U.S. Immigration Drills & Legislation

Title: Drill Prepares San Bernardino County, Federal And State Agencies For Repatriation Efforts
January 31, 2012
Contra Costa Times

Abstract: You can never be too prepared. Just ask Renee Miles, a supervising social services practitioner with San Bernardino County's Children and Family Services.

Miles was among 20 agencies - at the federal, state, and local level - that participated in a full-scale exercise testing their ability to screen and process U.S. citizens returning from a foreign country following a natural disaster or crisis.

Tuesday's drill, held at LA/Ontario International Airport's Terminal 1, brought together 150 officials from participating agencies and about 80 volunteers who played the role of citizens in need of assistance.

Each volunteer, or actors as they were dubbed, were given their own character with different ailments and medical situations.

"You never know what you're going to get," Miles said about the drill. "This drill identifies any gaps we might have, and you need to be prepared for everything."

In this scenario, Miles was helping Americans who were, for various reasons, in Japan when an 8.5 earthquake struck near Tokyo.

As her first task Miles was told to pick up one minor and supervise the repatriation process.

"Originally, we were told one child but when we got there, there were four children," Miles said. "Thankfully, we had sent another social worker."

The actors went from table to table, describing their situation to various agencies such as the American Red Cross and getting the necessary assistance, like lodging, transportation and medical attention.

Tuesday's repatriation drill was the culmination of four years of planning, said Oscar Ramirez, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking that the state update its Emergency Repatriation Plan.

Since then, under the direction of the state's Emergency Management Agency and social services, an updated plan was developed. The agencies work with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the national emergency repatriation plan.

ONT is the only airport in the state to be designated in the plan as a port of entry. The airport was selected because of its proximity to Los Angeles and because its old terminal could be used without interrupting daily operations at the facility, Ramirez said.

San Bernardino County agencies weren't the only ones in attendance at Tuesday's exercise. Representatives from the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Transportation Security Administration all stopped by to observe the drill, he said.

Agencies will meet Wednesday to review the drill and identify any improvements that can be made.

On an annual basis, the San Bernardino County Fire Department's Office of Emergency Services will coordinate a review with the participating agencies to make any necessary updates, he said.

"This will not be a perfect exercise but that's the whole point, we learn," Ramirez said (Contra Costa Times, 2012).

Title: US Boosts Passport Fees, Sets Value Of Citizenship
February 2, 2012
Fox News

U.S. citizenship is priceless to some, worthless to others. But now the State Department has a dollar figure: U.S. citizenship is worth $450.

At least that's what it will cost you to renounce it.

Under new consular fees published Thursday in the Federal Register, the cost of processing a formal renunciation of U.S. citizenship skyrocketed from $0 to $450. The announcement locks in fee hikes that had been proposed in 2010 and instituted on an interim basis.

The State Department doesn't say how or why it calculated the cost. Citizenship is free for most Americans who are accorded the privilege at birth. The department says only that it "has decided that the renunciant should pay this fee at the visit during which he or she swears the oath of renunciation."

It's also getting more expensive if you want to keep your U.S. citizenship and need a passport to prove it. The application fee for a passport is jumping by 27 percent, from $55 to $70 with a 100 percent increase, from $20 to $40, in the passport security surcharge.

In addition to the increase in the application fee, the department will now charge $82 -- up from nothing -- to add new pages to a U.S. passport. It says the fee is needed to offset the cost of the pages, the time spent affixing the pages into the passport book, endorsing the passport and performing a quality-control check.

And, registering the overseas birth of an American child is going up as well. It will now cost $100 to apply for a report of a birth abroad, up from $65.

The cost of getting a document notarized at a U.S. embassy abroad is also going up. The new price is $50 for a single page, up from $30, according to the new fee schedule (Fox News, 2012).

Title: DHS To Congress: Biometric Immigrant Exit Tracking System Coming Within 'Weeks'
Date: March 6, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: The Department of 
Homeland Security is finalizing its plan for a biometric data system to track when immigrants leave the United States and will present it to Congress within "weeks," a top department official told a House Homeland Security subcommittee Tuesday.

An exit system to track who is leaving the country and when has been sought since before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. DHS officials, including Secretary Janet Napolitano, have agreed with the need for such a program but have previously said it would be too costly.

John Cohen, the department's deputy counter terrorism coordinator, did not discuss the cost in his testimony about the problem of immigrants who overstay visas. He said the department's report to Congress will explain how DHS plans to better determine who has overstayed their visa.

The criminal case against Amine El Khalifi, 29, of Alexandria, Va., accused in an alleged bomb plot against the U.S. Capitol, has renewed the debate about how the U.S. government -- a decade after the terror attacks of 2001 -- routinely fails to track millions of foreign visitors who remain in the country longer than they are allowed. El Khalifi was arrested in a parking lot, wearing what he thought was an explosive-laden suicide vest. He had been living illegally in the United States for 12 years.

The Obama administration doesn't consider deporting people whose only offense is overstaying a visa a priority. It has focused immigration enforcement efforts on people who have committed serious crimes or are considered a threat to public or national security.

Cohen said improvements in how data from immigrants is collected and stored has made it easier for law enforcement to identify visa overstays and determine if they pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who led Tuesday's hearing, said El Khalifi "follows a long line of terrorists, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, who overstayed their visa and went on to conduct terror attacks." His tourist visa expired the same year he arrived from his native Morocco as a teenager in 1999.

She said 36 people who overstayed visas have been convicted of terrorism related charges since 2001.

"We have to recognize that we do have this problem," Miller said. "The truth is, in the 40 percentile of all the illegal (immigrants) are in this country on expired visas. They came in right through the front door."

El Khalifi, who is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, never came to the attention of federal law enforcement agencies even after a series of minor run-ins with police in northern Virginia from 2002 to 2006, including disobeying a traffic sign and speeding. Programs that could have identified him if he had been jailed by local authorities, including the Security Communities program that shares fingerprints from local jails with the FBI, were not in place at the time.

The Moroccan national didn't face a felony charge -- possession of marijuana with intent to distribute -- until last September, about nine months after he became the target of the FBI probe related to the alleged plot to destroy the Capitol. He has waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

El Khalifi, unemployed when he was arrested last month, is one of an estimated millions of illegal immigrants who came to the United States with a government-issued visa and never left. He never applied to become a U.S. citizen.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deporting illegal immigrants, has routinely combed through visa records to try to identify people who have overstayed their welcome and deport those considered threats to the community or national security.

Cohen said Tuesday that more than 37,000 people who overstayed visas were deported from 2009 to 2011

Last year, ICE reviewed a backlog of about 1.6 million suspected overstay cases involving people who had come to the U.S. since 2004. The Homeland Security Department said the review concluded that about half of those people have either left the country or applied to change their immigration status. Of the remaining half, the cases of about 2,700 people were given further review. ICE officials have not said how many of those people were deemed a national security threat or were otherwise considered priority for deportation.

For the more than 797,000 others whose cases were not reviewed further, DHS officials said their overstay status was noted in electronic files in case any of them commit crimes in the future or otherwise become a priority to be deported.

Visa overstays have long been a concern of lawmakers and law enforcement. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants have overstayed visas.

But finding illegal immigrants who, like El Khalifi, came to the United States before biometric data was collected and records were computerized around 2004 -- and who overstayed visas but haven't committed a crime -- can be difficult, if not impossible.

"It's very difficult to find those individuals, and those individuals aren't priorities until they commit a crime," said Julie Myers Wood, who was head of ICE from 2006 to 2008.

James Ziglar, who was head of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service from 2001 until it was folded into DHS in 2002, said immigration authorities made efforts to locate immigrants thought to be a threat to national security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But simply having overstayed a visa wouldn't have made illegal immigrants like El Khalifi a priority.

"We were certainly focused on trying to find bad people and connecting the dots with the Department of State and their visa records," Ziglar said. "I doubt very seriously he (El Khalifi) would have come up on the radar. He might have if you kept drilling down further and further just because of where he was from. But he would not have been, I think, an earlier target, just because there were more suspicious types" (Fox News, 2012).