Article 2004-2-22
Highlights and Lowlights of 2003, Part I

Looking back to 2003, we can begin to assess many of the more important immigration related events and non-events which had important effects or will have importance in the future in the field of immigration. Unfortunately most of them were negative on alien rights, although some give hope for a brighter tomorrow.

The most important of course was the splitting of the INS into three separate divisions under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1, 2003 - "CIS" (Citizenship and Immigration Services), "ICE" (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and "CBP" (Customs and Border Protection). It is unfair to judge the changeover on the basis of nine months of operation, and so the grade that we assign it is an "I" for "Incomplete". Most people in the past had pointed out a basic conflict in the INS ' dual missions to give benefits as well as enforce the law with its personnel flip-flopping from one side to the other, and had urged the change. However, the adjudicative branch, CIS, is still reliant upon former INS personnel and it will take time to develop a new culture attuned more to customer benefit than enforcement. Additionally there have been and will continue to be problems of coordination among the three divisions. In a highly publicized case last year, a college student taking a trip to Mexico was denied reentry and thrown in jail because CBP did not have proof of his permanent residence status and failed to confirm his status with CIS immediately. Other examples currently are the recent reluctance (now in the process of cure) of the CIS to correct errors made on I-94 entry-exit forms by CBP inspectors at the borders and airports, and CBP's position that CIS delays in issuing reentry permits (currently processing applications filed 8/26/02 as of 1/7/04) are CIS issues and the mere filing of an application and the presentation of its receipt upon reentry are no indication that it would be approved. Finally in 2004 CIS officers will be able to adjudicate cases without reference to the zero tolerance policy which had been in effect since March 2002 and was only recently rescinded in September 2003. During that period, many INS officers were required to sign a document that their jobs were on the line if they made a mistake, and the Acting Director of CIS for the Central Region was quoted as saying that DHS personnel would not get into trouble for late decisions, but faced "great problems" if they missed any of the required security clearances.

The National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also known as Special Registration, had two components - call-in and port of entry registration, of which the former was one of the most awful initiatives of the Administration and rates an emphatic "F". By clumsily handling a delicate situation requiring the utmost tact in processing those individuals (males 16 and over from 25 countries, mostly from the Middle East) deemed necessary to interview for terrorist ties, the Administration managed to alienate entire immigrant communities and subject the U.S. to extensive criticism overseas. The fruits of its registration efforts from September 2002 to September 2003 after 290,526 registrations (83,519 call-ins and 207,007 port of entries) was a government statement that 11 had links to terrorism--even though none were charged with terrorism grounds of inadmissibility or removability. However, the Administration also used this program to detain, terrorize and humiliate many individuals and their families and even now proudly states that 13,799 of these registrants were put into removal proceedings. Finally in the face of heavy criticism, the Administration on December 2, 2003, without acknowledging its failure suspended the program's requirement that aliens register again after 30 days and one year of continuous presence in the U.S. Now annual registration will be required only on a case by case basis when individuals are called in by ICE.

The CIS initiative to create the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) rates another "F". Put on-line June 1, 2003, it interposed another layer of bureaucracy between applicants and service center personnel who could actually answer their specific inquiries. The NCSC line (1-800-375-5283) only allows contact with contractors (not CIS) who read from scripts and can do nothing to assist in specific questions except to refer the matter forward to the appropriate service center after wasting the applicant's time. Only after 3 referrals can the inquirer speak with a CIS representative. Although its period of existence has been short, the grade is deserved as its very concept goes against customer service improvement.

A bright spot for the CIS was its rolling out the "Case Status Online" computerized system which allows applicants with receipt numbers to check the status of their cases at the service centers. Although begun in late 2002, it became very popular in 2003. The grade to be assigned is a "B", as I-751 removal of conditional residence based on marriage and I-829 removal of conditional residence based upon investment applications are still not in the system and many older N-400 naturalization cases are not posted. In addition, at present, it does not cover applications which have been filed to local district offices of CIS (except those which have been transferred to the National Benefits Center in Missouri for pre-processing); nor can it currently check the status of a case once it has been transferred from a service center. The system can be accessed through "" or through our website at "".

The National Benefits Center (NBC) rates an "I" as its main purpose only began in the second half of 2003 - taking over the preprocessing of all family based cases from local CIS district offices including entirely handling employment authorization and advance parole applications. The CIS plans to rollout its family based application centralization process after notice in the Federal Register (which was expected in 2003 but never came), starting with the Pacific Northwest and then moving clockwise across the country phasing in each region every 60 days. In addition to family based I-485 adjustment of status to permanent residence applications, it will accept diversity visa (visa lottery) cases and later phase in acceptance of N-400 naturalization applications. The NBC holds great promise to alleviate backlogs in local district office processing and stress on individuals as it will allow applicants to track their cases on the CIS "Case Status Online" system.

Another electronic initiative by the CIS beginning May 29, 2003, filing applications online, met with limited appreciation as the filings were confined to I-765 employment authorization and I-90 permanent residence replacement card applications. At this time, electronic filing instead of current paper filing of forms and documents receives an "I".

With the largest generation of Americans (the Baby Boomers) nearing retirement age, one would assume that every effort would be made to provide adequate numbers of registered nurses to meet the demand. (In one forecast, the United States will require 1 million more registered nurses in the next five years alone.) However, it seems that the opposite is true. CIS announced in July 2003 that beginning July 26, 2004, it would enforce the requirement that all foreign nurses must present visa screen certificates before being allowed to work temporarily in the United States as nurses. Although there are genuine concerns in this country over nursing qualifications, foreign nurses already have to pass a battery of tests to become nurses here. Unless something is done now, many Americans in the future will receive no nursing care and nursing salaries will soon spiral out of proportion to those of other occupations. The Visa Screen enforcement action for 2004 rates a "C-".

Giving service centers the ability to issue notices to appear (NTAs) as of October 1, 2003, rates an incomplete ("I"). An NTA is a notice to individuals that they are under removal proceedings and must appear in an immigration court to answer charges that they are removable. It is too soon to know how service centers will wield their new-found power. Will they be judicious and sparing in exercising their authority, or will they issue NTAs in the future for all denied applications, or for that matter, all approved applications for which priority dates for immigration are not current? (Until about 20 years ago, INS had for a long time issued notices to individuals to appear at the local INS offices for interviews with the deportation branch when INS approved I-130 visa petitions without current priority dates.) Although CIS has stated that the service centers would focus on aggravated felons, public safety/national security threats or fraud schemes, it also said that it could issue NTAs to anyone.


Copyright © 2003-2012 Alan Lee, Esq.
The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any particular set of facts or circumstances. It should not be construed as legal advice and does not constitute an engagement of the Law Office of Alan Lee or establish an attorney-client relationship.