Sunday, October 26, 2008

Our Low Tech Commitment to High Tech Border Security

Tempted as I am to rant and rave over this latest stunning fiasco just revealed about ANOTHER failure in our national immigration security...I will spare you.  I went to the Holocaust museum today and I am drained.  But here is a brief chronology of events from the point of view of this former State Department FSO who's been pushing for biometric IDs for the last two decades:

1988- As a first tour Visa Officer in Juarez, Mexico, my boss "volunteers" me, the fraud officer, to spend a few Saturday mornings training El Paso border agents on the recognition of fraudulent entry documents.  What sounds like a real drag turns out to be quite interesting.  After the third Saturday I have a roomful of border cops who understand the concept of biometrics and agree that the only way to create secure visa documentation is to incorporated biometry into the IDs, however low (e.g.fingerprints) the technology.

1995-  A few years into private practice, I open a small office in Manila to cater to the increasing number of Filipino health care professionals my office is processing for U.S. healthcare companies.  Color copiers are just coming into corporate affordability, and I am stunned to see that in Roxas area near the U.S. embassy, a cottage industry of color-copier-armend "visa assistance" companies are flagrantly copying the complex color patterns and designs of U.S. visas.  I meet with the CG in Manila, and we agree that most airport entry officers cannot tell the difference between a real visa and a fake one painstaikingly sewed back into a passport after doctoring.  I write a few articles, the State Department ignores them, nothing happens for years until machine readable bar-coded visas emerge.  In the meantime, thousands have probably entered the U.S. illegally via the advent of the color copier.

FF to the new millenium:

2006-2008- The infamous TWIC port identification card, the first actual USE of biometry for border/port control, continues to be delayed due to a number of problems, and U.S. taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars per card issued.  As the U.S. marine industry seeks clarification from the Department of Homeland Security, DHS is so busy bragging about the incredibly cool features of the TWIC card that no one except me seems to remember that in reality we've had this technology for at least two decades, and that the TWIC program is perhaps the most bungled, expensive undertaking the U.S. has ever attempted.

And now, this just in from the Wall Street Journal:

"New U.S. border-crossing cards can be copied and remotely disabled
with off-the-shelf equipment, researchers said, the latest finding of
security weaknesses in wireless technology.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has reviewed the
findings, said it was aware of the possibility of electronic mischief
and wasn't concerned."

Basically, after millions in creating border crossing cards with private identifying information -- a confidential,
10-digit ID number for each individual -- it turns out that the secure data can be "remotely extracted
with equipment costing about $2,000, the researchers found, even from
more than 30 feet away." Get this:

"The ID number from crossing cards can be copied to a new card
costing about 10 cents, allowing somebody else to masquerade as the
cardholder.Reproducing a crossing card is easy in part because the government's
cards don't employ an anticopying feature, the study found, even though
a Homeland Security document issued earlier this year touted the
technique and said it would be employed."

Twenty years, folks, TWENTY YEARS...and we still don't have a clue on how to use our abundant technology to actually achieve the border control we tragically lack.  There is simply no excuse for the enrichment of federal contractors whose idea of a biometric ID card is one that costs as much as a small Korean car.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One Last Immigration Fiasco from the Bush Administration

Well, just when I thought the extraordinary missteps and bungled results of the Bush administration's catastrophic failure to grasp even the basic fundamentals of migratory policy were near their end, he did it again:  amidst much pomp and circumstance in the Rose Garden yesterday, and utterly oblivious to the consequences of his actions, the President announced the following :

"I'm pleased to stand with the representatives
of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to
be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of
these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or
tourism without a visa."
[Emphasis supplied]

You would think that after eight years, SOMEONE in the Administration would have figured out what has been obvious since the inception of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):  the notion that the VWP is an across-the-board gift to be given to our trading partners without a careful consideration of their migratory realities spawns illegal immigration.

When the VWP was first started, the main beneficiaries were Western Europeans.  It made perfect sense given the fact that, historically, Western Europeans rarely overstay their visas.  The 90 day visa-less entry was a great way to facilitate U.S. travel for these folks and it worked fine.  [Remember, folks: while the myth of the illegal alien conjures up a Mexican leaping a fence, the truth is that the majority of those Mexicans leap that fence back the very same day, having done their day's manual labor in a job no American would touch; the true measure of illegal immigration is not border jumpers, but those who enter legally with visas and never leave.]  So the little green cards were issued, visa lines in Europe went down, and all was good.

But then others started clamoring for participation, and the VWP criteria effectively became simply a checklist which, when completed, meant the U.S. automatically gave the country VWP benefits...without so much as a moment of pause to consider its potential migratory consequences on the U.S.  But since the U.S. remains one of the very few countries in the world which
only tracks inbound visitors and not outbound, we don't know who's left
and who's overstayed until it's late.  In fact, given the haphazard
collection of entry documents (which is handled by airline counter
personnel), we don't know until it's WAY too late...and we have no clue
where these folks are.

Soon came Argentina, asking for Visa Waivers, and BOY did we give them Visa Waivers.  In Miami alone I would estimate that there are thousands of Argentine nationals who entered on the Visa Waiver program, never having been interviewed by a visa officer, and who have been here 5+ years, working illegally with fake social security numbers.  The vast majority of these folks -- all of whom willfully overstayed the 90 day limitation -- are decent, hardworking people just trying to make a living.  I would further add that the majority of these folks fill the countless jobs which (again) American workers shun, in food service, in construction, etc. 

But they are illegal aliens.

When it became glaringly obvious to the federal government that although it was issuing many, many little green I-94Ws to these arriving planeloads of Argentines (all Disney-bound, naturally) extremely few of the cards werer making it back to the authorities...they figured it out and took Argentina off the list.  And back for the visa interview they had to go.  And it was quite clear: just because Argentina was improving politically and economically and was a valued trading partner, the VWP was terribly abused and thousands of these folks are illegally in the U.S., without recourse or the ability to normalize status in the vast majority of cases.

So now we are giving the Visa Waiver to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea
.  I don't know how this will unfold as far as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, but I can tell you this much: Florida, New York, and much of the East coast have significant numbers of Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak citizens who are illegal aliens, by virtue of overstaying their B1/B2 visas.  And getting a visa in Seoul is hardly a piece of cake, even these days.  What do YOU think is going to happen?

It blows my mind that in this climate of triggerpoint, across-party-lines demand for migratory controls (both for the sake of protecting U.S. jobs and to keep terrorists out of the U.S.), President Bush is so out of touch that he is granting Visa Waivers to nations whose citizens will do EXACTLY as the Argentines did: bolt to the Land of the Free for a quick trip to Disney...and never, ever leave.

Here's the official White House news release.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

WIth Liberty and Justice...for SOME

The Fed's GAO office just released a statistical study of how political asylum applicants in the U.S. fare in their filings.  The results are simply more proof of what we already know...that the U.S. immigration is so hopelessly, pathetically, completely broken that the next President needs to make its reform one of his first initiatives in matter HOW little mainstream Americans seem to care.  If we care about justice, we need to fix this and fix this NOW.

Before I point out the stats, I need to explain something to those of you who are not up to speed on the reality of political asylum applications.  You've probably heard the long-unresolved argument between those who distinguish between "political" refugees -- i.e., protected by asylum laws -- and "economic" refugees, who are not protected by such laws.  Nowhere are the political ramifications of this imprecise and arbitrary line-drawing more obvious than in the disparate treatment afforded to those who arrived on U.S. shores from Cuba, versus those who arrive from Haiti.  But the political refugee application process is messed up for a far more sinister reason: frivolous applications by those who have no business applying for asylum.

In the past decade, unscrupulous attorneys have taken to telling people from many comparatively peaceful countries and with absolutely no legitimate evidence of persecution that the asylum process was right for them...and, btw, it can get you an employment authorzation card.  KACHING!  I can't tell you how many of these applicants make up the total amount of asylum applications, but I've been approached by folks who have applied for asylum while hailing from countries ranging from the relatively  pacific Argentina to the definitely-not-asylum-worthy Canada (really).  So the system is clogged with ridiculous applications; invariably, they are denied and as the "victim" points an angry finger at the admittedly dishonest attorney who suggested asylum...

Reality check: in most cases, the "victim" is really a co-conspirator, trying to circumvent U.S. immigration law, plain and simple.  With no disrespect intended to anyone, it would appear to me that only the singularly stupid and profoundly clueless individual from a country like, say, Canada, could truly be a "victim" in these silly, baseless applications.  And in my experience, God tends to protect the profoundly clueless.

I'm not sure how these phony-baloney applications fit into the new GAO report, but I'll tell you this much: while current discretion parameters are obviously far too ample in defining legitimate, deserving asylum applicants, the entire process is tainted by a significant number of immigrants and the dishonest attorneys who are simply using the asylum application process the same way they filed false amnesty applications a decade and a half ago: a tool to buy time with no consideration to eligibility criteria whatsoever.

The main stats in the report:

-A petition filed in San Francisco is 12 times as likely to get approved as one filed in Atlanta.

-The greatest number of asylum petitions are submitted in New York...where COURTS ARE 420 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO APPROVE THE APPLICATION than other jurisdictions.

-Those represented by an attorney are twice as likely to get approved as those who are not.

-Those who have been detained by the USCIS are more likely to get approved.

-Male judges are 60% more likely to approve an asylum application than female judges.

Crazy stuff, huh?  Talk about a clear call for forum shopping...which is totally illegal!  I'll leave you with one final stat, quoted my the Miami Herald this morning:

"Records showed that in Miami, Judge Sandra Coleman denied 21.3 percent of the asylum applications she adjudicated between 2002 and 2007, while her colleague, Judge Mark Metcalf, denied 89.7."

Time to standardize asylum laws for uniform adjudication, Mr. President...whoever you are.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It's Basic Supply and Demand

Once again, the xenophobes are proven wrong: despite the hysteria, illegal immigration to the U.S. is the direct result of U.S. labor shortages, and when the jobs stop do the illegal migrants.

The Associated Press reported today that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington think tank, the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States has slowed significantly the past few years, falling below the number of those entering the country legally.  The report estimates there were 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as of March. That would be a decline of 500,000 from the center's estimate a year ago. 

Speculation by most experts is that this is due to the nation's struggling economy and stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.  One expert:

"The decline in job prospects in construction, service and other low-skilled jobs are communicated through extended networks of would-be movers from Mexico and Latin America," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, another Washington think tank. "It also may propel more return migration."

The way things are going, maybe we won't be needing that fence after all, eh?