After the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill collapsed in late June, legislators vowed that the issue was closed for the remainder of the 110th Congress. Since then, however, the executive branch has decided to more strictly enforce existing laws while members of Congress have reintroduced key components of the omnibus legislation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it will begin enforcing regulations by giving employers a fixed amount of time to resolve discrepancies once the Social Security Administration (SSA) notifies them of mismatches between employees' Social Security Numbers and their names.
The regulations were first published in June 2006, but ICE did not implement them due to the proposed immigration legislation before Congress. ICE has not specified when it will begin implementing the regulations beyond saying that it will be in "the very near term."
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires employers to send information about new employees to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which then checks the employee information against federal databases and informs employers, via a "no-match" letter, when the information does not correspond.
In the past, employers rarely faced consequences if they continued to employ workers for whom they had received "no-match" letters; however, after the rules go into effect, employers who keep unauthorized workers on the payroll could face fines of up to $10,000 per worker. Some employers have expressed concerns that the regulations effectively shift the burden for verifying a worker's immigration status from the federal government to employers.
Industries such as agriculture, health care, and construction may be particularly vulnerable. An estimated two-thirds of agriculture workers are in the United States illegally, and, if ICE implements the "no-match" rules during the fall harvest season, trade groups predict that growers could face significant labor shortages.
Before adjourning for its August recess, the Senate approved fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations for DHS totaling more than $40 billion, including $3 billion for border security. Approximately one-third of the DHS budget is dedicated to border security and immigration enforcement.
The bill requires that DHS fund the 2005 Secure Borders Initiative (SBI). SBI funds the installation of 700 miles of fencing along the Southwest border, 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 105 camera and radar towers, and four unarmed drones.
DHS will also boost the number of Border Patrol agents to 23,000 by 2012, and add customs and immigration agents, human smuggling investigators, and deputy marshals. Currently, DHS employs 12,000 Border Patrol agents, and 6,000 additional agents, part of the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill, will be in place by the end of 2008.
In the debate over the appropriations bill, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have provided an additional $300 million for implementing the Real ID Act of 2005, which mandates that states adhere to minimum security standards for state identification cards by 2013.
In July, Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) attempted to attach the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship to unauthorized high school graduates who complete college or military service, to the Department of Defense authorization bill; however, the bill was tabled. No further debate on the Dream Act is currently scheduled in the Senate.
During debate on DHS appropriations, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) sought but ultimately failed to attach an amendment that included the Dream Act and the Agricultural Jobs (AgJobs) Act, which would expand and streamline the existing agricultural guest worker program and offer legal status to illegal immigrants who are experienced farmworkers.
State Department Reverses Employer-Sponsored Green Card Policy
The State Department will accept employer-sponsored green card applications through August 17, reversing its July 2 decision that it would reject all applications because backlog-reduction efforts had unexpectedly filled the quota for this year. The move follows criticism from Congress and the public.
In mid-June, the State Department announced in its monthly visa bulletin that it would accept green card applications from skilled workers, many of whom hold H-1B visas; these visas allow skilled foreign workers to live and work in the United States on a temporary basis. The application process represents the culmination of a lengthy process in which many potential immigrants cleared their schedules, searched for paperwork, and hired immigration lawyers.
When the State Department announced in July that it would reject all the applications because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had filled the quota with its backlog-reduction efforts, potential immigrants, immigrant advocates, and some businesses were incensed.
Several groups filed lawsuits against USCIS, and one group of would-be immigrants from India sent more than 200 bouquets of flowers to USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez in an attempt to emulate the nonviolent protests of Mohandas K. Gandhi during India's drive for independence from Great Britain.
In the August visa bulletin, published on July 17, the State Department announced it would accept applications through August 17; it will not accept applications for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. The announcement does not guarantee that applications will be approved.
The annual quota of 140,000 green cards for skilled workers is far lower than demand. Shortly after the July 2 announcement, Microsoft Corporation announced plans to open a software development center in Vancouver, Canada, to "recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S."
Gonzalez responded to criticism in a written statement saying that "the public reaction to the July 2 announcement made it clear that the federal government's management of this process needs further review."
National Guard on the Southwest Border. The number of National Guard troops on the Southwest border will be halved, from 6,000 to 3,000, by September 1 as mandated by the Secure Border Initiative, an immigration enforcement plan launched in 2005. Further reductions are planned, and the deployment is scheduled to end in September 2008. Since arriving in June 2006, National Guard troops have provided administrative and logistical support, freeing up agents for patrols and for the training of new recruits. The Border Patrol is working to add 6,000 new agents by the end of 2008.
Delays for Cuban Visas. For the first time in nearly a decade, the United States will not meet the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, which provides an annual quota of 20,000 permanent-resident visas for Cubans to legally enter the United States. According to a statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the United States awarded just 10,724 visas, or 54 percent of the annual quota, between October 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007. The State Department claims the Cuban government has placed "unreasonable constraints" on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana recently, such as cutting electricity in June and denying visas to American diplomats. The accord was designed to discourage Cubans from crossing the Florida Straits and entering the United States.
Iraqi Refugees. The State Department will provide an additional $19 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for assisting Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries in the region, as well as to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and non-Iraqi refugees inside Iraq. Including this contribution, the United States has given $37 million to UNHCR for Iraqi refugees and IDPs. In July, UNHCR raised its budget for Iraq from $60 million to $123 million. UNHCR has registered approximately 150,000 Iraqis in the Middle East, and 9,000 of the most vulnerable have been referred to third countries for resettlement, including 8,000 who will be resettled in the United States.
TPS for Liberians. The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would extend temporary protected status (TPS) for 12 months for Liberian nationals and persons without nationality whose last residence was Liberia and are currently residing in the United States. TPS is set to expire for approximately 3,600 Liberians on September 30. Liberians first became eligible for TPS in 1991 as civil war engulfed the West African country. Congress has renewed TPS numerous times since then. Although the civil war has ended, conditions in Liberia remain volatile, and 15,000 UN peacekeepers are present in the country.
Passport and Visa Security Vulnerabilities. Data the State Department collects to ensure the quality and validity of U.S. travel documents — including data on passports, visas, and border crossing cards — could be vulnerable to manipulation according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report warns that an intruder could easily erase, modify, copy, or gain access to the records of the approximately 90 million individuals in the database.
Detention Facility Standards. In an audit of detention facilities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates, GAO cited ICE for inconsistently providing telephone access to detainees so they can contact pro bono legal services. The report also cited multiple, but not widespread, deficiencies with respect to food service, medical care, overcrowding, and the use of force. The number of aliens in administrative proceedings who spend some time in detention increased from 95,214 in 2001 to 283,115 in 2006 according to the report.
ID Cards in New Haven. New Haven, Connecticut, began offering identification cards, formally labeled Elm City Identification Cards, to all of its 125,000 residents, including unauthorized immigrants. Estimates of New Haven's unauthorized population range from 3,000 to 15,000 individuals. The cards will allow any cardholder access to services that require a driver's licenses or state-issued ID. New Haven already offers federal tax help to immigrants and prohibits police from asking about their immigration status. The new ID cards cost $5 for children and $10 for adults.
Hazleton Law. A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for Middle Pennsylvania voided Hazleton, Pennsylvania's Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which would have imposed fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denied business permits to companies that give them jobs. Both supporters and opponents have publicized the law, and more than 90 localities around the country have attempted to emulate it. The Pennsylvania ruling does not affect those measures.