INS Commissioner to Resign
Commissioner James Ziglar announced in mid-August his intention to leave the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and return to the private sector no later than the end of the year. In a letter to President George W. Bush, Commissioner Ziglar expressed his willingness to stay through the fall to help with the integration of INS functions into the Department of Homeland Security. Commissioner Ziglar had hoped to focus on the agency's restructuring and on reducing processing backlogs when he assumed his post last August, but the events of September 11 quickly shifted the priorities of both the agency and the Justice Department. Most observers praised Commissioner Ziglar's leadership while at the INS, and his efforts to balance America's tradition as a nation of immigrants with the need for heightened security post-September 11.
Requirement for Change of Address Notification
Comments were due by the end of August on the proposed INS rule to modify all immigration benefit forms with a notice that the individual is obligated to provide the agency with a valid current address and notification of any change within 10 days. The address provided will be used for all purposes, including any notice to appear in a removal proceeding. The provision has long been a component of immigration law and covers both lawful permanent residents and non-immigrants, but has rarely been enforced. This regulation would prevent "aliens" (non-citizens) from claiming "lack of notice" in response to an order of deportation and would presumably work in conjunction with other announced Justice Department policies regarding the registering and tracking of the foreign born. Failure to comply with the notification of address changes rule is a misdemeanor and can be grounds for removal, unless the person can prove that failure to comply was not willful. Researchers have expressed concern regarding the feasibility of this proposal, since the INS has proven unable to input the address changes it already receives and would probably be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers entailed by this proposal. Analysts point to the recent media story regarding 200,000 unfiled change of address forms found in boxes in an underground storage facility in Missouri, along with nearly two million other immigration documents.
Social Security Changes Affecting Immigrants
The Social Security Administration (SSA) increased the number of "no match" letters sent to employers from about 40,000 in 2000 to nearly 800,000 in 2002. The drastic increase resulted from a change in criteria for the letters, which now are generated for every employer with at least one employee whose information does not match SSA records. Previously, the letters were sent out when 11 employees, or 10 percent of a firm's employees, did not match. The recent letters are estimated to cover seven million workers. Approximately $280 billion has accumulated in the SSA's "earnings suspense file" due to non-matches. Employers have 60 days to provide the SSA with corrected information ("no match" cases could result from typing errors, changed last names, hyphenated names, as well as from undocumented status), and they are not supposed to make assumptions regarding the workers' status. Nevertheless, some employers have been confused about how to resolve the discrepancies, and many employees have been fired. In addition, in the last six months, SSA has announced that it will stop issuing Social Security numbers to foreign nationals who, most often with the aim of facilitating their access to a driver's license, requested them. The agency will begin checking INS documents before issuing Social Security numbers and cards.
H-1B Numbers Reflect Slowing Economy
The INS has released data showing that 60,500 individuals subject to annual U.S. immigration caps were approved for H-1B visas in the first nine months of fiscal year 2002, less than half the number (130,700) approved in the same period last year. (In addition, some 18,000 petitions were pending.) Similarly, H-1B petitions declined during the same time period, totaling 159,000 compared to 270,000 the year before. Individuals seeking extensions to current employment are not counted against the 195,000 annual cap, nor are those working for nonprofit research organizations or educational institutions. H-1B visas are temporary visas for highly skilled, generally hi-tech, foreign workers.
Identifying Detainees Delayed
In early August, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration had 15 days to release the names of those detained in the investigation of the September 11 attacks. However, she did not require them to release other details, such as dates and locations of arrests and detention. Two weeks later, the same judge decided to give the government more time to appeal, meaning the administration does not yet have to reveal the names of the estimated 1,200 persons detained in connection with the September 11 attacks.