Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 25, 2009

Napolitano Testifies

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 25, 2009

If you missed the webcast, Secretary Napolitano testified this morning and into the early afternoon before the House Homeland Security Committee.

In a brief summation of her prepared remarks the Secretary highlighted three priorities for, as she said, “kicking the tires” at the Department of Homeland Security:
1. Immigration enforcement,
2. FEMA working with others, and
3. Sharing intelligence and analysis.

The committee’s follow-on questions did not give much attention to immigration policy, probably because this is mostly in the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction. But border security – and especially escalating violence in Mexico – was the focus of many members comments and questions. In response the Secretary noted the Mexican government is undertaking serious and much needed action against narco-terrorists. DHS is attempting to assist by reducing the southward flow of weapons and money. But the Secretary cautioned against militarizing the border, while promising a vigorous response if local authorities perceive the need for help with troubles boiling over the border.

(Shortly after the House hearing concluded Attorney-General Holder announced the arrest of over 750 individuals associated with Mexican drug cartels.  For more see an AP report and The Washington Times. )

When Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) asked whither-goest-FEMA, the Secretary noted,  “I have not yet had a conversation with the President,” and was clearly keeping all options on the table. Still neither the Secretary nor the Committee seemed enthusiastic about FEMA being decoupled from DHS. Several members of both parties expressed opposition to such a move.

On intelligence gathering and analysis the Secretary gave particular emphasis to the role of non-federal assets. She mentioned that state and local authorities have “more eyes and ears than the federal government will ever have.” In response to several questions she went out of her way to emphasize a leading role for state and local public safety in the national intelligence enterprise.

In response to a question regarding Mexican drugwar violence the Secretary mentioned, the “best intel is often available from the local sheriff.”  Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) commended the Secretary for her commitment to “bottom-up intelligence.”

This was the Secretary’s inaugural appearance before the Committee.  Some additional thoughts later tonight or early tomorrow.

(On Thursday morning the Secretary’s testimony was covered by the Washington Post, New York Times, and other media.)

February 24, 2009

Immigration Team Emerging

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 24, 2009


Secretary Napolitano has appointed Esther Olavarria Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy.  The Olavarria appointment further strengthens the “fix immigration team” being assembled.  She was part of the Democrat’s so-called “shadow government” at the Center for American Progress where she focused on immigration policy.

John Morton, a Justice Department career professional, will be nominated by the President to serve as Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Until last month Morton was Acting Chief of the DOJ Domestic Security Section.

More background on both appointments is available in the DHS news release.

At the time of her nomination Secretary Napolitano was widely seen as a Governor who effectively threaded-the-needle with tough border security that avoided anti-immigrant fear-mongering.

In one of her first official acts the new Secretary directed “department offices and components to work together and with state and local partners to review and assess the plans and policies to address: criminal and fugitive aliens; legal immigration benefit backlogs; southbound gun smuggling; cooperation with the National Guard; widows and widowers of U.S. citizens; immigration detention centers; and electronic employee verification.”  On February 20 she was to have received oral reports on this review .

According to Monday’s USA Today, quoting DHS sources, the economic recession is contributing to a decline in illegal immigration.  This could contribute to a political environment more conducive to crafting an immigration policy fix.

April 16, 2008

Fusion Center Hearing Thursday; Korean Visa Waiver MOU Friday

Filed under: Immigration,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Jonah Czerwinski on April 16, 2008

Thursday, April 17

2:00 PM EDT
Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Jack Tomarchio will testify before the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee, Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration on state and local fusion centers
342 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC

Friday, April 18

2:00 PM EDT
Secretary Michael Chertoff will sign a memorandum of understanding on the Visa Waiver Program with Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan followed by a press availability
Ronald Reagan Building
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Press Briefing Room
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

March 13, 2008

US, EU Convene Over Visa Waiver Today

Filed under: Immigration,International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 13, 2008

Led by the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. yesterday signed agreements with Latvia and Estonia enabling them to join the U.S. visa waiver program (VWP). Negotiations with Hungary begin tomorrow in Washington. Enter Commissioner Frattini.

The European Commissioner handling the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio is itching to get his time with Secretary Chertoff. He told reporters that his “proposal will be to go ahead with political discussions from now until June at a high political level.” Higher than Chertoff? Perhaps he is hoping that Secretary of State Rice will weigh in on his interest in maintaining momentum for an EU-wide visa waiver agreement.

Chertoff maintains that the U.S. negotiates visa waiver status on a country-by-country basis, but the European Commission views this as an EU issue that should lead to a waiver for all EU member states. Frattini and the EU are being challenged by a split in the ranks.

The Commission has jurisdiction over visa reciprocity for the EU, but the slow pace of the supranational government led the Czech Republic earlier this year to sign their own deal, which spurred a chain reaction. In addition to Latvia and Estonia, both EU members, 15 other EU countries already participate in the visa waiver program. As the European Commission seeks to negotiate a visa-waiver pact for the entire 27-nation EU, Frattini’s negotiating hand is weakening. Nevertheless, Commissioner Frattini is hoping to use today’s meeting with Chertoff to strike a visa waiver for the EU before October.

The U.S. needs to be careful in making sure that further negotiations avoid the appearance of undermining EU governance mechanisms. We gain nothing by doing so and risk fracturing a reluctant ally in the fight against terrorism. A unified and well organized EU is better that the sum of its parts in this context. One way to move forward would be to agree to a set of principles in negotiating further agreements with EU nations that protects privacy in the way the EU seeks and accelerates country-by-country progress toward the VWP requirements among remaining EU nations to facilitate a broader blanket for this program.

February 6, 2008

New Immigration Rule and New Immigration Pilot Introduced

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 6, 2008

Today DHS issued new rules for certain immigration requests that also propose establishing a new pilot program for a land-border exit system. This – in addition to making Lou Dobbs apoplectic – will have significant effects on benefits delivery and may invoke certain security and governance challenges.  It’ll also make it a lot easier for those fruit farmers in Florida this season.  The rule is intended to provide employers with a streamlined hiring process for temporary and seasonal agricultural workers (the H-2A program).

The proposed rule:

• Reduces current limitations and certain delays faced by U.S. employers and relaxes the current limitations on their ability to petition for multiple, unnamed agricultural workers.

• Reduces from six to three months the time a temporary agricultural worker must wait outside the U.S. before he or she is eligible reenter the country under H-2A status.

• Establishes a land-border exit system pilot program. Under the program, H-2A visa holders admitted through a port of entry participating in the program would also depart through a port of entry participating in the program and present upon departure designated biographical information, possibly including biometric identifiers.

November 28, 2007

DHS Agency Holds All-Day Workshop on Employer Verification

Filed under: Immigration — by Jonah Czerwinski on November 28, 2007

Yesterday I participated in the USCIS E-Verify Evaluation Workshop here in Washington. The purpose of the one-day workshop was to bring together a cross-section of the stakeholder community (employers, contractors, not that many policy folks) to identify and prioritize issues that should be a part of an upcoming evaluation of the USCIS E-Verify program, which remains in design phase. Lisa Roney, Director of Research and Evaluation at the DHS Office of Policy and Strategy, presided over most of the day.


We were broken up into the following working groups:

  • Using Biometrics (e.g., the Photo Tool) for Verification
  • Resolving Tentative Non-confirmations
  • Timing of Employee Verifications
  • Focusing on Special Employer Types: Designated Agents and the Employers Using Designated Agents
  • Focusing on Special Employer Types: Employment Agencies and Temporary Help Services
  • Focusing on Special Employer Types: Infrequent Users (smaller employers and participants rarely or not using E-Verify)
  • Readers may recall the August 31 post here that covered the announcement by DHS Secretary Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez on a series of border security and immigration measures that included e-Verify and the Social Security No-Match rule. The Administration has described these efforts as the next best alternative to legislation that would have reformed several immigration polices had any legislation passed. E-Verify is the current form of a program already underway called the Basic Pilot, which is run by USCIS.

    The e-Verify program enables employers to check the work status of their employees online. The-Verify system compares information taken from the I-9 work eligibility verification form and matches it against the Social Security Administration’s database and the DHS immigration databases. An official description of E-verify is available here, along with the agenda from yesterday’s workshop, and a description of the workgroup topics.

    We should see a report based on the workshop out around year’s end.

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