The following suggestions were composed after discussions with many highly experienced individuals with years immigration experience (both in and out of government). As I intend to reach the broadest possible audience I have tried to communicate these succinctly and without legal or technical jargon. Your responses are greatly appreciated.
1. Require biometric registration of all alien departures
Remarkably, and likely unknown to many citizens, foreigners entering the U.S. are only fingerprinted upon entry. Exit records are unreliable and based on matching of biographical data to airline passenger records. It is not a foolproof system and can result in failure to detect or calculate the length of unlawful overstays when immigration officials later review an alien’s travel history.
Also, failure to check fingerprints upon departure means that officials cannot tell when an alien who crossed the border illegally is exiting through a port of entry. One can sneak across the Rio Grande and then depart via any airport without any special questioning. In countries with normal biometric exit screening, detection of an overstay or entry without inspection would occur and as a result the alien would be subject to detention pending payment of an overstay fine based on the duration of the alien’s unlawful presence.
All aliens should be subject to fingerprint checks upon departure. If this were implemented, the immigration official encountering the alien would instantly be able to see the length of their stay (based on biometric matching with their entry record). Just as importantly, if the alien’s prints produce no match to any entry record, they could be identified as having entered the U.S. without inspection.
Ironically, the U.S. has helped other countries implement biometric exit screening (1). Admittedly there would be personnel and equipment costs involved if this were to be implemented nationwide. Repurposing TSA personnel to perform this task might be a good initial point of consideration to overcome the resource hurdle.
2. Implement fines for unlawful presence
This would require legislation, but is a standard feature of the immigration codes of many countries with significant illegal immigration problems.
In my view, the purpose for implementing these fines should be to remove the economic incentive for illegal immigration. Therefore, the daily fine should be set to an amount above the likely daily earnings expectation of an illegal immigrant given the sorts of work they commonly perform.
Of course, it would be impossible to calculate the period of unlawful presence for those who cross the border undetected. Thus, the INA should also be amended such that the very act of unlawful entry would trigger a severe fine, perhaps some multiple of the typical illegal alien’s annual earnings expectation.
3. Eliminate or curtail adjustment of status for illegal aliens
Another incentivizing “feature” of our immigration system is the fact that it allows those who are unlawfully present to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Most commonly, the alien crosses a border illegally or overstays a visit using a tourist visa. They then enter into a marriage with a U.S. citizen and obtain lawful permanent resident status (commonly called a “green card”) with no waiting period given that there is no annual limit for this category.
Such marriages are often shams contracted for immigration purposes only. Sometimes they are legitimate and result in children. However, all adjustments of status based on such marriages serve to incentivize abuse of our immigration system by demonstrating that one can use unlawful acts to become a lawful resident — and eventually a citizen.
If for policy reasons the Congress maintains the right of some illegal immigrants to adjust status, conservatives should push for the creation of a limited category of permanent residency that does not provide any opportunity for naturalization nor confer any right to petition for other foreigners to immigrate (thus stopping the cycle of chain migration that can otherwise begin with one individual’s unlawful acts).
4. Simplify process for consular officers to refuse visa applicants for terror ties under INA section 212(a)(3)(B)
Consular officers in our embassies and consulates overseas are the first to see many future immigrants. Although they have limited training, they are uniquely qualified to judge applicants in that many receive language training specific to their countries of assignment and often conduct thousands of interviews during the course of an overseas posting. Despite the reputation of the Department of State as a left-leaning organization, many consular officers actually complain about the weaknesses of our immigration controls.
Under Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(3)(B), consular officers can refuse applicants for suspected terror ties. However, the current procedure requires that the officer overseas submit the information of concern to stateside analysts for review. Only if these personnel respond with an “OBJECTION” is the consular officer then allowed to apply the “3B” refusal.
This has resulted in consular sections issuing visas to individuals previously identified by adjudicators as potential terror threats. In effect, their judgment can be overruled when officials far removed from the region in question decide the information provided is not sufficiently derogatory. This must stop.
We pay consular officers for their judgment. While they should be required to provide written notification to the Department of State (which in turn informs the Congress) of any 3B refusals, in no case should the concurrence of a domestic official be required.
Requiring the concurrence of a supervisory official overseas might be a reasonable management control in such cases, and allowing consular officers to request an opinion from D.C. in questionable cases may be prudent. But turning domestic authorities into administrative bottlenecks in the process shows distrust in a uniquely qualified set of overseas employees whose very positions exist because they are best situated to scrutinize problematic applicants.
5. Exclude aliens with any history of domestic violence
This item will not affect a large number of people, but is worthy of consideration given the policy interests implicated.
Currently, applicants with previous convictions for domestic violence can remain eligible to immigrate to the U.S. if they were convicted of only misdemeanors or had minimal sentences (the applicable INA sections are complex).
This results in the immigration of highly undesirable people. A portion of these are males from cultures in which some men regrettably do not view wife-beating with the same revulsion as their western counterparts. Marriages in these cultures are often arranged with no true consent from the bride. Accordingly, the wives are often forced by male family members to remain in violent marriages to preserve family integrity.
Our immigration law should make no allowance, even incidentally, for cultural practices incompatible with our values and should help those who cannot defend themselves. USCIS and consular officers should be empowered to refuse immigration to any individual with a history of violence.
We are the most desired immigration destination in the world. It is an insult to well qualified individuals that we would even consider importing people with violent criminal profiles, especially those who pray on the vulnerable.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I will offer additional proposals in a future Part 2. My focus is primarily on solutions that could be implemented with minimal financial and materiel requirements. I will leave discussion of resource-intensive solutions such as expanding the Border Patrol or building border barriers for another time.
Please check back soon for Part 2 of this post and writings on other topics of interest.
Until then, I remain very respectfully
K. Evanston Treadwell
UPDATE: Part 2 has been published at http://wp.me/p8fzBg-f
(1) For a comprehensive treatment of this matter see the excellent Center for Immigration Studies piece at: http://cis.org/biometric-exit-tracking-feasible-and-cost-effective