Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 26, 2010

Immigration- In the Background

Filed under: Immigration — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on March 26, 2010

While health care may have been grabbing most of the headlines, the last two weeks have been busy on the immigration front. Just over a week ago, Senators Schumer and Graham released an framework for immigration legislation that they would like to move forward with in the near future. Last Sunday, somewhere between “tens of thousands to more than 200,000” people descended on the National Mall for the “March for America: Change Takes Courage” to promote immigration reform.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), touching upon a number of programs including E-Verify and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, as well as the agency’s Transformation Program, designed to “transition the agency from a paper-based business model to a centralized and consolidated electronic environment.”

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up two bills – S. 2960 and S. 2974 – that would allow immigrants living in the U.S. legally to work overseas without harming their immigration status. The first bill would exempt immigrants who are refugees or asylum grantees who are working for the federal government oversees to have their immigration status adjusted to permanent resident without being required to be physically in the U.S. for a year. The second would allow permanent residents to go home to assist in recovery efforts in their native country in the time of a disaster without an adverse effect on their opportunity for naturalization here in the U.S.

Also held yesterday was a hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee entitled “Visa Overstays: Can They be Eliminated?” Much of that hearing focused on the development and implementation of a biometric air exit system. Congress first requested an automated entry/exit system in 1996 as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).. The 9/11 Commission, in its final report, called for the creation of such a system. In 2007, congress mandated the use a system to biometrically track the exit of all foreign visitors from US. Airports by June 30, 2009. That deadline was not met.

During the hearing, Committee Members posed a number of questions to the witnesses, specifically DHS National Protection & Programs Directorate Undersecretary Rand Beers about the future of a biometric air exit system. Members specifically asked why the Department did not request any funding for the air exit program in its Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request. In response, Beers stated that since no decisions have been made on moving forward with a biometric exist system, it was impossible for the Department to predict costs. He did say that DHS would likely request funds in 2012 and that the estimates for the cost of any exit program could top $1 billion over 10 years. The decision on whether to continue with the program rests with Secretary Napolitano, who is evaluating its future.

Interestingly, even if a program was implemented, the Department – through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – would still have to track those who have overstayed their visas and not left the country. This effort is tremendous, according to testimony given by the DHS IG Richard Skinner and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. ICE, for its part, has focused on the biggest risks – fugitives, potential terrorists and criminals – in its efforts to track down those who have overstayed.

It is very likely, whatever happens on the comprehensive immigration reform front, that immigration and border security will remain a significant issue for the next several months. Among the things to look out for:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

    • Will Senators Schumer and Graham’s bill, in the current toxic environment in D.C., be able to garner support this year and be considered?
    • If something goes through the Senate, how will the House respond?
    • What role will the White House play in shepherding the issue through Congress?

    Border Security:

    • SBINet- what is its future?
    • Air Exit – what is its future?
    • How will the increasing violence along the U.S.-Mexico border affect our nation’s border security efforts?
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    Comment by William R. Cumming

    March 26, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    Thanks Jessica for the roundup of this issue. Very helpful. Is Rand Beers the utility infielder for congressional hearings? Exactly what delegation makes RAND BEERS the expert on the future of a biometric air exit system? Oh now I get it the US Visit Program is housed in his Directorate. I guess I could ask why but probably just another indicator that DHS org makes sense to all but those who think the department should be managed more effectively. Acatually I though S&T Directorate had lead on biometric issues for DHS?
    IMO and of course could be wrong the top ten immigration issues for US follow:
    1. Exclusion of Mexican affairs from any analysis of illegal immigration. Even though we know 2/3 of illegals are Mexican this fact alone justifies this separate analysis and policy.
    2. The impact on dual citizenship and legal and illegal immigration. When did this policy develop and how and what was the rationale? Ius Sanguinis?
    3. H1B and its impacts on US economics and beneficiaries?
    4. Resident aliens and their impact from taxation to education?
    5. Policy towards Cuba vis a vis future after Castro?
    6. Policy on Haitians or other countries suffering from massive cataclysms?
    7. Immigration appeals system and overlaps and duplications between STATE, DOJ and DHS and policy setting?
    8. De facto and De Jure discrimination against certain Aslyum seekers?
    9. End to the highly secretive statistics kept, not kept, or released on immigration–legal and illegal? Example, how many offspring of foreign nationals are born in the US each year and thereby automatically obtain citizenship?
    10. Clarification of “Natural Born” language in the Constitution by statute for the Presidency? Think of the time wasted on this issue on both McCain (born in Panama) and Obama (born in Hawaii)!

    Again it is clear that many many people profit by illegal immigration and the attendant concerns from policing to benefits. Little real analysis done by DHS or any academics on these important questions. My guess is chips implanted at birth will be standard before the end of this century! What are the benefits, the costs, the implications for government and society?
    Oh and by the way does the DHS Privacy officer ever get a shot at biometric issues? That might be an interesting congressional witness!

    Comment by Mark Chubb

    March 26, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    The complexities of life as an immigrant (legal or otherwise) are explored in an intense new novel by David Corbett entitled Do They Know I’m Running. Although Mr. Corbett’s characters and their situation are entirely fictional, the circumstances he portrays are all too real. (Disclosure: I am related to the author.)

    Many immigrant families consist of individuals of mixed status. Some are legal, others are not. Some entered the country legally, others did not. Some have become permanent residents or even citizens, and others have not. In many if not most cases, one or more family members is working and paying federal, state and local taxes to support the others. As a rule, immigrants demand far fewer services from government than other groups in our society, especially when their status presents them with a risk of detection and deportation.

    As Corbett notes, an unusually large number of immigrant families from Latin America have members serving in the U.S. armed forces. Many choose to serve in hopes of obtaining citizenship, and others serve because they have few other employment opportunities that provide the chance of making it into the American middle class (or what’s left of it these days).

    It’s hard to get a grip on the real impact of America’s tortured relationship with immigration from journalists or other factual accounts. Sometimes fiction does a better job or presenting the truth of a situation than any factual account could. I recommend Do They Know I’m Running to anyone who wants to become better informed about the impact of the immigration debate.

    Comment by William R. Cumming

    March 27, 2010 @ 12:23 am

    Thanks Mark and decriminalizing the immigration laws would be a helpful first step. Again as posted on the Harding withdrawal post, meshing administrative fines, sanctions, due process and justice with the criminal justice system is difficult and complex task. Explain again to me why illegal immigration should be considered criminal conduct in any circumstances except when felony perjury?

    Comment by William R. Cumming

    March 27, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

    Reference item #10 in above comments by me see George Will’s op-ed in Sunday March 28th WAPO at

    George F. Will – An argument to be made about immigrant babies and citizenship – washingtonpost.com

    Comment by William R. Cumming

    March 30, 2010 @ 7:10 am

    Apparently a biometrics agency has been established in DOD under the Secretary of the Army but with DOD wide application of standards. Time will tell.

    Comment by Immigrant kid

    April 9, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    It fits our needs perfectly the advantage of immigration reform on the country: Greater supply of unskilled workers, a younger workforce, and skilled workers in needed sectors. But there is also a disadvantage of immigration reform like Greater poverty, more educational cost, lower unskilled wage levels, and increased danger of terrorism. Thanks to the post!

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