Department of Homeland Security Bill Clears House and Senate
With post-election momentum, the House and Senate passed legislation in late November creating a Department of Homeland Security (DHS). President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on November 25. As the largest government reorganization since the Defense Department was created in 1947, DHS will merge 22 federal agencies and bring together 170,000 employees. With the final negotiations focused on management flexibility and civil servant protections, little attention was paid to the immigration function, and the final bill bore only partial resemblance to earlier House and Senate attempts to restructure the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The law abolishes the existing INS, and its law enforcement functions such as the Border Patrol, detention and removal, inspections, investigations, and intelligence will move to the Bureau of Border Security in the largest of the department's four divisions - Border and Transportation Security. This division also includes Customs and the Transportation Security Administration and will be headed by an assistant secretary, reporting to the undersecretary for border and transportation security.
Other current INS functions, such as the Service Centers and adjudicating immigrant visa petitions, naturalization applications, and asylum and refugee applications, will move to a new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, headed by a director and reporting to the department's deputy secretary. The bill also creates an ombudsman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, reporting directly to the deputy secretary, as well as a director of shared services in the deputy secretary's office to coordinate management of records, files, forms, and information resources. Although a chief of policy and strategy and a legal advisor are assigned to each bureau, the plan fails to specify a role for a senior official who will coordinate the service and enforcement functions.
The legislation also transfers oversight of unaccompanied minors to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services and keeps the Executive Office of Immigration Review in the Department of Justice. Finally, the bill provides the new department with exclusive authority to set visa policies, although the visa function will continue to be implemented by the State Department.
Registration of Foreigners to Expand
The Justice Department announced that men from five countries labeled as high-risk for terrorism (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria) who arrived prior to September 10, 2002 will be required to register if they plan to stay in the U.S. beyond December 16. The registration includes fingerprinting and a photograph, but it does not apply to naturalized citizens, green card holders, diplomats, or asylum seekers. In addition, beginning December 16, citizens of approximately 50 non-Canadian Commonwealth countries entering the U.S. from Canada will be required to have visas. Both policies have been the subject of criticism by some ethnic-based and civil rights advocacy groups and by the Canadian government itself.
Bishops Advocate on Behalf of Migrants
At their annual meeting in mid-November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a plan to expand their outreach to Latinos. In addition, in a joint pastoral letter with Mexican bishops, they emphasized the need to respect the human rights of migrants, to demonstrate compassion for the hardships they endure, and for governments to defend physical borders "without violating the dignity of the migrant." The statement, the first ever collaboration between two Catholic bishop conferences, outlined policy recommendations for the U.S. and Mexico to pursue to help legalize the flow of migrants. The bishops hope to sway not only elected officials but also citizens and service providers in both countries.
President Signs Border Commuter Bill
After passage by both houses of Congress, the President signed the Border Commuter Student Act of 2002 on November 2. The bill creates a border commuter non-immigrant category for Canadian and Mexican nationals who maintain residence in their homeland and commute to the U.S. for full or part-time academic or vocational studies. The measure was taken in response to the INS' announcement in May that part-time commuter students would no longer be eligible to enter the U.S. as visitors on a regular basis, thereby ending a common practice. The INS measures had disrupted the studies of many people and posed significant problems for local border universities along both the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Recent Caribbean Arrivals Highlight Inequities in U.S. Policy
Refugee advocates have focused their attention on the disparities in treatment between undocumented Cubans and Haitians arriving in the U.S.. The situation was spotlighted by the arrival by boat of 200 Haitians near a busy highway at Florida's Key Biscayne in late October and the landing of a planeload of eight Cubans in the Florida Keys in early November. The Haitians who were captured have been detained, pending their asylum hearings (see the July 2002 Policy Beat), while the Cubans were released to family members after a short detention. Most of the Haitians' asylum claims are likely to be denied, and they will be subject to deportation. The Cubans will be allowed to stay and adjust to permanent resident status after one year in accordance with the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.