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April 2005, Volume 12, Number 2

Unauthorized, Immigration Agencies

Demographer Jeff Passel estimated that there were 10.3 million unauthorized foreigners in the US in March 2004, up from 8.4 million in 2000, suggesting an increase of almost 500,000 a year despite the legalization or departure of 200,000 to 300,000 unauthorized each year. There were about 36 million foreign-born US residents in 2004; almost 30 percent were unauthorized.

About 57 percent or 5.9 million of the unauthorized were Mexican, and over 80 percent of recent migrants from Mexico in recent years have been unauthorized. Most of the unauthorized are between 18 and 40, but 1.7 million or about a sixth are children under 18, suggesting that there may be three million US-born siblings of these unauthorized children in families headed by an unauthorized persons. Only 1.1 million of the unauthorized are over 40.

Half of the unauthorized arrived before 1994, a quarter between 1994 and 1999, and a quarter between 1999 and 2004.

California had 2.4 million or 24 percent of the unauthorized, followed by 14 percent in Texas and nine percent in Florida- these three states had half of the unauthorized. The share of the unauthorized in these states has fallen as new destination states in the southeast and Midwest became important.

President Bush proposed a $12.9 billion FY06 budget for the three major immigration-related agencies of the Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which apprehends about 3,000 foreigners a day just inside US borders, was to add 2,000 Border Patrol agents in FY06 under previous legislation, but Bush proposed adding 210 more agents in the $6.6 billion CBP budget. Interior enforcement and removals are handled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is slated to receive a 13 percent increase to $4.4 billion.

Bush proposed $1.9 billion for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which collects most of its budget in fees from applicants for services.

CBP. Beginning in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper, the Border Patrol positioned agents visibly on the border and added fences and lights to deter migrants from attempting illegal entry. However, that has merely shifted migrants from one part of the border to another rather than deterring them. In FY04, some 1.1 million foreigners were apprehended (half in Arizona), up 24 percent from FY03.

Two approaches frame the current political discussion of what to do about continued entries without inspections on the US-Mexican border. At the one end of the spectrum are those who call for more agents and fences, plus using the military to help "secure the border."

Private groups have already stepped into this role. The private Minuteman Project led by Chris Simcox, publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Tombstone Tumbleweed, brought over 1,000 volunteer "Minutemen" to Tombstone, Arizona, site of the famous OK Corral, to patrol 23 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border during the month of April 2005. The Minutemen drew journalists from around the world and counter-demonstrators, including ACLU monitors who said they would follow every Minuteman. Mexican police, humanitarian workers and military personnel were reportedly trying to dissuade migrants from illegally entering the United States during the April 2005 protest.

The Border Patrol, which has 2,400 agents on the Arizona border, says it encourages private groups to report suspected unauthorized foreigners, but not to detain them. Just before the Minuteman Project was to begin operations, the Bush administration added 534 Border Patrol agents to the 370-mile Arizona border.

At the other end of the spectrum are proposals to reduce illegal entries by opening channels for legal entry, such as creating the new guest worker program as proposed by President Bush. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) said: "we cannot solve this problem with border enforcement alone. We need a comprehensive temporary-worker program, and Congress needs to begin working on a proposal." However, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, before leaving office in February 2005, said "You can't have a strong temporary worker program without strong enforcement provisions. That includes on the business community that would hire workers outside the temporary worker program."

The New York Times on March 23, 2005 noted that tunnels continue to be found under the border, suggesting that the US remains vulnerable to unauthorized migrants, drugs and terrorists.

Those apprehended are photographed and fingerprinted before being returned to Mexico. Of 680,000 illegal migrants arrested from May through December 2004 by U.S. authorities along the Mexican border, about 30,000 were identified as having criminal records or warrants out on them.

ICE. In October, 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 250 illegal migrants who worked as janitors for outside contractors at 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states. Most reported earning $350 to $400 a week for 56-hour weeks, or $6.25 to $7 an hour, and most did not receive overtime pay for hours worked after 40 in a week.

In March 2005, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. agreed to pay the federal government $11 million. Wal-Mart argued that it did not know its 12 independent contractors were hiring illegal workers, and the government agreed, so Wal-Mart escaped criminal penalties. The contractors agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges of hiring illegal workers and to pay a $4 million fine. Wal-Mart agreed to develop a mechanism within 18 months to make sure that its cleaning contractors "are taking reasonable steps to comply with immigration laws."

ICE director Michael J. Garcia said the Wal-Mart settlement would be a "model for future cases....this is a record dollar amount for a civil immigration settlement [and] this settlement requires Wal-Mart to create an internal program to ensure future compliance with immigration laws by Wal-Mart contractors and by Wal-Mart itself."

A 24-hour ICE hot line, 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423), accepts calls that report suspected immigration and customs violations; it gets about 2,000 a month.

On May 14, 2003, 19 of 74 migrants died inside a sealed tractor-trailer in south Texas. During the trial of those accused of organizing the effort to smuggle migrants, the alleged ringleader, Honduran Karla Chavez, pleaded guilty. She then tried to withdraw her plea as her lawyers alleged that the US government knew about the smuggling operation (the truck was stopped briefly at a Border Patrol checkpoint, but allowed to proceed).

The truck driver, Jamaican immigrant Tyrone M. Williams, is the only one of 14 defendants to have faced the death penalty; he abandoned the truck in the scorching heat of Victoria, Texas. A jury convicted Williams, who received $7,500 for driving the migrants north, of human smuggling charges, but spared him the death penalty by deadlocking on questions of how much he was to blame for the migrant deaths. However, prosecutors announced that they would retry Williams on a conspiracy charge that could carry a death sentence.

Los Angeles in 1979 approved Special Order 40, which prohibited local police officers from interacting with immigration agents. Many other US cities approved "sanctuary policies" at about the same time with the goal of encouraging foreigners to cooperate with local police.

The sheriffs of Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as the Los Angeles city police department, are considering a change in policy that would let selected officers be trained by ICE so that they could arrest previously-deported criminals who have returned illegally to the US. Under federal law, foreigners who re-enter the US after being deported can be imprisoned 10 years for a second US offense and 20 years for a third. The aim of the policy shift is to go after gang members by e.g. contacting immigration authorities when police encounter a person believed to be illegally in the US. However, New York and Chicago plan to keep their strict ban on police interaction with immigration officers.

USCIS. USCIS said that it is on track to handle applications for immigration benefits in six months or less The backlog of applications for immigrant visas, naturalization and work authorization was 3.8 million in January 2004, down to 1.5 million in October 2004.

USCIS announced in January 2005 that a Russian woman who accused the Russian security services of a series of 1999 apartment-building bombings that killed hundreds of people in Moscow has been granted asylum in the United States. The woman had asked for an international investigation of the bombings, which some believe were carried out by Russian security agents as a reason to restart the war with the breakaway region of Chechnya.

Courts. The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 ruling on January 12, 2005, declared that foreigners ordered deported for US crimes whose countries of origin refuse to accept them cannot be detained indefinitely in the US. The 7-2 ruling could free over 900 foreigners who have served sentences for US crimes but are being detained because their countries refuse to take them back.. In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the US government could order foreigners deported to Somalia though that country lacks a functioning government to accept or oppose the return of nationals convicted of US crimes.

In the 2001 Zadvydas v. Davis Supreme Court decision, US immigration authorities were given six months after migrants served US sentences for US crimes to remove them from the US or consider freeing them.

Visas. Travelers from 27 countries, mostly European, can travel visa-free to the US, but only if they have passports with fingerprints or other biometric data to help safeguard against the use of stolen passports by terrorists to enter the US. The US has set an October 26, 2005 deadline for travelers from visa-waiver countries to have such passports, but most European countries are unlikely to have issued new passports by then. Some 13 million foreigners arrive each year without visas, and the State Department has warned that it does not have the resources to interview them and issue visas.

DHS has proposed that Americans will require passports to re-enter the United States from Mexico, Canada, Panama and Bermuda by January 2008. Several Congressmen called for the creation of an improved Social Security card to facilitate travel to nearby countries.

Scott Gold, "Trucker to Be Retried in Smuggling Case," Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2005. James C. Mckinley Jr., "At Mexican Border, Tunnels, Vile River, Rusty Fence," New York Times, March 23, 2005. Elise Castelli, "Wal-Mart Settles Case on Illegal Cleaning Crews for $11 Million," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2005. Kevin Sullivan, "Upgraded Security at U.S. Border Hasn't Deterred Illegal Immigration From Mexico," Washington Post, March 7, 2005. David Kelly, "Taking Border Patrol Into Their Own Hands," Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2005. Diane Lindquist, "Employer sanctions seen in bill," San Diego Union-Tribune, January 18, 2005. Passel, Jeffrey S. 2005. Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Undocumented Population.