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DHS Secures Funding, Authority in Visa Matters
By Maia Jachimowicz
Migration Policy Institute
November 1, 2003
Homeland Security Dept. Takes Charge of Visa Policy
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and Secretary of State Colin Powell
on September 29 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) transferring visa
policy and oversight authority from the Department of State to the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS). This change, pursuant to section 428 of the
Homeland Security Act of 2002, mandates that the State Department continue
to manage the visa issuance process and execute foreign policy, while DHS
assumes control of establishing and administering the majority of rules
governing visas. Moreover, DHS will now offer individual visa guidance to
consular staff and will have the authority to override practically all
State Department visa-issuance decisions if deemed necessary. The Office
of International Enforcement of DHS will oversee implementation of the MOU.
Some policy analysts believe that power struggles between the departments
may occur as a result of the new procedures, and observe that continuous
cooperation and information-sharing is critical to maintaining national
security standards for visa issuance.
Homeland Security Appropriations Exceed Bush Proposal
The first Homeland Security Appropriations bill was signed into law on October 1,
granting $37.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security's FY2004 budget.
This figure is $1.4 billion more than that proposed by President George W. Bush
in February (See March Policy Beat for more information). Approximately one
quarter of all funding will be provided for emergency preparedness and response
activities. Border security and immigration enforcement will receive over $410
million, with $330 million designated for the new US-VISIT entry/exit tracking system
October Policy Beats for more information on US-VISIT). The immigration services
budget will total $1.8 billion, $100 million of which will go toward reducing the
backlog of naturalization processing to six months by FY2007. Although satisfied
with the increase in appropriations, immigrant advocacy groups have voiced concerns
over what they consider inadequate funding to improve immigration services and
reduce the backlog.
Training Begins for 'One Face at the Border'
In October, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began training individual officers
for a position that combines customs, immigration and agricultural functions—duties
that were formerly performed by three separate people. The intent of CBP's "One Face
at the Border" program is three-fold: streamline the inspection process by unifying
functions; enhance anti-terrorism efforts by reducing the number of primary inspectors
and deploying additional employees at secondary inspections; and eliminate disparities
in personnel policies among the three workforces. The program's mission is to
"facilitate the entry of legitimate goods at the nation's [land, sea, and air] ports
of entry." However, several members of Congress have expressed concerns that the
streamlined 71-day training course for all new officers may be inadequate given
the intricacies of law and policy. The program is scheduled to be fully implemented
by the spring of 2004.
Food Stamps Restored to Immigrant Children
The US government on October 1 restored the provision of food stamps to low-income
immigrant children, as mandated in the 2002 Farm Bill. Previous legislation granted
eligibility to those immigrant children who were lawfully residing in the US for five
or more years; as of last month, all those under 18 years of age became eligible to
receive food stamps regardless of date of entry. These benefits are expected to
affect 60,000 immigrant children nationwide. The law does not apply to those foreign
youth who have been granted temporary protected status or those who are unauthorized
residents. Disabled immigrants who are receiving benefits for their condition are
also now eligible to receive food stamps regardless of date of entry.
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