Attorney General signs the T visa regulation

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the Department of Justice would soon issue T visas. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) has created T classification to protect women, children and men who are the victims of human trafficking. Every year 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the nation as per the U.S. government estimates.

Trafficking in persons involves recruiting or transporting persons through force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of modern-day slavery or involuntary servitude. Victims of this growing transnational crime are predominantly women and children. They are trafficked into a wide variety of exploitative settings, ranging from the sex industry to domestic servitude to forced labor on farms and in factories.

The T visa is specifically designed for certain human trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement against those responsible for their enslavement. The statute allows victims to remain in the United States if it is determined that such victims could suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm, if returned to their home countries. After three years in T status, victims of human trafficking may apply for permanent residency. In addition, subject to some limitations, the regulation allows victims to apply for non-immigrant status for their spouses and children. Victims under the age of 21 may apply for non-immigrant status for their parents as well.

Last March, Attorney General Ashcroft announced that combating human trafficking would be a priority of the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice issued guidance to federal prosecutors describing the new crimes under the TVPA, and the Attorney General urged coordination among the F.B.I., I.N.S., U.S. Attorneys Offices and the Civil Rights and Criminal Divisions of the Department of Justice. In July, the Department published a regulation implementing Section 107(c) of the TVPA, which provides protections and assistance to human trafficking victims while their cases are investigated and prosecuted.

Since the passage of the TVPA, the Department of Justice has encountered many individuals who needed protection from retaliation and continued victimization by people who trafficked them into the United States. Under the statutes of the TVPA, those convicted of trafficking offenses may receive up to 20 years in prison and, in some instances life sentences. Earlier servitude statutes carried a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The new statutes created by the TVPA are designed to reach the subtle means of coercion that traffickers often use to bind their victims in service. Such means include the seizure of immigration documents, psychological coercion, and trickery.

The victims of human trafficking, who are interested in applying for the T visa, can download the new I-914 form from the INS website at http://www.ins.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/i-914.htm or by contacting the INS Eastern Forms Center Forms Request Line at 1-800-870-3676.Additional information is available on the Department of Justice’s website at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/crim/tpwetf.htm. Individuals who would like to report the crime of trafficking in persons should call the Department’s toll-free hotline at (888) 428-7581 (voice and TTY).

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Security issues scrutinized with reference to visa overstayers

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the loopholes in the American immigration system are being stringently examined. It’s revealed that all the 19 alleged hijackers had entered the nation legally and two had overstayed their visas. Since Sept. 11, the INS has increased scrutiny of people applying for visas, particularly among Middle Eastern men.

Back in 1996, Congress passed a law requiring the immigration service to set up a rigorous system to track when a foreigner enters and leaves the country to help curb visa overstays. It’s referred to as “controlled departure”. As per this “entry/exit system”, foreign visitors would have ID cards that they would swipe on the way in and swipe on the way out. But after border towns objected, voicing concern about massive delays and disrupted commerce, Congress twice postponed implementation.

After Sept. 11, the House again passed a bill calling for the controlled-departure system. But critics note such a system could cost tens of billions of dollars to implement properly. And it may do little to increase national security. They contend that with an estimated 31 million temporary visits to the US each year, looking for a terrorist at entry/exit points is a “needle in a haystack” approach. And even if INS could easily identify visa overstayers, setting the FBI to go after them would not be a cost-effective way to control terrorism. The Senate version is pending.

It’s estimated that each year more than 100,000 legal visitors decide to stay. In their desire for a better life, they are taking advantage of what’s become the easiest, albeit illegal way, of grasping the American dream. In general, illegal immigrants in this country are considered a “self-selected” group of hard-working, entrepreneurial people. “As a class, they’re educated, skilled, and innovative. They’re willing to take jobs Americans won’t. They’re a tremendous boost to the economy,” says Allan Wernick, chairman of the Citizenship and Immigration Project at the City University of New York.

But as opponents of illegal immigration note, they did cheat to get here. Their first interaction with the US government was to lie about their intention to return home. As a result, they skipped over the millions of foreigners who sometimes wait years to immigrate here legally.

Some immigration experts say the only way to start bringing the system under control is to grant amnesty to many of the people who are already here. But the bottom line, they say, is tightening up the borders.

Path to Refugee Status

WASHINGTON — The Immigration and Naturalization Service is trying to speed up its system for granting refugee status and hopes to extend it to 70,000 people this year, the head of the agency said Friday.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar also said a newly created Office of Juvenile Affairs within the agency will work to help the roughly 5,000 juvenile immigrants who enter the country each year unaccompanied by adults.

In remarks before the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant umbrella group based in Washington, Ziglar also touched on the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying that the INS is working with the FBI, the Treasury Department and the Office of Homeland Security to make the nation more secure. He added, however, that the terrorist attacks should not stop the country from encouraging immigration from around the world.

“The events of Sept. 11 were caused by evil, not immigration,” Ziglar said. “We cannot judge immigrants by the actions of terrorists.”

Ziglar said the INS had developed a business-model plan to expedite the granting of refugee status and would work with the State Department to cut through red tape that has prevented the INS from reaching its 70,000-refugee mandate in past years. In the future, Ziglar said, he would like to see the country accept even more refugees and other legal immigrants.

The commissioner noted that he and Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge are working to develop bilateral border policies with Canada and Mexico. Ziglar said American companies need and benefit from immigrant labor, including undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

“If we can find a way to move illegal immigrants into legal channels, we would enable the border patrol to focus on the bad guys coming across the border rather than the people coming across to work,” he said.

Ziglar said that raising the numbers of immigrants who could come here legally would end the human smuggling network that consumes attention along the U.S.-Mexico border.

While the agency will work to encourage immigration, it will maintain a hard line against those who break immigration laws, including those who abuse student visas.

“We’ll be tough in enforcing laws but tender in dealing with people,” he said.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs would work to reunite children with their parents when appropriate and would develop new guidelines for their shelter, care and treatment while they remain in the United States. Funding requires congressional approval.

Ziglar also spoke of his controversial decision to suspend international adoptions from Cambodia. He said the INS had to put the best interests of children ahead of those of U.S. citizens who wanted to adopt. He said the INS often did not have enough information on children from places like Cambodia and Vietnam to determine if they are truly orphans.

“I make no apologies on the INS stance on questionable adoptions,” he said. “We are not going to aid and abet child trafficking.”

But Ziglar said he understands the emotional heartache caused when Americans are told they cannot bring a child back to this country. He said the INS will work to prevent situations in which Americans incorrectly believe they will be able to adopt a child they have traveled abroad to meet.