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July 2007, Volume 14, Number 3

DHS, Passports, Asylum

The Pew Hispanic Center released a report in May 2007 that suggested the influx of Mexican-born migrants may be slowing. Demographer Jeff Passel estimated that in 1990 there were four million Mexican-born US residents who had arrived since 1990, and seven million in 2007, suggesting an increase of three million over seven years.

The increase in Mexican-born US residents slowed after 9/11, and rose by 500,000 a year in 2005 and 2006. The employment of foreign-born Hispanics (born in Mexico and elsewhere) increased by an average 650,000 a year between 2004 and 2006, including 300,000 in construction.

Remittance and apprehension data suggest a slowdown in early 2007. Mexico reported $26 billion in remittances in 2006, but a smaller increase in the first quarter of 2007 than in previous years. Apprehensions just inside the Mexico-US border, which peak between February and May, averaged 150,000 a month in March between 2004 and 2006, but fell to 114,000 in March 2007.

Border. US Customs and Border Protection says that its Secure Border Initiative, which involves more technology and agents, is responsible for declining apprehensions on the Mexico-US border. CBP reported that it built an additional 86 miles of fence on the Mexico-US border between October 1, 2006 and May 31, 2007.

However, CBP hopes that its "virtual fence," cameras mounted on towers, will make physical fences less necessary. CBP began testing cameras mounted on towers on 28 miles of border south of Tucson. The cameras, developed by Boeing under the SBInet program, are expected to cost $6 billion.

Parque EcoAlberto has a simulated border crossing game every Saturday night, allowing 35 Mexicans to pay $20 each to experience a simulated crossing of the Mexico-US border. The Los Angeles Times on June 1, 2007 described a trip through the park.

CBP reported 13,500 agents at work or in training in June 2007, and expects to have 18,000 by the end of 2008.

Interior. There are an estimated 636,000 "fugitive aliens" or "alien absconders" in the US, foreigners who have been ordered deported or removed from the US but are believed to be still here. This is double the 314,000 just after 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

One reason the number of fugitives is growing is that, due to a lack of detention beds, non-Mexicans apprehended in the US are released to appear before immigration judges -- the so-called catch and release policy. Most do not appear and are ordered deported in absentia. Teams from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency fan out to try to find them. Since October 1, 2006, ICE is trying to detain all those apprehended by adding beds.

Five percent of the estimated 12 million unauthorized foreigners in the US are fugitives. Pro-legalization advocates say that, if the government cannot remove foreigners ordered deported, it is unlikely to remove those whose only crime is living and working unlawfully in the US.

ICE spent $183 million to apprehend and remove fugitive aliens in FY06, or about $10,000 per deportation. ICE has 75 fugitive teams, and each is aiming for 1,000 arrests a year. ICE removed 221,664 foreigners from the US in FY06, up 20 percent from the year before; it picks up and removes unauthorized foreigners it encounters while searching for fugitives.

Many cities came to the aid of families disrupted by ICE removals. In the San Francisco Bay Area, some cities passed resolutions condemning ICE raids on factories, arguing that they separated families just before Congress might give some of those removed a path to immigrant status. The Los Angeles Times on May 9, 2007 profiled the so-called New Sanctuary Movement that offers shelter in churches to foreigners threatened with deportation. Sanctuary, however, has no standing in the US law.

ICE is apprehending more unauthorized workers at workplaces- 3,667 in FY06, up from 485 in FY02. Workplace raids often remove parents while children are in school, prompting some school officials to develop contingency plans.

In Grand Island, a Nebraska city of 42,000 with a 2,600-employee Swift meatpacking plant, 42 percent of the 8,200 K-12 pupils are minorities (the plant's work force is 70 percent minority). After the December 2006 Swift raid, schools learned that many children had last names different from those their parents used to get jobs at Swift, and scrambled to ensure that children whose parents were apprehended had places to go. A parent or both parents of 165 children were apprehended.

A June 2007 ICE raid on a Fresh Del Monte Produce food-processing plant in Portland resulted in three arrests. Mayor Tom Potter criticized the raids, saying "to go after local workers who are here to support their families while filling the demands of local businesses for their labor is bad policy."

A May 1, 2007 New York Times profile of a family in which the mother was removed after a March 6, 2007 raid at Michael Bianco Inc in New Beford, Massachusetts noted that the unauthorized father may stay in the US with the children. The father arrived in the US from Honduras illegally in January 2005, followed by his wife and son. Their applications for asylum were denied, but they remained in the US. The family also has a US-born son. Both parents worked at Michael Bianco, earning $7 an hour.

CIRA 2007 would have greatly expanded ICE's detention capacity. Advocates, however, consider ICE detention policies harsh and unreliable. Between 2004 and 2007, 62 foreigners died in administrative custody, many in county jails or private facilities. The New York Times reported on June 26, 2007 that oversight of foreigners detained, especially in county and private facilities, is limited. The US has had standards for foreign detainees since 2000, but they are not legally enforceable, unlike rules for the treatment of criminal inmates. ICE says that foreigners are detained an average 35 days.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported that DHS filed charges against 800,000 people in immigration courts between 2004 and 2006, including 126 who were accused of terrorism or national-security-related crimes; 41 of these were removed from the US. Over 85 percent of the charges were for illegal entry or overstaying.

USCIS. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a $1.8 billion annual budget and 16,000 employees; 90 percent of the USCIS budget is raised via fees charged to five million applicants a year seeking immigration benefits. If immigration reform had been enacted, USCIS would have expanded in staff and budget, collecting the $1,000 to $5,000 in fees paid by applicants for Z-visas.

USCIS grants about a million immigrant visas a year, naturalizes 700,000 immigrants, and issues a million temporary work permits.

There is a backlog of applications awaiting USCIS action. In 2003, the backlog was five million applications. By summer 2006, the backlog was reduced to 1.1 million, including 140,000 applications that were not awaiting action by another federal agency, such as fingerprint checks from the FBI.

USCIS will raise higher fees on July 30, 2007. For example, the cost of applying for an immigrant visa will rise from $395 to $1,010, in part to raise funds for computers. The cost of naturalization will rise from $405 to $675.

The prospect of higher fees, as well as the immigration reform debate, has led to an upsurge in naturalizations, from 463,204 in FY03 to 702,589 in FY06. Univision, the national Spanish-language network, has been urging immigrants to naturalize, directing them to churches and NGOs that offer low-cost English and civics lessons.

The State Department announced that immigrant visas would be available July 2, 2007 for additional highly skilled workers, but reversed its decision at the last minute. There is an annual limit of 140,000 employment-based immigration visas, and USCIS said that about 183,000 had not been issued since 2000 because of delays in processing applications. In the summer 2007 episode, USCIS said that it told DOS that it had speeded up processing, and that there were no extra immigrant visas available. DOS did not rescind its announcement until the last minute, prompting immigration lawyers to sue.

Driver's Licenses. DHS in May 2007 announced that it would move ahead to require "Real ID" driver's licenses despite growing opposition in Congress and the states. Real ID requires the 245 million US residents with driver's licenses to visit DMV offices in person to prove they are legally in the US before receiving a more secure license; the cost to state governments is estimated at $14 billion. All US licenses are to be of the Real ID variety by May 10, 2013.

Passports. Beginning in July 2007, all newly issued US passports are E-passports, with high-tech security features including a computer chip. The US Department of State expects to issue 18 million passports in 2007, up from 12 million in 2006.

Since January 23, 2007, Americans returning by air from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean have been required to have passports. Because so many Americans applied for passports, delays in receiving them topped three months. Americans were allowed to travel to these places without passports if they carried proof that they had applied for passports, which cost $97, plus $60 for expedited service.

Asylum. The US has 226 immigration judges operating in 54 specialized courts. A May 31, 2007 report in the New York Times summarized a study of 140,000 asylum applications that found very different approval rates between judges in the same court, with one judge approving five and another 75 percent of the applicants from China and Colombia. There were also significant differences between courts.

About 40 percent of the 91,425 asylum applicants in FY05 were recognized as refugees, including less than 25 percent in Atlanta and Miami and more than 50 percent in New York and San Francisco.

At the Department of Justice, the 11-judge Board of Immigration Appeals, hears appeals of immigration judge's decisions, which can be further appealed to the federal courts of appeal. USCIS has asylum officers who can grant asylum, but most asylum decisions are made by immigration judges. In 2003, some 26,700 foreigners were granted asylum in the US, and in 2005, 25,300 won asylum.

The ongoing investigation of the firing of nine US attorneys in December 2006 highlighted the fact that DOJ checked the political affiliations of candidates to be federal immigration judges. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales appointed 26 immigration judges, about 10 percent of the total, many with no background in immigration law. Gonzales suspended appointments between December 2006 and April 2007 to develop a merit-based selection system. Immigration judges are covered by civil service laws that prohibit taking political affiliation into account in hiring and firing.

Spencer S. Hsu, "Immigration Agency Mired In Inefficiency," Washington Post, May 28, 2007. N.C. Aizenman and Spencer S. Hsu, "U.S. Targeting Immigrant Absconders," Washington Post, May 5, 2007.