House Judiciary Committee Reauthorizes Physicians for Underserved Areas Act

Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee amended and passed the “Physicians For Underserved Areas Act.” This legislation would reauthorize the J-1 visa waiver program for an additional two years. This waiver program enables foreign-born doctors to stay in the U.S. and receive a waiver of the foreign country requirement as long as they spend three years working in areas of the U.S. facing shortages of physicians.

This bill, in its original form, would have made the program permanent. However, an approved amendment submitted by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) changed the bill so that the program would only be applicable for another two years.

Hopefully, the committee will realize the importance of this program in two years and will make the program a permanent fixture of immigration legislation.

House Passes Bill to Strengthen Border Patrol

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the “More Border Patrol Agents Now Act of 2006. The act requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan to determine how the Border Patrol can more effectively recruit and maintain Border Patrol agents.

In addition, the act calls for bonuses for agents who agree to serve with the patrol for a specified amount of time.

Finally, the act will waive the fee required of retired agents who return to the Border Patrol after retirement. This act, as it currently stands, will be active for a five-year period.

House Passes Three Harsh Immigration Enforcement Bills

The House of Representatives today passed three harsh immigration enforcement bills.

The first bill, the Community Protection Act of 2006, calls to deny fair treatment and due process of law to categories of individuals living in the United States. For example, the Act enables immigration enforcement to indefinitely hold aliens awaiting removal, even in the face of Supreme Court decisions that required this practice be eliminated. In addition, the Act expands the use of expedited removal proceedings to remove individuals already in the U.S, including those that have been here for years. This provision could lead to the deportation of potentially innocent people. Finally, the Act gives the Executive Branch the power to classify groups of individuals as “criminal street gangs” and strip supposed members of these “gangs” of nearly all their legal rights.

The Immigration Law Enforcement Act of 2006 would further limit the rights of individuals living in the United States. This act gives local and state police the authority to investigate, arrest and detain non-citizens for civil violations of immigration status. This act also greatly limits federal courts from providing relief for accused individuals involved in these civil immigration proceedings.

The third Act passed today, the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006, calls for the imprisonment, for up to twenty years, for any individual who knowingly constructs or finances the construction of a cross-border tunnel that has not been legally authorized to be built. The Act also calls for the imprisonment for up to ten years, for any individual who permits the construction of such a tunnel on their land.

USCIS Introduces a New Process for Issuing EAD cards to Asylees

Starting October 1, 2006, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Division will begin a new process throughout the U.S. for issuing secure Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) to individuals who have been granted asylum.

Under the current regulations, asylees are able to work in the United States upon receiving asylum status. Asylees received provisional Form I-688B cards showing their employment authorization on the same day that they received their asylum approval letters. Asylees interviewed at an Asylum Office circuit ride location were told to return to the District Office to receive their I-688B cards, which were issued with a one-year validity period.

Under this new process, asylees will receive in the mail Form I-766, the EAD card, a more standard and secure card that will be valid for two years. This, USCIS states, will give asylees a more reasonable amount of time to apply for and receive an adjustment of status before the expiration of the EAD.

This new process was pilot tested in Arlington, VA in March of this year and will be implemented throughout the U.S. by October 1.

USCIS Announces the Elimination of Backlogged Naturalization Applications

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that they have eliminated the backlog of N-400 Naturalization Application cases. USCIS has completed roughly 340,000 backlogged cases and processing time for these cases has been minimized from an average of 14 months (as seen in early 2004) to roughly 5 months today.

The overall backlog of applications has decreased from 3.8 million in 2004 to a little over 1.1 million in July of this year. Of these 1.1 million cases, 140,000 are considered backlogged and controlled by USCIS. Other cases, such as those pending security checks or naturalization test retakes, are out of the control of USCIS and are not defined as ready to be adjudicated.

“Our work takes on significance beyond other government benefits. What we do is more than just numbers, applications and forms. The services we provide profoundly affect people’s lives,” said Emilio Gonzalez, director, USCIS. “By eliminating the Naturalization backlog, we provide those who aspire to become Americans with an invaluable opportunity to contribute back to our Nation.”

The changes in naturalization backlogs are part of a fulfillment of a mandate made by President Bush, who called for the majority of applications to be processed within an average of 6 months of filing by October of this year.

House Republicans Introduce New Border Security Act – More to Come

This morning, House Republicans introduced the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to be considered by the House of Representatives Tomorrow. This proposed Act is the first in a series of efforts that House Republicans will be introducing and sending to President Bush this year..

At the core of the proposed Act is a shifting of operational control of the physical and maritime borders of the country to the Secretary of Homeland Security, who will be acalled upon to “take all actions [he] determines necessary and appropriate to achieve and maintain operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States .”.

The Act would shift responsibility for border control to the DHS in an effort to strengthen security measures. House Republicans intend to introduce additional measures tomorrow in an effort to enact changes they intend to implement prior to the upcoming elections.

Delays Caused by Delivery Services No Excuse in Immigration Appeals

A quick note for visitors to our website: the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals has denied the motion of a respondent who believed that the late filing of their appeal should be excused because the overnight delivery service they used did not deliver that appeal in a timely fashion. In a recent case, the BIA held that it did not have the authority to extend the 30-day time limit for filing an appeal. While the BIA could certify certain cases to itself in exceptional circumstances, BIA would not consider a one-day delay by an overnight delivery service enough of a warrant to provide an untimely appeal on certification.

New Senate Bill Gives $2 Billion for Border Security-House Avoids Compromise on Immigration Reform

The Senate, yesterday, passed by a vote of 98-0 the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2007. The nearly $500 billion defense spending act includes roughly $2 billion allocated for emergency funding for border security measures. These border security measures were introduced in early August by Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The emergency funds would help pay for the construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the southwest border of the U.S.

Similar provisions were included in an amendment connected to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. However, that bill is currently in limbo as House Republican leaders actively subterfuge the process of coming up with a reasonable compromise that respects all sides of the immigration issue. The House is currently involved in a series of nationwide faux hearings on the topic and no compromise is on the table.

USCIS Notes Conditions of Availability Regarding Premium Processing

The USCIS has informed us of various conditions of availability that are being placed on the Premium Processing Service. According to the USCIS website, Premium Processing Service is available for certain Form I-140 classifications (including various student, investor and worker nonimmigrant visas), as long as the case does not involve:

1. A second filing of a Form I-140 petition while an initial Form I-140 remains pending;
2. Labor Certification substitution requests; and
3. Duplicate Labor Certification requests.

These additional conditions are being included by the USCIS; special processing must take place in conditions described above that make it impossible to guarantee processing within 15 calendar days.