Immigration and National Border Security
The primary concern of immigration law is to maintain national security through border control and the ability of federal authorities to detect and deter threats from foreign terrorists on U.S. soil.
Entry-Exit Controls and Border Security
Every year, millions of foreigners enter the U.S. as "nonimmigrants" (visitors or workers of some type) for a limited period. Although they are expected to return home at the end of their visit, there is no effective means for detecting those who do not. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, or IIRAIRA, with a provision (Section 110) requiring the former INS to set up a database to track this information within two years. But, due to objections from the tourism industry and others, full implementation was delayed.
After the terrorist attacks, Congress again mandated the implementation of a computerized entry-exit database. This database, called US-VISIT, was initiated in 2002 and began collecting biometric records on arriving foreign visitors in 2004. However, it still does not match them with departure records because no consistent exit system is in place. We rely on visitors to turn in their departure paperwork, which not only leaves us with inaccurate data of who remains in the country, but wastes resources on tracking down individuals who have already left. US-VISIT is currently applicable to nearly all international visitors, including Visa Waiver Program participants. However, it does not apply to some classes of Mexican and Canadian citizens or to foreign nationals admitted under certain visas, providing a loophole for terrorists and criminals to exploit.
Border security without coordinated exit-entry controls offers the U.S. no way of noticing whether a nonimmigrant overstays his visa in violation of immigration law. In the absence of such a system, enemies of our national security can more easily enter the U.S. as nonimmigrants and remain to threaten us from within. Most of the September 11 hijackers entered as nonimmigrants, and several overstayed their legal visas, undetected by law enforcement.
Monitoring Foreign Students (SEVIS)
At any point in time, there are roughly 691,000 foreign students studying in America. Over 155,000 of these students are completing degrees in engineering and computer/information sciences that contribute to cyber attacks and other foreign weapons programs. One of the September 11 hijackers was admitted to the U.S. as a foreign student. He never showed up at the school, and the college did not report that fact to the INS.
A computerized system to track foreign students was designed in 1997 (the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regarding International Students, or CIPRIS), but due to intense lobbying by colleges, it was never implemented beyond the pilot program stage.
After September 11, Congress again required the implementation of an automated system to maintain information on foreign students. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) was created to track immigration status changes, changes of address, changes in program of study, and other details. In early 2011, the system began an upgrade to SEVIS II, a paperless system that will enforce a "one person, one record" standard for the 8.8 million students, exchange visitors, and their dependents who are currently on record. For each student, a digital user account will be created, and government officials will have access to all documented decisions and information; however, the student is responsible for updating all of their own information.
While SEVIS II holds the potential to be significantly more effective than previous foreign student monitoring systems, it will only be useful if the data being entered into it by the student is consistently verified.
Secure Identification and Driver's Licenses
There is a movement in some states to ease up on proof-of-identity requirements for driver's license applicants. Proponents admit that the reason is to make it easier for illegal aliens to get driver's licenses, which, they claim, will make the roads safer.
But in every state, the driver's license (and its counterpart, the state ID card) is the primary document used to establish identity and proof of legal residence. Making driver's licenses accessible to illegal aliens gives them the means to pass themselves off as legal residents of the United States. All of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attack had one or more state driver's licenses, which masked the illegality of their presence in the U.S.
At the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, DHS implemented REAL ID in 2005, which set minimum standards for security, authentication, and issuance of state driver's licenses. Originally intended to be implemented in all 50 states by May 2008, many states have requested extensions for compliance or refused to comply at all. The latest compliance date is January 15, 2013, with only 11 states being fully compliant with REAL-ID security standards at the beginning of 2011.1 As many as 14 states have passed legislation mandating non-compliance.
Local Police Cooperation (Section 133)
In order for American law enforcement to work together toward national security, state and local authorities must be able to work with the federal government to detect and detain foreigners who are either dangerous or are in our country illegally. For example, several of the September 11 terrorists had been stopped by local police for driving infractions, but because the officers did not have access to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's "watch list" for terrorists, they were not detained.
In the 1996 IIRAIRA law, Congress included a provision under Section 133 that empowered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide training to local law enforcement agencies, who would then gain authority to detain suspected illegal aliens. Section 133 of the IIRAIRA added a new section to the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) at 287(g).
It was not until 2008 that DHS and DOJ initiated the Secure Communities program to create a federal presence at a local level. While Secure Communities is not a direct result of Section 133, the law allows DHS to reach out to local law enforcement through basic technical means of information sharing, rather than through physical means. Under Secure Communities, all fingerprints taken at local law enforcement agencies are sent to the FBI and ICE to be cross-checked against their databases. If a match is found, ICE then evaluates the case based on immigration status and criminal history and decides whether or not to pursue removal.
However, the Secure Communities program remains flawed. It does not utilize Section 133 to its full extent, charging only 37% of aliens flagged with immigration violations, and it is effective in only 50% of all US enforcement districts. States with legislation to enforce Section 287(g) of the INA train their local officers as immigration officers with oversight by local ICE officers. The 287(g) program goes beyond biometrics by conducting interviews of all foreign-born inmates, and charged 86% of aliens flagged with immigration violations. Not only is it a much cheaper program than Secure Communities, which costs $150 million annually, but it is a more effective program as well.2
While Secure Communities is a step in the right direction to remove immigrant felons from the United States, it does not do enough. With terrorists still attempting to enter our country and Mexico's drug war pushing at our southwest border, it is necessary to train our nation's 3181 enforcement districts to be the eyes and ears that protect American citizens.
Amnesty for Illegal Aliens
President Obama has been advocating for what he calls "comprehensive immigration reform," which is nothing short of mass amnesty for millions of illegal aliens presently in the U.S. President George W. Bush also campaigned for amnesty in 2006-2007 before it was defeated in Congress. While it is important to reform our complex and inundated immigration system, it is also important to note that "reform" is not the same as amnesty or government handouts for illegal immigrants. These programs only encourage future illegal immigration, inviting increased crime to our country and hindering the safety of Americans.
The Northern Border
Our northern border that we share with Canada is the longest shared border in the world at a total of 5,525 miles. Currently, 3,700 border patrol officers are stationed along this border, with unmanned aerial vehicles monitoring 1,150 miles of it. Due to approximately 300,000 people and $1.5 billion in trade crossing the U.S.-Canadian border every day and a tradition of relaxed travel policies with Canada, it is imperative to remain vigilant that other foreign nationals do not exploit it in attempt to enter the United States undetected.
Updated October 2011
- "REAL ID Implementation: Less Expensive, Doable, and Helpful in Reducing Fraud", Center for Immigration Studies, January 2011.
- "287(g): The Wages of Secure Communities Opposition", Center for Immigration Studies, September 2011.