Changing U.S. Immigration Laws

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

Immigration officials at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, last Tuesday, received about 76 Nigerians deported from the United States of America for alleged involvement in drug trafficking and advance fee fraud.

No big deal!

Why is it not a big deal? Well, this writer gave notice of that occurring in a previous article still on this site. The fresh news is that many more may be arriving in Nigeria soon without any dollar. As for those who already have a visa; more hurdles await them in American airports on your arrival. Some may be sent back from the airports.

To be sure, the United States has announced a National entry-exit registration system that is supposedly designed to prevent “dangerous” people from entering the country but which may keep several others out. Announcing the new regime last weekend, US Attorney General, Ashcroft said it would consist of three components, namely fingerprinting and photographing at the border; periodic registration of aliens who stay in the United States thirty days or more; and exit controls that will help the Immigration and Naturalization Service to remove those aliens who overstay their visas.

A quick evaluation of the system as presented by Ashcroft is useful. The first component of the system is fingerprinting and photographing at the border and airports. With new technologies, US immigration officials will now do a quick fingerprint check at the border that takes only three minutes to complete.

The Attorney General disclosed that the US Government has already put in place these new machines that can scan a person’s fingerprints and compare the prints to vast databases of known criminals and terrorists. It is even believed to have been used covertly and the early results are said to be promising. By running the fingerprints of aliens arriving American airports against a database of wanted criminals, the US intends to stop terrorists from entering the country.

The second component of the system is periodic registration. This will only apply to those individuals of elevated national security concern who stay in the country for more than thirty days. They will have to register at an INS office and simply verify that they are doing what they said they came to America to do and living where they said they would live. Such registration will be required at the 30-day point, and every 12 months after the date of entry. Aliens already in the United States who fall into categories of elevated national security concern will be asked to come in and register as well.

Interestingly, something similar to this is already in place in some countries in Europe. For Instance, in France, where long-term visitors to France must register within 7 days of arrival, every 12 months thereafter, and whenever they change their address. This is a well-established way of making sure that visitors do not try to disappear into society, and that they stick to their stated plans while in the country.

The third component of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System is establishing a system of exit controls, so that American officials may know who leaves on time and who does not. The new regime which is drawing a lot of criticism has also put in place a way to deal with those that refuse to register once allowed into the United States and for those who overstay their visas in America.

According to Ashcroft, when aliens violate these rules, their photographs, fingerprints and information in the National Crime Information Center system will be used to trace them. Also the over 650,000 American police officers are also to monitor evaders in the course of traffic stops and routine encounters.

Consequently, when federal, state and local law enforcement officers encounter an alien of national security concern who has been listed on the NCIC for violating immigration law, federal law permits them to arrest that individual and transfer him to the custody of the Immigration and Naturalisation Services.

Finally, the Justice department has fine-tuned the legislation that will make it easier to immediately deport those that stay beyond the period in their visa or fail to report periodically or commit any criminal offence.

While one recognises the vulnerabilities of the American immigration system, something which became starkly clear on September 11, it is unfortunate that after over a quarter of a century after the United States stopped asking international visitors to register periodically with immigration authorities, and stopped keeping track of visitors” activities and whereabouts, the events of September 11, 2001 has caused a huge leap into the past.

Yet the campaign of war against terrorism was hinged on the premise of not allowing the events of September 11, 2001 to alter the life and values of America and her people, so that the terrorists would believe they have won. As a Nigerian resident, I know life and living here has changed a great deal. Does anybody still doubt that it has! Maybe president Bush and the executors of the nation’s age long “Manifest Destiny”.

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