Mr. Asa Hutchinson
Border and Transportation Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Mr. Michael Garcia
The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
425 I Street N.W.
Washington D.C. 20536
Dear Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Garcia:
We, the undersigned ethnic, religious, human, civil rights and immigration organizations write to express our concerns about the National Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Beginning this winter, our organizations criticized NSEERS as a poorly implemented plan that failed to advance our national security or improve efficiency within our immigration system. These concerns have not abated. Furthermore, the actions recently undertaken by your Directorate and other federal agencies raise additional concerns. These concerns are:
- Which Bureau within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in Charge of NSEERS: Please clarify which bureau within the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the three aspects of the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS): the special registration program pertaining to the requirements for people within the U.S. (including call-in registration, and the 30-day and one-year check-ins), port of entry registration, and departure control.
- Relationship between US VISIT and NSEERS: You recently announced that once fully implemented, the Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology, or US VISIT, will replace NSEERS. Given this statement, what is the status of NSEERS prior to the full implementation of US VISIT? How does this new program impact on people required under NSEERS to make 30-day and one-year check-ins, and to exit through Departure Control, the kinds of information that will be mandated to be collected at our ports of entry, and from whom such information will be required?
- The Compliance Office and NSEERS: The recent announcement about U.S. VISIT included the creation of an Office of Compliance within the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Teams of compliance officers within this department will review US VISIT information on visa violations and refer appropriate leads to field enforcement units for investigation. Please detail the relationship between this office and NSEERS. Furthermore, please clarify how BICE intends to safeguard this information from misuse.
- NCIC and NSEERS: Last year, Attorney General Ashcroft stated that individuals who violated NSEERS would be placed into the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC), a federal database that the FBI maintains and which is accessible to state and local law enforcement. Thus, an individual who registered late for the NSEERS program could be stopped by police for speeding, be identified by NCIC for having registered late, and placed into custody. Given the jurisdictional shift of immigration enforcement from the Department of Justice to DHS and your statements that untrained local law enforcement officers should not exercise immigration authority, how do you plan to address the thousands of NSEERS registrants who are placed into NCIC for violating the terms of a now defunct program? What steps will you take to ensure that state and local law enforcement are not mistakenly playing the role of immigration officers without proper training or clarity about the scope of their authority?
- Outreach and Education Efforts Needed on the Departure Control Requirement: Numerous organizations criticized the Department of Justice, when it had jurisdiction over NSEERS, for not publicizing the Departure Control Requirement and not undertaking outreach activities to ensure that people who were required to register knew about, not only the designated ports, but also that they needed to report to Exit Control prior to departure. It appears that DHS is not undertaking needed outreach and education efforts in this area. What is the Department doing to make sure that this requirement is known and understood?
- DOS Cable and our Ports of Entry: A recent Department of State Cable addresses the circumstances in which an NSEERS special registrant who failed to exit the U.S. through departure control would nevertheless be eligible for a visa and admission to the United States. Will inspectors at our ports-of-entry be encouraged to use the discretion detailed in the Department of State’s cable? If not, why not? If so, how will you encourage these inspectors to use their discretion?
- People who Register Late for the Call-In Registration: Call-in special registration was plagued with inconsistent implementation, lack of outreach or educational initiatives to impacted communities, the detention of people who were lawfully present, and lack of adequate guidance from headquarters. Given these and other serious problems, what is your policy with regard to people who register late for call-in registration?
- Palestinians Should Not be Required to Register: Under the NSEERS program, the DOJ enumerated 25 countries whose citizens and/or nationals were required to register. None of the NSEERS documents, however, made reference to Palestine, the West Bank/Gaza Strip, or Palestinian nationals. As such, Palestinian visitors to this country are not required to register unless they are citizens or nationals of one of the countries called for Special Registration (e.g. Palestinians actually granted Jordanian citizenship). Despite this, many Palestinians carrying a variety of travel documents issued by some of the 25 countries have faced and continue to face problems with immigration offices. Many have been asked to register or have subsequently been asked for proof of having submitted to the special registrations. Arab-American organizations have continued to raise this issue with the INS, DOJ, and DHS and have repeatedly requested that guidelines be issued to local offices about the status of Palestinians so that Palestinian nationals who are not legally required to register are not punished for not registering. When will the DHS be issuing the necessary directive?
- Right to Counsel in Special Registration and Other Instances: There have been numerous reports documenting the denial of counsel to individuals attempting to register pursuant to the interior components of NSEERS. DHS officials have indicated that this issue should be raised with the respective BICE offices around the country where problems exist. However, we believe that a directive from headquarters on this issue is necessary to ensure agency compliance and to reaffirm the Department’s commitment to ensuring that this valuable right is not diminished by disparate practices at the various offices. Will you issue such a directive?
- Impact on the Immigration Courts: Large numbers of individuals have been placed in removal proceedings, even though they have benefit applications in the pipeline at BCIS or the Labor Department (DOL). Placing these people in removal proceedings is needlessly shifting workload to the immigration courts which cannot handle adjustment of status applications as efficiently or effectively as BCIS. This policy is clogging the courts with a burgeoning number of continuances and also causing the unjust removal of persons who would be eligible for permanent residence but for agency processing backlogs. Given the ethnically-based focus of the call-in program, this policy gives the appearance of race-based removals. Will the Department encourage the dropping of charges against non-criminal respondents who are in the pipeline for immigration benefits?
We shortly will be contacting your office to set up an appointment to meet with you on these important issues. Thank you.
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Arab American Institute
Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services, Dearborn, Michigan
Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc., Miami, Florida
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project/ Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Portland Maine
Immigrant Rights Network of Iowa-Nebraska
Immigration and Refugee Services of America/U.S. Committee for Refugees
Immigration Section, Los Angeles County Bar Association, Los Angeles, California
Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force, New York, New York
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
National Asian-Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
New York Immigration Coalition
Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, Boston, Massachusetts
PRIME – Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees, Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania
Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC)
Vive: An Organization for World Refugees, Buffalo New York
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