Post-September 11 events: Changes in Immigration Legislation and the INs.

The tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, have not only rejuvenated this country’s sense of patriotism, but they have also cultivated fear and anger toward foreign terrorists and consequently, have spawned significant changes in our immigration laws.

On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed into law the “USA PATRIOT Act” (“Uniting and Strengthening American by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”). This anti-terrorism legislation, among many provisions, provides law enforcement agencies broad new powers to conduct searches, employ electronic surveillance, and detain suspected terrorists. As discussed in another article in this weekly newspaper column, the new law also preserves certain immigration benefits for non-citizen victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks and their families.

While these laws were passed to better identify and prosecute foreign terrorists, significant provisions in the legislation will also affect all other immigrants generally. Congress is mandating a comprehensive, technological system to better confirm the identity of visa applicants to the United States. This database will be shared between the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), law enforcement agencies, and other government departments as required.

In this new legislation, Congress also requires the full implementation of an integrated entry and exit data system that will use biometric technology and tamper-resistant documents readable at ports of entry. This system, which was originally mandated but never quite instituted by the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, will also interface with law enforcement databases.

Foreign students will also be monitored vigilantly under the new law, as some of the terrorist suspects in the September 11 attacks had entered this country with student visas. Foreign students who do not maintain their status or violate the conditions of their visa, e.g., fail to attend classes, may be reported by the schools to the INS and placed in removal proceedings.

In addition to passing this new law, the U.S. government will also restructure the INS itself. The agency will split into two separate divisions: one bureau will focus on providing immigration services (e.g., naturalization, adjustment of status), and the other bureau will focus on enforcing immigration laws (e.g., border patrol, deportation). In restructuring the INS, Attorney General John Ashcroft hopes the agency will become more efficient in performing in various functions and improve accountability in general. We will just have to wait and see just how this will affect INS services and enforcement.