Earlier this week a federal judge temporarily halted a new immigration enforcement law in Alabama that is considered the harshest of its type. The Alabama law, which is similar to a Georgia law recently halted by another federal judge, would have taken effect this Thursday. The judge has issued an order that will halt the law until September 29.
In her order, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Blackburna stated that she needed more time to rule on the merits of the law and that her decision will be made on September 28. Judge Blackburna, who is a Republic appointee nominated by George H.W. Bush, is considered a conservative judge, adding to the perception that the law in Alabama (and the preceding one in Georgia) may be too restrictive for U.S. law.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now supporting USCIS’ move from a paper file-based system to a fully integrated and centralized case management system for the processing of immigration benefits. This transformation will allow USCIS to better manage multiple aspects of immigration services, eliminate the capture and use of redundant data and reduce the amount of forms required to be submitted which, in many cases, will be automated. According to DHS, this transformation process will be a multi-year initiative in which USCIS business processes and technology systems will be restructured.
In an advance copy of the DHS final rule related to this transformation process, it was noted that the agency will be removing references to form numbers, form titles, expired regulatory provisions and descriptions of internal procedures. Many of these will change during the transformation process. In addition, DHS is working toward finalizing interim rules that allowed for the submission of benefit requests with electronic signatures in cases where those requests are submitted electronically.
A new Homeland Security rule will allow many illegal immigrants with no criminal records who were facing potential deportation the option to stay in the U.S. and apply for work permits. However, as stated by Janet Napolitano, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, earlier this week, this new policy is, by no means, a free pass to citizenship. Instead, Napolitano says, the new rules are ways to clarify the deportation process for illegal immigrants with criminal records or who otherwise pose a threat.
“They’re very common sense and they’re meant to say that as we deal with deportations and removals we have got to focus on those who are highest priorities,” said Napolitano. These highest priority individuals, according to Napolitano, are repeat violators and convicted criminals.
Under the new policy change, roughly 300,000 pending deportation cases will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Napolitano asserts that this is not a major policy change; instead, it is simply a policy clarification.
USCIS announced this week that it will automatically extend employment authorization for eligible Liberian nationals who are currently covered under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) through March 31, 2012. This announcement follows a similar one by President Obama, in which he stated he would extend DED through March 31, 2013 for all qualified Liberians, as well as people without nationality who last “habitually” resided in Liberia.
This automatic extension of existing Employment Authorization Documents for eligible Liberians will allow them to continue working in the U.S. while they file applications for new authorization documents. The new documents will be valid until the close of DED in 2013.
USCIS’s Self Check service, a component of the E-Verify program, is now available in 21 states. This service allows employees and potential employees to easily check their employment eligibility in the United States. In cases where mismatches are found between the information provided by an individual and the data in their Department of Homeland Security or Social Security Administration records, Self Check provides important information about how to correct such errors.
According to USCIS, once a person confirms their employment eligibility via Self Check, they should have no problems related to E-Verify if hired by an E-Verify participating employer.
Self Check is being implemented in phases. Currently, the service is available to people living in the following states:
Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Colombia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
The federal government’s Secure Communities program continues to be the cause of much controversy in the United States. A group in Chicago has now filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, in which they claim that the Secure Communities program is unconstitutional.
According to the lawsuit, the practice of asking local police to detain immigrants in cases where there is no evidence that the immigrant has participated in an illegal activity is unconstitutional. Of specific concern is the part of Secure Communities that asks law enforcement agencies to hold people in custody so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can check their immigration status and take over custody of the person, if needed.
“What the lawsuit alleges is that in the vast majority of cases with individuals who have detainers lodged against them, basically ICE says to the locals, ‘We are instructing you to detain [an individual] after [your] authority has expired because we have initiated an investigation,'” said Mark Fleming, a litigation coordinator with the National Immigrant Justice Center, the group that filed the class-action lawsuit.
Last week, the federal government announced it would rescind its memorandums of agreement with 39 states that participate in the federal Secure Communities program. This decision does not end the program, the notice stated; instead, it clarifies that the program is a federal one and any agreement with states is not necessary or required.
“Secure Communities is based on federal law and federal information sharing,” said John Sandweg, counsel to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. “As a result of those laws, an MOA was never necessary to operate the program. Unfortunately we created a lot of confusion.”
The Secure Communities program, which is managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, compares fingerprints of people arrested by police officers against a federal database to see if those people are eligible to be deported to their home country. The program has been the cause of much controversy; immigration advocates state that it is too strict and will lead to the deportation of immigrants for minor crimes, or no crimes at all, as well as the criminals for whom the program was designed.