Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 9, 2009

Legal barrier to E-Verify removed (for now)

Filed under: Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on September 9, 2009

A web-based means for employers to verify the legal status of employees went into effect for government contractors on Tuesday, September 8.

According to Chris Strohm with NextGov, “After months of delay, the Homeland Security Department implemented a rule requiring most federal contractors and subcontractors to use its E-Verify system to prove employees working on government contracts are legally in the country.”

The rule has been the subject of an extended court challenge by business groups and civil liberties organizations.   The ACLU has argued, “The E-Verify system is based on the Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases, which have unacceptably high error rates involving U.S. citizens’ records. Discrepancies between workers’ Social Security numbers and Social Security Administration records can result from many innocent factors including clerical errors, name changes due to marriage or divorce or the common use of multiple surnames.”

In July the Migration Policy Institute released a report recommending several key improvements in the E-Verify program.

On Friday a federal district court dismissed an injunction plea, which triggered implementation of the rule. The Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency provides details on E-Verify at the USCIS website.

September 8, 2009

Fragments from September 10, 2001… Losing momentum with Mexico

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on September 8, 2009

This is the second in a series begun on Monday, September 7.

Late on Tuesday, September 4, 2001 the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, arrived in Washington D.C.  for a state visit.  On Wednesday key members of the US and Mexican cabinets met together. 

Significant attention was given to developing a bilateral approach to immigration reform. President Bush cautioned, “This is a complex issue,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to bring all the different interests to the table. But we’ve made good progress so far.”

But — with White House blessing — the Mexican President pressed hard for quick action on immigration. “We must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year, which will allow us before the end of our respective terms to make sure that there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States and that those Mexicans who have come into the country do so with the proper documents,” Fox said.  (See more from CNN.)

CNN also reported, “He and Bush also are expected to discuss anti-drug efforts and a shared border-control program.” 

On Thursday, September 6 President Fox addressed a joint session of Congress.  Included in his remarks:

Take for example our common struggle against the scourge of drugs. It should be clear by now that no government, however powerful, will be able to defeat on its own the forces of transnational organized crime that lie behind drug trafficking. Intense cooperation is required to confront this threat, and trust is certainly a prerequisite of cooperation. This is why, since I took office last year, Mexico has enhanced its cooperation with U.S. authorities. We have arrested key drug kingpins and have extradited drug traffickers wanted by the United States Justice. However, much more needs to be done. Trust will be crucial to enhance intelligence and information-sharing between both governments. We’re committed to becoming a full partner with the United States in the fight against drugs… 

That night Lou Dobbs was in the CNN anchor’s chair for Kelly Wallace’s report on the speech and related news:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’m willing to consider ways to — for a guest worker to earn green card status. And yet I fully recognize there are a lot of people who’ve stood in line, who’ve said I’ll abide by the laws of the United States. And we’re trying to work through a formula that will not penalize the person who’s chosen the legal route and at the same time recognize the contribution the undocumented has made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Another big issue: conservative critics who believe President Fox’s plan would basically reward those immigrants who broke the law to enter the U.S. No one, Lou, really expecting a big agreement by the end of this year, but everyone believing President Fox’s visit has increased the urgency on an issue Congress and the president likely to focus on in the months ahead.

Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: Kelly, very comforting language used by the president, talking about guest workers, not referring to these people as illegal aliens, but rather undocumented workers. All of this, I presume, designed to soften some of the tension between the two men over the issue and also to, perhaps, assuage the Latino voting public.

WALLACE: Well, certainly — you certainly know, Lou, that right off the bat the administration was very concerned that it was sort of being accused of supporting blanket amnesty for Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. President Bush saying he is against the “A” word.

And so you do see him talking about a guest worker program; maybe finding some middle ground. Allowing more Mexicans to come to the U.S., part of this guest worker program, to work here and, of course, to have some benefits and send that money back to Mexico. It’s a way of some middle ground. Obviously a big political issue that — the fight is just ahead.

Lou, back to you.

Lou did not comment and moved on to the next story, a 200-point plunge in the Dow Jones.  But I wonder if this is when Lou Dobbs began to perceive the potential for exploiting the “A word”?

On September 10, 2001 we were actively engaged in seeking innovative bipartisan and bilateral solutions to immigration, drug enforcement, and border issues between the United States and Mexico.  Lou Dobbs was not yet pandering for viewers.

Should we repudiate such September 10 thinking? 

Almost eight years to the day after President Fox landed in Washington, his successor reported to the Mexican Congress on his intense struggle against murderous drug cartels. 

On September 2, 2009, CBS News reported, “‘The past year has been a different year,’ said President Felipe Calderón during his third state of the nation address Wednesday. Different must be a euphemism for horrible. This was bound to be a difficult year to summarize for Mexico’s beleaguered President. In the past year he has been battered with several challenges: the world economic recession, the influenza outbreak, diminishing oil resources, the worst drought the country has seen in years, escalating drug violence, topped by the world’s belief that Mexico is ungovernable.”

Instead of repudiating September 10 thinking, we might mourn the opportunities lost in the years since.

May 14, 2009

Second Day of Congressional DHS Budget Hearings; FEMA stays in

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Immigration,Preparedness and Response — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 14, 2009

Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano appeared on Capitol Hill for a second consecutive full day of hearings on the FY2010 proposed DHS budget.   In the morning she was on the House side, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee. In the afternoon, she switched over to the Senate and testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

During the hearings, Secretary Napolitano faced pointed questions on the elimination of funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and the 60% cut to Fire Act grants  (See my May 8th posting below assessing the Homeland Security Budget Numbers for more information on these cuts).   On SCAAP,   Members put her in awkward spot of having to defend a cut to a program that is 1) not within her Department and 2) that she had supported while Governor and Arizona.   The Secretary noted that the program – as well discussion of its elimination – falls with the Justice Department’s purview and refocused the discussion on what is in her jurisdiction – DHS’ efforts to address the flow of illegal immigration into the country.   As noted in my earlier posting, expect SCAAP funding to be partially, if not fully, restored by the appropriations committees in the FY2010 spending bills.

On Fire Grants, Members  – in all four hearings – expressed concerns about the cuts. While some of the money was transferred over to SAFER Grants (recruitment and hiring), Members remain committed to providing fire departments with equipment purchasing funds.  The Secretary did attempt to address this issue by mentioning funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka stimulus bill), but that argument did not appear to convince Members to support the cuts and movement of funds.  Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security has a good description of Member reaction in his story detailing the hearings.

Speaking of first responders, the White House formally notified Congress yesterday that FEMA will remain within the Department.  This was reinforced during the hearings yesterday when Secretary Napolitano was asked about whether FEMA would stay in DHS.   Perfect timing for a decision, as the Senate yesterday confirmed FEMA’s new Administrator, Craig Fugate, after Senator David Vitter (R-LA) dropped his hold on the nomination.  Vitter dropped his hold after he received a letter from FEMA committing to working on solutions that meet the needs of those affected by disasters.  Word is that Administrator Fugate reports to duty on Monday.  With hurricane season only a few weeks away, this appointment (and the decision to keep FEMA in DHS) is both timely and critical.

Interestingly enough, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing this morning at 11 am on “an Independent FEMA.”  The hearing will focus on  FEMA “and how it has functioned since its placement in the Department of Homeland Security.” DHS is not slated to testify but it should be interesting to hear what the panelists say about the White House decision, especially in light of Chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) push for an independent FEMA.  He and other T&I Members introduced H.R. 1174, the FEMA Independence Act of 2009, back in February.

April 7, 2009

America echoes Ankara

Filed under: Immigration,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 7, 2009

President Obama’s Monday speech in Ankara had several audiences and as many purposes.  In the United States it will be heard and read with particular care by the Muslim American community.

“So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” has been the line most quoted from the speech. The President continued, ”In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.”

The United States, unlike Europe and elsewhere, has not yet suffered from homegrown Islamist terrorism.  Fundamental to our defense-in-depth has been effective economic, political, and cultural integration of Islamic residents.  While in Europe many Muslims are treated as second-class citizens or worse, the American Muslim community overall is better educated and more affluent than average. 

The President explained, “We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans.”

Muslims make up less than  two percent -  2.35 million to 3.5 million - of the US population (estimates differ).  A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of Muslim Americans found them to be “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”  A Washington Post-ABC News survey completed on March 29 found, however, that 45 percent of Americans self-assess they “do not have a good basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam” and 48 percent admit to having “unfavorable” views of Islam.

There is also concern that greater difficulty integrating some recent Somali immigrants may make that Muslim community more vulnerable to radicalization.

In the substantive close of his address to Turkish parliamentarians the President offered, “There’s an old Turkish proverb: ‘You cannot put out fire with flames.’  America knows this. Turkey knows this. There’s some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.”  

In a joint statement the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections said, “The American Muslim community believes President Obama’s new policy of dialogue and mutual respect will serve our nation and the cause of world peace and stability much better than past policies of unilateralism and confrontation.” 

But the full AMT statement gives even more attention to  “the deteriorating relations between the FBI and American Muslims, the dissemination of inaccurate and agenda-driven information by DHS-recognized fusion centers, and Muslims’ concerns about Justice Department guidelines implemented in December 2008 that allow race and ethnicity to be factors in opening an FBI probe.”

Today the President will conclude his visit to Turkey meeting with religious leaders and students.

Related Links:

Obama’s entreaty to Islam surprises Muslims from the San Francisco Chronicle

LI Muslims praise Obama’s speech, but want action from Newsday

The Muslim next door from Newsweek

America at a Crossroads: America’s Muslims from the Public Broadcasting System

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.

e-verify-logo.jpg

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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