the Policy Beat in the February and March issues and April's Spotlight on Special Registration.
The Senate on April 10 passed a bill awarding immediate citizenship to non-citizen soldiers killed in combat. Retroactive to September 11, 2001, the bill is dependent on the approval of the deceased's family members and was one of many legislative initiatives introduced in April related to non-citizens in the military. Some 37,000 non-citizen personnel currently serve in the U.S. military (approximately three percent of the U.S. armed forces) and there are an estimated 13,000 non-citizen reservists. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Zell Miller (D-GA) sponsored the bill.
President George W. Bush in July 2002 signed an executive order expediting citizenship proceedings for men and women on active duty in the armed forces. Prior to that, immigrants in the military were required to complete three years of service before filing an application for citizenship. Currently, all active duty non-citizens may file for citizenship immediately upon beginning their service. Spouses of military personnel who are posted overseas for a year or more also qualify for expedited citizenship proceedings. According to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, between July 2002 and February 2003, 5,441 soldiers filed applications for citizenship, continuing a trend toward a rising number of applications that began several years earlier.
Lawmakers on April 9 reintroduced legislation that would allow young, undocumented immigrants who meet certain conditions to adjust to permanent resident status and obtain work authorization. To be eligible, applicants would need to show good moral character, be enrolled in 7th grade or above at the date the legislation is passed, present proof of having lived in the U.S. at least five years, and be under 21 years old. If passed, the Student Adjustment Act also would allow states to provide in-state tuition rates to eligible students regardless of immigration status. Such rates are particularly important for immigrant students, who are ineligible for Pell grants and federal student aid. According to the bill's sponsors, representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the Student Adjustment Act would benefit an estimated 50-65,000 students, or approximately two percent of high school graduates each year. The bill is the House counterpart to the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education Relief for Alien Minors), which was introduced to the Senate in July 2002 but later withdrawn.
The Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act 2003 was signed into law April 16 to provide additional funding to government agencies involved in the war against Iraq. Of the total $78.5 billion "emergency spending" bill, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received a total of $6.71 billion (8.5 percent) to support domestic counter-terrorism operations. A further $4.31 billion of DHS funds were allocated specifically to cover the administrative and operational costs of Operation Liberty Shield — a multi-government and multi-agency national anti-terrorism effort initiated March 17 (at the start of the war) to increase protections in the United States. Operation Liberty Shield (see April 1, 2003 Policy Beat) has faced criticism for some of its security initiatives, specifically the detention of asylum seekers from over 30 countries thought to have ties to Al Qaeda and the "voluntary" interviews of approximately 11,000 Iraqi nationals currently living in the United States. The three bureaus within DHS that deal directly with immigrants and immigration functions received varying amounts of the $4.31 billion total: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection was allocated $333 million; the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $170 million; and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, $3 million.