National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


The Department Of Homeland Security’s Second Anniversary Presents a Golden Opportunity

March 01, 2005

Washington, D.C. – March 1 marks the second anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security.  The Department took over a wide range of immigration issues formerly managed (or mismanaged) by the now extinct INS.  Last month, Michael Chertoff, a former judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, was sworn in as the Department’s second Secretary.  Secretary Chertoff’s new leadership presents a golden opportunity to improve the way the United States manages immigration and border security. The National Immigration Forum calls on the Department and its new secretary to place the highest possible priority on immigration- and immigrant-related matters, while at the same time considering organizational and management issues designed to improve operations.  To this end, we offer the following issues for urgent consideration:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: An increasing number of leaders and law-makers understand that we cannot have meaningful border security without reforming of our immigration laws.  The Department can play a role in educating the American people about immigration and proposals that simultaneously address immigrants working and living in the United States; the future flow of workers and close family members; workable enforcement measures; and integration of newcomers into the communities where they settle. In this spirit, the Department can do us all a great service by helping policy-makers separate wheat from chaff.  The Department’s authoritative perspective can help distinguish between genuine reforms and symbolic measures that look like we are “getting tough,” but yield no tangible results.

Immigration Services: The Department must adequately resource the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ensure that it can reduce the backlog of immigration applications and keep pace with incoming ones. USCIS must receive separate appropriations to deliver efficient, fair, and secure immigration services.  The Department must also equip local immigration offices with experienced staff, updated databases, and sufficient funding to accomplish their missions.  Finally, the Department must give the Office of Citizenship the tools required to develop a fair citizenship test and implement a broad integration agenda.

Civil Liberties and Due Process: After September 11th, the Inspector General at the Department of Justice confirmed our worst fears about what happens when detainees are locked up in secret without sufficient checks and balances.  Specifically, the Inspector General found that our government detained hundreds of immigrants with no connection to terrorism, denied them access to a lawyer, and subjected them to inhumane treatment.  The Department must take a serious look at the post 9-11 policies it inherited from the Department of Justice and terminate those policies that undercut its commitment to equal treatment under the law. To this end, the Department should oppose blanket secret immigration arrests and closed hearings, and issue regulations that require that immigrants are charged and served notice of the charges against them in a timely manner. Similarly, the Department should eliminate the “National Security Entry and Exit System” (NSEERS) and similar tracking schemes that have been used to target people based on national origin, religion, or race.

Detention: The Department should put the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention standards into regulation and ensure that they are uniformly applied.  Moreover, the Department should expand true “alternatives to detention” and ensure that such programs are transparent and reasonably applied. The Department must promote fair detention policies for asylum seekers, including immediate release for those who are eligible for “parole.”  Generally, parole policy and practices must be evenly applied, which, as recent reports and news coverage indicate, is currently not the case.

Oversight of Civil Rights/Civil Liberties: The Department should take pro-active steps to ensure implementation of the Homeland Security Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2004, which strengthens components within the Department that handle investigations, policy guidance, and oversight of civil rights and liberties matters.  With a reliable means of bringing any abuses to light, legitimacy and public confidence in our security efforts will be enhanced over the long run.

Chains of Command:  As currently structured, there is lack of coordination of immigration-related policies within the Department of Homeland Security.  We suggest appointing a powerful leader to coordinate all immigration related matters for the Department which would ensure consistent, coherent, and evenly applied policies.

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