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Policy Changes Target Border Security
By Sarah Margon and Maia Jachimowicz
Migration Policy Institute
April 1, 2004
Cap on H-2B Visas Reached
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on March 10 announced that the
visa program for temporary and seasonal non-agricultural skilled or unskilled
temporary workers, H-2B, would not process any further applications this fiscal
year. This will be the first year the 66,000 cap on such visas has been reached
since the cap's creation in 1990. H-2B visas are issued for a maximum of 10
months, and employers are required to provide evidence that US workers are
not available to fill the positions and that regional labor standards will
be met. In years past, some employers used H-2B visa holders to fill
seasonal tourism and construction jobs. However, with the program's cap
already reached due to expanded demand, these employers are concerned that
it will be difficult to fill such positions this summer. Meanwhile, some
lawmakers argue that raising the H-2B cap may result in depressed wages
and a degradation of labor standards.
Border Initiative to Use Predator Drones
The United States plans to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in the skies over
the border between Arizona and Mexico as part of a new initiative by the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS). The program, unveiled by Under Secretary for Border and
Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson on March 16, is called the Arizona Border Control
(ABC) Initiative and aims to clamp down on illegal border crossings. While the
initiative's principal focus is border security, one of its byproducts is expected to be border safety (prevention, search,
rescue, and identification programs geared towards finding hazardous border crossing
areas that might be dangerous to migrants).
ABC will partner with law enforcement officers at the local, state, tribal, and federal
levels and will use enhanced technology and aviation assets beyond the deployment of
the drones. Along with the drones, ABC will also place 200 more patrol agents and 60
Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue agents along the border, with four
more helicopters. Funding has also been earmarked for new sensor technology to assist
in surveillance and detection of undocumented migrants. The ABC Initiative is expected
to cost more than $10 million and will last until the end of fiscal year 2004.
Border Restrictions Eased for Some Mexicans
In a departure from previous policies, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation
Security Asa Hutchinson on March 4 told a congressional panel that the more than six
million Mexicans with Border Crossing Cards will be exempt from the US-VISIT registration
requirement at land borders. The cards, newly equipped with laser visas, allow the bearer
to visit the US legally within 25 miles of the border for up to 72 hours. The holders of
such cards have already undergone background checks and been fingerprinted and photographed.
(See the May,
October 2003 and
January 2004 Policy Beats for more information on US-VISIT).
Mexicans have used such cards for decades to visit relatives and shop on the US side of the
border, making more than 104 million visits last year alone. The announcement was made one day
prior to President George W. Bush's meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox at Bush's ranch
in Crawford, Texas.
In addition, a March 10 proposed interim rule from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created
in accordance with NAFTA requirements, removed the annual 5,500 numerical cap and the labor
condition application requirements for Mexican professionals seeking entry and employment
in the US under NAFTA. These changes, which will take effect retroactively from January 1, 2004,
make the requirements more comparable to those of Canadians receiving NAFTA visas. In fiscal
year 2001, 2,571 Mexicans received these TN (Trade NAFTA) visas. The annual limit for Mexicans
has never been reached, in part due to the many requirements they had to meet to qualify for
this visa. The requirements led many Mexicans to apply instead for an H-1B visa, which lasts
for three years and is renewable for an additional three years.
DHS Issues Rules for Safe Third-Country Agreement
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1 issued long-awaited rules for
implementation of the Safe Third-Country Agreement with Canada, which aims to prevent
people from filing asylum applications in both Canada and the United States. Under the
terms of the agreement, asylum seekers will be required to make their claims in
the first country they enter. This means that asylum seekers trying to enter Canada
through the United States will be turned back and told to make their claims in the United
States. Exceptions to the agreement will include unaccompanied minors and family members
already legally in the country to which the asylum seeker is headed. The agreement's
critics on both sides of the border say it will make it significantly harder for refugees
to obtain asylum. The agreement is part of the Smart Border Action Plan launched by the US and
Canada in December 2001. The plan aims to enhance the security of the US-Canada border while
facilitating the legitimate flow of people and goods. It has four broad pillars: the secure
flow of people, the secure flow of goods, infrastructure security, and information sharing
and coordination in the enforcement of these goals.
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