Driver’s Licenses Will No Longer be Accepted as Proof of Citizenship at U.S. Ports of Entry

As of next Monday, U.S. travelers returning home from Mexico or Canada will be required to display a passport, enhanced driver’s license, or other certified forms of identification at a border station. This legislative change is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a broad program that calls for, among other things, the standardization of documents used at U.S. ports of entry.

“Obtaining a WHTI-approved document and complying with the law will help make our borders more secure,” said Michael Freeman, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port director for the Brownsville, Texas port of entry.

As of June 1, standard driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted as proof of citizenship, according to CBP. In addition to passports and enhanced driver’s licenses, travelers may also use SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST cards at applicable ports of entry. SENTRI cards enable expedited travel at certain ports of entry along the U.S./Mexico border. NEXUS cards provide similar expedited travel at U.S./Canadian ports of entry. FAST cards are able to be used at both borders and is commonly used by commercial truck drivers. Individuals under the age of 16 will be able to show a birth certificate as proof of citizenship.

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Secure Communities Program Starts in San Diego County; Jail Systems and ICE to Share Biometric Information

Earlier this week, San Diego County became the first county in California to receive biometric information regarding immigration status of inmates through the new Secure Communities program. The program, managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), aims to ease the process by which the federal organization determines if an individual incarcerated in the U.S. is a removable criminal alien.

Under this new program, all individuals booked into the three largest jails in San Diego County will have their fingerprints checked against the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric records for immigration records. If a fingerprint matches that of a Homeland Security record, the electronic system will notify both ICE and the jail site of the match. ICE will then evaluate the case to determine and verify the individual’s immigration status and decide if additional actions should be taken after the individual completes their prison sentence.

According to ICE, the highest priority will be placed on aliens who pose the “greatest threat to public safety.” These include individuals with prior convictions for major drug offenses, rape, robbery, murder and kidnapping.

“Secure Communities is an ICE initiative to more broadly manage and modernize the processes used to identify and ultimately remove dangerous criminal aliens from our communities,” said David Venturella, Executive Director for ICE Secure Communities. “Our goal with this ICE effort is to use information sharing to prevent criminal aliens from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our local law enforcement partners.”

USCIS Updates and Clarifies the Naturalization Form for U.S. Armed Service Members

Earlier this month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a notice regarding the form used to verify honorable military service in relation to naturalization. Form N-426, the Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service is used to verify the military/naval service of non-citizens applying for naturalization based on their participation in the U.S. armed forces. This form is commonly filled out incorrectly or incomplete; USCIS conducted extensive research into the reasons for these issues and have amended the form accordingly. Changes to the form, according to USCIS, will help members of the armed forces more easily and efficiently request naturalization based on their participation in the military.

Major changes to the form include reducing its length to one page, adding phone number and e-mail address fields so that USCIS representatives will have additional methods to contact applicants and/or their certifying officials, replacing certain confusing questions with Yes/No questions and adding a help line number to the USCIS military help line.

Since September 11, 2001, USCIS has naturalized over 47,500 members of the U.S. armed forces. Roughly 750 new applications for this category are received each month.

Department of Labor Postpones Mandatory Use of new iCERT portal for LCAs

The Department of Labor has just noted they are postponing the required use of the new iCERT online portal for Labor Condition Applications (LCAs). According to the Department of Labor, employers will be able to use the existing online systems for LCAs for the H-1B, E-3 and H-1B1 visa categories until June 30, 2009.

As of today, mandatory use of the LCA portion of the iCERT portal, which was originally scheduled for May 15, 2009, will now be postponed until July 1, 2009. The implementation of the new portal requirement has been postponed, the Department of Labor says, so that various technological improvements can be made to the online system.

Numerous problems had been reported to the Department about the portal since it first started being used on April 15, 2009. These problems included issues with registering with the system and faulty system functionality.

Learn more about the iCERT portal online at http://www.icert.doleta.gov. The current LCA portal can be accessed by visiting http://www.lca.doleta.gov.

The Detroit Passport Agency is Now Open

The Detroit Passport Agency was inaugurated this past Monday by Ambassador Janice L. Jacobs, the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. The agency, which is located in historic downtown Detroit (211 West Fort Street) opened its doors yesterday morning and will accept appointments from U.S. citizens wishing to travel within 14 days.

The passport agency, one of 15 in the country open to the public, has the ability to issue U.S. passport books on-site to those that qualify. In late spring 2009, the agency will begin issuing the new U.S. passport cards.

USCIS Posts Update on H-1B Cap-Subject Visas Received

One Monday, May 11, USCIS updated the current amount of H-1B visas received. As of Monday, the government agency has received roughly 45,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions, along with 20,000 petitions that qualify for the advanced degree cap exemption. Interestingly to note, USCIS’s May 5 update reported the same amount of H-1B cap-subject petitions received.

USCIS will continue to accept H-1B nonimmigrant visa petitions for FY 2010 annual cap. When the agency receives the necessary number of petitions to meet these caps for FY 2010, it will issue a notice to advise the public that the cap has been met by its specified final receipt date. That final receipt date will be based on the date that USCIS received the petition and not the date that the petition was postmarked.

USCIS will then randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the cap limits for the H-1B program for FY 2010 from all petitions received on or before the specified final receipt date. Cap-subject petitions not randomly selected will be rejected by USCIS, as will those petitions received after the final receipt date. Please note that petitions filed on behalf of H-1B workers who have previously been counted against an annual cap will not count toward the FY 2010 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to process petitions for H-1B workers (or those petitioning on their behalf) that wish to extend the amount of time they may remain in the U.S., change their terms of employment, change employers, or work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

Obama Administration Does Not Request Additional Border Fence Funding

There are no requested funds for extensions to the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico in President Obama’s budget proposal submitted last week. According to Peggy Sherry, a key financial officer with the Department of Homeland Security, the Obama administration does not intend to extend the barrier fence beyond its current completed or planned 670 miles.

In the budget request, the Obama administration asked for $779 million for FY 2010 for expenses related to border security, including technology installations, light infrastructure and the completion of a portion of the remaining 46 miles of barrier fencing.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as of today, contractors have completed just over 320 miles of the 370 miles of planned pedestrian fencing and 302 miles of the planned automobile fencing.