First Phase of US-VISIT Becomes Operational
By Maia Jachimowicz
Migration Policy Institute
January 1, 2004
First Phase of US-VISIT Becomes Operational
The Department of Homeland Security on January 5 will implement the first phase of its
program to electronically track the entry and exit of foreign visitors using biographical
information and biometric identifiers. The US Visitor and Immigration Status Indication
Technology System (US-VISIT) will incorporate and supersede previous special registration
and foreign-student tracking programs. The system, announced April 29, 2003 to meet
the requirements of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility
Act (as revised in 2000, 2001, and 2002 legislation) will serve as a new nationwide
border security and enforcement tool. The program will be operational at 115 airports
and 14 seaports for entry control, and at up to 30 airports and one seaport via
self-serve kiosks for exit control. Foreign visitors with visas will be required to
have two inkless fingerprints and a digital picture taken upon entry and verified
upon departure. Future plans for US-VISIT include entry and exit control at all ports,
including land ports, by January 2006. US citizens, foreign visitors from 27 Visa
Waiver Countries, and Canadian citizens will not be affected by the new requirements.
However, the biometric data of visitors from Visa Waiver countries will be gathered
automatically as of October 26, 2004, by which date such information must be included
in all passports. (See the
October 2003 Policy Beats
for more information on US-VISIT).
Ridge Discusses Need to Legalize Undocumented Population
Homeland Department Secretary Tom Ridge in a speech on December 10 expressed the need
to "determine how [to] legalize the presence" of the approximately nine to twelve
million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Two days
later, the White House confirmed that officials are pursuing an immigration review
that could lead to the legalization of the country's unauthorized population. The
goal expressed by some officials is two-fold: to reveal and document the large
unauthorized population as part of a broader security approach, and to create an
immigration enforcement policy to deter and prevent future illegal entries. Those
in favor of a regularization plan claim that it is not in the United States'
interests to maintain a large and growing undocumented population that contributes
to the economy and yet cannot demand basic workers' rights. Critics of regularization
decry the breakdown of the rule of law that grants legal status to those who entered
or remained by illegal means. It is expected that US President George W. Bush and
Mexico's President Vicente Fox will discuss migration-related topics, including the
potential legalization of millions of unauthorized Mexicans living in the US,
during their next meeting January 11, 2004 in Mexico. In 2000, the Immigration
and Naturalization Service estimated that Mexicans accounted for 70 percent of
the total unauthorized population.
Canada Creates Ministry as Counterpart to DHS
Canada's new Prime Minister Paul Martin on December 12 announced the creation of
the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness headed by Deputy Prime
Minister Anne McLellan. The new ministry includes a Border Services agency to
consolidate border functions from various government agencies, and it also
consolidates all agencies with intelligence components through one chain of command.
McLellan's position, formerly held by John Manley, most closely corresponds to that
of Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Martin also appointed several other
high-level officials that day, including Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Canada Judy Sgro. Sgro replaced former minister Denis Coderre and will manage the
immigration and citizenship services functions of Canada, similar to her US
counterpart Eduardo Aguirre, Jr. at US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Since
the September 11 terrorist attacks, US and Canadian officials have worked closely
to heighten security at their land border crossings while facilitating the flow of
goods and services. McLellan's and Sgro's appointments came on the two-year
anniversary of the signing of the Canada-US Smart Border Declaration — an accord
created to enhance security and information-sharing along the shared border.
(See Insight No. 2 for more information on the Canada-US Smart Border Declaration).
Settlements Expected in Two IRCA Class-Action Lawsuits
The settlements for two class-action lawsuits granting permanent resident status to over
100,000 unauthorized immigrants are expected to be approved in early January 2004. The
settlements were submitted for the approval of the US Eastern California District Court
in late November 2003. Both lawsuits were filed over 15 years ago in connection with
immigrants who were disqualified for amnesty, and therefore application for permanent
resident status, under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) for having
traveled outside of the US during their residence. The law included a provision for
amnesty for all unauthorized immigrants who had lived continuously in the US from
1982 to 1987, but the interpretation of "continuously" has been in dispute. After
being appealed eight times by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the decision
to settle the lawsuits was made by the Department of Homeland Security, into which the
INS was folded in early 2003. If approved, those individuals who qualify for amnesty
under the lawsuits will have one year to apply for legal status.
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