Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Migration News

contact us

October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

INS: Border, Naturalization

Border. The INS apprehended 1.5 million unauthorized migrants in FY99, which ended September 30, up slightly from 1998. Apprehensions in the San Diego sector in FY99 were 181,000--the lowest level since 1973. Operation Gatekeeper, launched October 1, 1994, resulted in a doubling of the number of Border Patrol agents, from 1,300 to 2,200. In FY95, there were 524,000 apprehensions in the San Diego sector.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that the drop in apprehensions "tells me it's a myth that the border can't be enforced. It can be enforced."

As the INS succeeds in reducing unauthorized entries in California and Texas, more migrants are attempting entries over the Mexico-US border in Arizona. Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is scheduled to visit Douglas, Arizona in October 1999 to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing crossings over the Mexico-Arizona border.

The new heart of Mexican migrant smuggling are the twin cities of Agua Prieta, Sonora, population 120,000, and Douglas, Arizona, population 15,000. Buses from the interior of Mexico arrive in Agua Prieta full and leave empty. Smugglers hire hustlers to meet arriving buses and make their pitch, typically offering to smuggle a person to Phoenix for $400 to $800, with guarantees and other assurances—the hustlers receive $50 to $100 for each migrant they recruit. Some migrants fly to Hermosillo, five hours south of Agua Prieta, and then take buses to the border to save time traveling north in Mexico—more migrants arrive in Hermosillo on one-way tickets than anywhere else in Mexico; hustlers with cell phones meet them in the airport.

The US-Mexican border area is one of the richest areas of Mexico and one of the poorest areas of the US. Many of the 24 US counties along the Mexican border have joined the US-Mexico Border Counties Coalition to demand reimbursement for the costs associated with illegal immigration, from hospital bills to the cost of police investigations of migrant deaths. The federal government provided $585 million in FY99 through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program to assist state and local governments with costs associated with criminal aliens; state and local governments say their total cost is $1.4 billion a year, and that the federal government's accounting does not include court expenses, juvenile detention and indigent defense.

If unauthorized migrants are arrested by local police for ordinary crimes, local governments usually pay the costs and do not get reimbursed. Arizona's Pima County complained that the number of unauthorized migrants arrested for crimes tripled between 1994 and 1998, and forced the county to raise property taxes to pay for more law enforcement—the county estimates that 25 percent of its law enforcement costs are associated with unauthorized migrants. California's Imperial County Board of Supervisors in Fall 1998 declared a local emergency and requested reimbursement.

NBER Working Paper No. W7054 concludes that increased border enforcement reduces illegal immigration but does not have much effect on wages in US border states. Between 1977 and 1997, the number of hours devoted to border control increased from 1.8 million a year to 5.1 million, but the only industry in which the data suggested that more enforcement increased US wages was lumber.

The FBI will once again allow INS inspectors at New York City airports to check suspicious foreigners against its criminal database.

IDENT. The House Appropriations Committee, which controls the budget for INS, turned down a request for an additional $20 million to expand the IDENT system. The committee asked the INS to suspend further development of the electronic fingerprinting system until the INS fixes flaws so that it can better detect criminals at the border. Congress wants the INS to improve coordination between IDENT and the FBI's database. The IDENT system did not detect suspected serial killer Angel Maturino Resendez, who was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Resendez, suspected of eight US murders, was caught and released voluntarily back into Mexico nine times by the Border Patrol in 18 months.

IDENT stores fingerprints and photos of people caught trying to enter the US illegally. The Appropriations Committee said that it "continues to be concerned about the inadequacies of this system specifically with regard to its ability to identify wanted criminals."

Naturalization. Among all adult immigrants in the US five years or more in 1997, 53 percent had become US citizens, up sharply from 38 percent in 1993, but down from a peak 63 percent in 1965. Naturalization rates increase with time in the US and education—California and Texas have among the lowest naturalization rates—42 to 43 percent—reflecting the relatively high proportion of Mexicans among immigrants, and the fact that many immigrants in these states are married to non-US citizens.

On September 2, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner announced a reduction in the naturalization backlog. The number of naturalization applications fell from 420,000 in summer 1998 to 290,000 in summer 1999, and Meissner predicted that, by summer 2000, the wait between application and interview should be down to the INS goal of six months.

Immigrant advocates said that the INS is making progress in eliminating the backlog, but complained that there has been a sharp increase in the number of naturalization applications denied. In Los Angeles, 90,000 naturalization applications were rejected in the first eight months of 1999 and the denial rate thus jumped from six percent to 40 percent. Meissner said that many of the denials are not based on the applicants' qualifications, but come about because applicants who move to a new address often do not respond to the letter inviting them to the naturalization interview. The INS then rejects those applications.

The Chicago office of the INS was criticized during a House Judiciary subcommittee meeting on September 13 for the way it treats immigrants. Testimony included tales of lost records, rude employees and poor service. One subcommittee member said that many other INS facilities have the same problems and Chicago is a "good microcosm of what we need to fix."

Removals/Detention. The INS in the first nine months of FY99 removed or deported 47,100 criminals and 86,400 non-criminals—both numbers are up from FY98. In addition, some 54,100 foreigners were removed from the US via expedited removal. Expedited removal is a procedure used to deal with foreigners with no documents or false documents who are detected at ports of entry. If they waive their right to a hearing before an immigration judge, they depart voluntarily, and are usually barred from re-entry for five years.

In August 1999, the INS changed its procedures for dealing with long-term detainees. Under the new policy, the INS district director must review the status and need for continued custody of persons against whom the INS has issued a final order of removal within 90 days, and subsequently every six to nine months. During each review, the burden is on the detainee to prove that he would not be a threat to the community if released. There are over 2,400 people in essentially permanent INS custody because they cannot be deported; a total of about 15,000 foreigners are in INS custody awaiting deportation at any one time.

One of the Cubans released from Krome Detention Center after his parents staged a 48-day hunger strike was arrested for armed robbery.

On September 28, Amnesty International released a report, "Lost in the Labyrinth," complaining that asylum seekers who cannot be detained in INS-run facilities and are instead sent to county jails and housed with criminals. The author of the report, Nick Rizza, concluded that the INS needs to establish national standards to determine who should be detained, identify all prisoners who are asylum seekers, and take away the authority of INS district directors to determine who should be detained.

The INS responded that most asylum seekers are not detained. Of 3,200 foreigners who arrived at US ports of entry and requested asylum between October 1998 and May 1999, the INS reported that 67 percent were released, 20 percent of the cases were resolved, and 13 percent are still in detention.

Sanctions. The INS in 1998-99 devised new ways of discouraging US employers from hiring unauthorized workers without disrupting production or bothering US citizens and legally authorized workers. One of these new operations was Operation Vanguard, which subpoenaed records from meatpacking employers in Nebraska, compared the information provided against Social Security Administration records, and then told employers to ask employees who appeared to be unauthorized to clear up discrepancies or face INS interviews. When it visited meat packing plants, the INS interviewed only workers already identified as potentially unauthorized.

The INS had planned to move Operation Vanguard to Iowa and other Midwestern states, but SSA stopped permitting INS agents to check employee records against its database, citing privacy concerns. The American Meat Institute complained that expanding Vanguard might cause pork prices to decline further if unauthorized workers were scared away from their jobs and meat "dis-assembly lines" were slowed. There are about 20,000 workers employed in meatpacking plants in Iowa; hog prices rose from their lows of $14 a hundredweight in December 1998 to $34 per hundred pounds in June 1999.

Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns has appointed a panel to develop recommendations for federal local officials to deal with undocumented workers. The panel's first meeting was September 29 and the panel members said they will investigate: 1)Does the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Operation Vanguard belong in the workplace; 2) Are the impacts of the program such that conditions will improve for workers in meatpacking plants; 3)How does the operation relate to the treatment of people who are residents of Nebraska from another country; 4) What is the impact of the program on the state's livestock industry; 5) What is the impact of the program on communities?

Organization. INS Commissioner Meissner gave cautious support to a proposal by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), S. 1563, that would replace the INS with an Immigration Affairs Agency with two bureaus -- one to enforce immigration laws and patrol the borders and another to handle the cases of legal immigrants. The two bureaus would both report to a single agency head.

Refugees Since 1989, about 257,000 Jews and 100,000 evangelical Christians from the ex-USSR have been admitted as refugees to the US after demonstrating a "credible basis" for concern that they face persecution at home, rather than the harder to prove "well-founded fear" of persecution required of most refugees. In 1996, the Department of State, citing high levels of fraud, urged that the credible basis program be ended—it was not. There is disagreement between US staff in Moscow and Washington about the level of fraud in the credible basis program, with Moscow staff believing that the level of fraud is very high.

The US brought about 12,000 of an expected 20,000 Kosovars to the US before fighting stopped. About 8,000 Kosovars were placed directly with host families in more than 100 cities across the country, while 4,000 others stayed a few weeks at a camp at Fort Dix before being resettled nationwide. Those who arrived in the US between May 5 and July 31, 1999 were given the option of settling in the US, or returning to Kosovo at US government expense before May 1, 2000. About 1,750 returned to Kosovo by September 1999, and another 1,000 are expected to leave the US.

Those in the US are struggling, with some of the Kosovars complaining of insufficient support in the US, and some resettlement organizations complaining of ungrateful refugees. Some Kosovars may have grown accustomed to the 24-hour service they had at Fort Dix. In some cases, Kosovars who sent much of the cash support they received back to Kosovo complain that they have few funds to survive in the US.

Mail-Order Brides. The INS in the mid-1990s estimated that eight percent of US citizen-foreign spouse marriages were fraudulent; Congress responded by toughening laws regulating immigration due to marriage in 1996.

The INS investigated mail-order marriages, marriages between US citizens and foreign spouses arranged by intermediary firms, which send out catalogs of foreign women seeking US husbands. Of 96,000 immigrant applications made by foreign spouses in 1994, 717 were denied for a specific reason, including fraud. There were 5,000 immigrant-visa applications as a result of mail-order marriages in 1994 and only three were denied for fraud.

Nonetheless, the perception that many marriages are aimed at securing immigrant status persists. The Wall Street Journal documented the case of a Filipina woman who came to the US on a fiancée visa; once here, her sponsor decided not to marry her. She stayed in the US illegally, and eventually met another American, whom she married. After their marriage, they went to INS, which issued her a temporary employment pass and scheduled the couple for an interview six months later.

Six months later, the INS denied her request for an immigrant visa, saying that the woman could marry only the man who had sponsored her fiancée visa. The couple flew to Manila to begin the process anew, and there learned that, because the woman had lived illegally in the US for more than one year, her entry was barred for ten years. The couple is considering moving to Canada.

Ken Ellingwood, "Data on Border Arrests Raise Gatekeeper Debate," Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1999. Scott Bauer, "Governor's Task force on INS enforcement meets, AP, September 29, 1999. Anne-Marie O'Connor, "Rights Groups Criticizes Jailing of Asylum-seekers," Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1999. Joe Cantlupe, "INS ordered to halt work on flawed ID system," San Diego Union-Tribune, September 28, 1999. Teresa Puente, "INS Office Takes Heat From GOP, Democrats," Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1999. Ben Fox, "Governors propose more worker visas," AP, September 11, 1999. Ken Ellingwood, "Cost of Illegal Crossings Strains Small Border Towns," Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1999. Alan Zarembo, "People Smugglers Inc.," Newsweek, September 13, 1999. Antonio Olivo, "INS reduces delays on citizenship," Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1999. Barry Newman, "A Mail-Order Bride From the Philippines finds US Marriage is Grounds for Exile," Wall Street Journal, September 2, 1999. Hanson, Gordon H. Raymond Robertson, an