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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10


A Zogby poll found that 77 percent of respondents believe the US government is not doing enough to control the border, and 56 percent said amnesty for illegal migrants was a "bad or very bad idea." A Gallup poll found that 67 percent of respondents believe the US government should not make it easier for illegal migrants to legalize their status and that 64 percent believe illegal migrants are a "net drain" on taxpayer-funded social services.

Rodolfo Turin, the ex-chief of the Mexican National Population Council, said that the "size of the (Mexico-US) flow has diminished," in part because people who used to go back and forth seasonally stay in the US once they elude the Border Patrol. The National Population Council estimated that 350,000 to 450,000 Mexicans a year migrated to the US between 1993 and 2000, and 396,000 to 514,000 a year will migrate to the US between 2000 and 2030.

The US has been replacing paper border crossing cards with "laser visas," credit-type cards that include biometric data. Between April 1, 1998 and August 31, 2002, some five million laser visas have been issued; the U.S. consulate in Juarez issued 1.2 million laser visas, half to replace old paper visas, and half to first-time applicants.

Refugees/Asylees. Some 27,500 refugees were admitted in FY02, well under the 70,000 target and the 68,000 admitted in FY01. The slowdown in refugee admissions resulted from more careful background checks as well as new rules that allow refugees to arrive at only five US airports. Refugee advocates pressed for a 100,000 refugee quota for FY03, but President Bush announced a target of 70,000. About 80 percent of the world's 12 million refugees are women and children.

The INS was asked to review its completed asylum cases to determine if any potential terrorists had been granted asylum in the US. The review was prompted in part by the discovery that the Egyptian who killed two people at the Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002 admitted to being a member of the Gama'a al-Islamiyya or the Islamic Group when he was in Egypt; this group has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. During his unsuccessful attempt to gain asylum in the US, he said he falsely confessed to being a member of the group because he was tortured. His 1992 asylum application was denied in 1995, but his wife won an immigration visa in the diversity lottery in 1997 that enabled him to stay in the US.

In the early 1990s, many foreigners applied for asylum in order to remain in the US. Reforms in the mid-1990s included development of a professional corps of asylum judges, settlement of legal cases involving hundreds of thousands of Central Americans, and speedier processing of applications for asylum.

In FY01, some 60,500 foreigners applied for asylum in the US. Some observers believe that immigration judges are becoming more skeptical of asylum applications. Asylum applications rose from 49,346 in the first nine months of FY01 to 51,060 in the same period of FY02, approvals fell from 15,213 to 14,701, and rejections rose from 9,318 to 11,509.

The Board of Immigration Appeals, which is part of the Department of Justice but independent of the INS, is to be reduced to nine members by March 2003. About 30,000 of the decisions issued by the 270 immigration judges are appealed each year. Most are heard by only one appeals judge.

A woman who won political asylum in the United States with a highly publicized claim that she would face female genital mutilation if sent back to her native Ghana was indicted in September 2002. She was charged with lying to U.S. authorities when she said she would be mutilated by her tribe when they discovered she had lost her virginity before ascending to the position of "queen mother." The woman tried to enter the US with another person's passport on March 29, 1997, was detected, and applied for asylum. She was denied asylum, but in July 1999 a federal appeals court ruled that she had shown that her fears of genital mutilation were "grounded in reality" and granted her asylum. Subsequent reports discovered the woman was a former hotel worker from Ghana who used a passport stolen from a Ghanaian college student in the US to try to enter the US.

Some 900 Montagnards, mountain tribesmen in Vietnam who assisted US forces during the Vietnam War, were resettled in North Carolina in summer 2002, bringing the total to 4,000 in the US. They had hoped for an autonomous homeland in the Central Highlands of Vietnam; a third of the one million Montagnards were killed during the Vietnam war. After the war ended in 1975, many Montagnards were "re-educated" by the Vietnamese government before they were allowed to return to their mountain homes. Trouble arose in the 1990s, when lowland farmers from the Kinh ethnic group began to produce robusta coffee cheaply in the Central Highlands, where the Montagnards lived, which prompted protests that Vietnam says were organized by the US-based Montagnard Foundation. Vietnam initially opposed the resettlement of the Montagnards in the US.

Some 71,500 Cambodians entered the US as refugees between 1983 and 2002, and 171,000 US residents reported to the 2000 census that they were of Cambodian origin.

Some 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees in Kenya are to be resettled in the US because they cannot be resettled in the region. Somali Bantus, Muslims who inhabit the Juba River valley region of southern Somalia, lost most of their land in the fighting that broke out after the 1991 collapse of the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The Bantu have physical features different from indigenous Somalis, who are of Cushitic ethnicity.

Visas. The annual diversity visa lottery runs from October 7 to November 6, 2002. The 2000 lottery attracted 13 million applicants; in 2001 there were 9.5 million applications. There are 50,000 immigration visas available to foreigners with at least a high school education, and who can pass a background security check, from countries that sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the US in the previous five years.

The diversity visa, enacted in the Immigration Act of 1990 chiefly to allow Irish immigration to resume, has had repercussions across the globe, with a variety of consultants offering advice on how to become a US immigrant. The Bureau of Consular Affairs in 2002 stopped the shredding of applications of unsuccessful visa seekers so that the information on diversity visa applicants might be used to help identify terrorists.

Beginning in June 2002, visas for Muslim men from 26 nations between the ages of 16 and 45 could not be issued until US officials in Washington reviewed their applications, which can take far longer than the planned 30 days. Most of those affected by the delays are students and businessmen, and there are reports of rising frustration and resentment in the US and abroad. Iowa State University's physics department said that a third of its incoming graduate students did not arrive in Fall 2002 because of visa problems.

Beginning September 11, 2002, there are three lines at US ports of entry- US citizens, non-citizens, and "others," primarily men aged 16 and 45 from 26 nations where terrorism is deemed to be a concern, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria. The "others" must be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the US. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, targets aliens who are "security risks" as defined by INS or the State Department.

In August 2002, the INS announced that immigrants must file change of address forms within 10 days when they move, and 800,000 did so in the first month. However, the INS has been unable to keep up with the influx of paper, which is placed by hand into paper files on each immigrant. Critics say that the INS's enforcement of the rule is an attempt to have an excuse to deport foreigners if the government suspects but cannot prove links to terrorism.

"12,000 Somali Bantu refugees poised to be resettled in US," AFP, October 1, 2002. Jerry Seper, "Border Wars: Agents resent zeal for amnesty," Washington Times, September 27, 2002. Mark Bixler, "Professor charged in visa scheme," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 21, 2002. Staci Hupp, "Delays in visas cost Iowa foreign students," Des Moines register, September 23, 2002. Jenna Russell and Mary Leonard, "Many foreign students wait for US visas," Boston Globe, September 23, 2002. Suzanne Gamboa, "US Refugee Limit 70,000 in 2003," Associated Press, September 20, 2002. Peterson, "Annual visa Lottery comes Amid Fears Over Terrorism," Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2002. "US. Malaysia Embassy to Give Visas," Associated Press, September 18, 2002. Joe Cantlupe, "Arrests of border crossers down by 28%, U.S. says," San Diego Union-Tribune, September 16, 2002.