Hello Everybody. This is Cyrus Mehta. Welcome to this week’s edition of immigration matters.
The WTC disaster will have, if it is not already having, an adverse impact on immigration. The Section 245(i) extension legislation that Congress was about to pass prior to September 11 has been put on the back burner. Even proposals to legalize the status of undocumented workers, especially Mexicans, based on negotiations between Presidents Bush and Fox prior to September 11, have been put on hold. Instead, we are seeing proposals that will make it easier for the government to detain and deport immigrants.
Before we get to the adverse proposals, let me give you some good news. On September 21, 2001, the INS Commissioner James Ziglar released the statement below encouraging undocumented aliens who may have lost friends or family in the recent terrorist attack to contact local authorities without fear of INS attempting to acquire or use that information for immigration purposes:
Victims of the attack may be eligible for a wide variety of benefits, regardless of their immigration status, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Justice and other state and federal agencies with special programs. Information on the various public benefits is provided on our website at www.cyrusmehta.com
Another piece of good news is that the Visa Office of the State Department has advised that it has not changed visa procedures and that virtually all posts are open for full consular services. The State Department also indicated that some posts have reported a decrease in interest in going to the US.
We have received several reports of nonimmigrants, especially H-1B visa holders, boarding domestic flights and being questioned and asked for documentation. INS officers doing the questioning have told individuals that they are required to carry their passports, I-94 form and approval notice at all times. Actually, there exists a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which requires foreigners to carry documents of their immigration status on them at all times. Thus, a green card holder must always carry the green card. A nonimmigrant, such as an H-1B visa holder or student must carry Form I-94 with them at all times. An applicant for adjustment of status must carry an employment authorization card or other proof that such an application has been filed.
The administration continues to propose an anti-terrorism bill, resulting in a lot of pressure in Congress to act very quickly. Although there is no final proposal, the versions that we are seeing would authorize the US government to detain and remove any immigrant if it has reason to believe that he or she furthers acts of terrorism or poses a threat to national security. Such a person may be detained or removed without the benefit of a hearing. Judicial review of such an action would be limited to the federal courts within the District of Columbia.
If the various proposals become law, it would be very amenable to being abused by over zealous law enforcement officers within the INS and other agencies of the federal government. This law will remain in place long after the terrorists who perpetrated this horrible crime would have hopefully been caught or eliminated. There is no guarantee that it would not be used inappropriately against persons of certain countries or ethnicities, or in the future. Although passage of an anti-terrorism bill is understandable in the in light of the WTC tragedy, the rights of immigrants, especially lawful permanent residents, should not be diminished relative to those of US citizens. Every person who is accused of posing a threat to national security should be entitled to a hearing before being detained and removed from the United States.
It is very important that the rights of immigrants be safeguarded despite the tragic events that took place on September 11. Law enforcement already has sufficient tools to go after alleged terrorists and criminals. While the government may promise to apply these provisions narrowly, there is potential for abuse, which could lead to a round up of large groups of immigrants without any credible basis that they may have committed crimes or are threatening the national security of the United States.
Immigrants’ rights were already abrogated in the 1996 immigration laws, shortly after the Oklahoma bombing, which did not even involve foreign terrorists. In the past five years, federal courts have overturned some of the harshest provisions of the 1996 laws but most still remain. A new round of legislation against immigrants will surely undo any little rights that immigrants might still have against unwarranted and intrusive government action.
Please urge your own Senators and Representatives to avoid over- reaction and the further erosion of immigrants’ civil liberties.
I hope you found this segment helpful and informative. This is Cyrus Mehta wishing you a wonderful weekend. See you again in two weeks.