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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

War-Time Immigration Policies

by Gregory Siskind

On Wednesday, the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is intended to disarm the Iraqi Regime, to liberate the Iraqi people and to further the war against terrorism. Before launching the war in Iraq, the United States launched Operation Liberty Shield, a domestic security operation. Now that the war has begun, immigrants will now begin to realize the effects of various related government policies. The U.S. government believes that the possibility of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil or against its interests abroad will be increased as the war with Iraq develops. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned that the nation must prepare for the inevitability of suicide attacks in the United States.


According to the Department of Homeland Security, Operation Liberty Shield is a multi-department, multi-agency, national team effort. The protective operation will increase security at the U.S. borders, strengthen transportation sector protections, enhance security at critical infrastructure points, increase public health preparedness and make sure all federal response assets can be deployed quickly. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection officers will increase the screening of vehicles and cargo crossing U.S. land borders.  Port of Entry inspection officers are conducting more interviews and detailed screenings as people enter and leave the United States. More federal agents have been assigned to U.S. borders, the Coast Guard has increased the number of ships and aircraft deployed at seaports, and health officials have been placed on special alert to watch for a possible chemical or biological attack. Many of the ongoing operations to disrupt threats against the United States will affect immigrants.


US interest abroad


The Department of State has ordered the departure of personnel at many U.S. embassies and consulate offices due to security concerns related to the military action in Iraq. Non-emergency personnel and their families were ordered to immediately leave the countries. 


U.S. embassies and consulates in the following cities are closed to the public:


1.  Amman, Jordan
2.  All posts in Australia
3.  Bucharest, Romania
4.  Buenos Aires, Argentina
5.  Cairo, Egypt
6.  Caracas, Venezuela,
7.  Damascus, Syria
8.  Istanbul, Turkey
9.  Kabul, Afghanistan
10.  Lagos, Nigeria
11.  Paris, France
12.  Nairobi, Kenya
13.  Oslo, Norway
14.  All posts in Pakistan
15.  Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
16.  Savanna, Yemen
17.  Skopje, Macedonia
18.  All posts in South Africa
19.   Surabaya, Indonesia
20.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel   
21.  Almaty, Kazakhstan


These embassies and consular posts, having been ordered closed to the public and having many of their personnel ordered to depart, will likely not be processing visas except in absolute emergencies. This list is likely to expand.


FBI Granted Unprecedented Powers to Arrest People for Immigration Violations


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has dispatched 5,000 agents to help guard against terrorist acts in the United States. They will be monitoring and arresting suspected militants. Any immigration violators found during interviews and sweeps may be detained. An FBI official said, “we’re prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.”  They have a checklist of more than 48 steps to be taken by FBI field offices and joint terrorism task forces.


As the war with Iraq gets under way, the FBI will move to arrest Iraqis who do not have status rather than keeping them under surveillance. Officials said that Iraqis who are not known to pose any imminent or specific threat are living in Miami, Detroit, New York and Washington. The FBI, working with the Department of State and immigration officials, has identified 50,000 Iraqi-born individuals in the U.S. that may be invited to participate in voluntary interviews to root out any potential terrorist attacks planned by Iraqi operatives or sympathizers. Officials say that valuable information has already been gathered from interviews that have taken place. They are hoping to have the interviews completed in a few weeks. 


The FBI and other government agencies are now attempting to locate several thousands Iraqis who entered the United States on valid visas that have since expired. Teams of FBI and immigration officials have been arresting a number of Iraqis who are in the United States illegally, mainly for visa violations. A statement from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the operation was aimed at "taking individuals off the street who might pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people" and said they were targeted based on intelligence information. 


DHS said the Iraqis targeted as part of the effort were identified using a range of intelligence criteria and all are in the country illegally. Government officials say that they maintain the belief that most Iraqis in the United States are unlikely candidates for terror and are hostile to Saddam Hussein. The government does fear that President Hussein might have leverage over uncooperative Iraqi citizens living in the United States by holding their families living in Iraq hostage. The FBI has also expressed an interest in protecting Iraqis from hate crimes as the war in their home country gets underway.


Detention of asylum seekers


The Department of Homeland Security now requires that anyone from 33 countries with known terrorism presences seeking political asylum at a port of entry in the United States be detained while the government considers claims that they face political persecution at home. The goal of detention is to prevent terrorists or spies from using America’s willingness to accept refugees as a pretext for entering the country. The countries on the list are nations where al Qaeda, al Qaeda sympathizers, and other terrorist groups are known to have operated. 


The new detention policy includes asylum seekers from the following countries:
1.  Iraq
2.  Iran
3.  Sudan
4. Somalia 
5.  Eritrea 
6.  Afghanistan 
7.  Algeria
8.  Egypt 
9.  Eritrea
10.  Uzbekistan
11.  Morocco
12.  Malaysia
13.  Pakistan
14.  Bangladesh
15.  Bahrain 
16.  Djibouti
17.  Kazakhstan,
18.  Kuwait 
19.  Lebanon 
20.  Libya 
21.  Oman 
22.  Qatar 
23.  Syria 
24.  Tunisia 
25.  Thailand
26.  Yemen
27.  Gaza and the West Bank


Department of Homeland Security has indicated that it is preparing a fact sheet that will address the change. There are some indications that DHS will not apply this policy to people filing affirmative asylum application (applications filed in the United States after entering the US rather than at the time of entry).


Asylum seekers from those countries will be detained while their applications are being processed even if there is no suspicion that the individuals have any terrorist links. In 2002, of the almost 10,000 individuals that arrived in the United States seeking asylum, about 600 were from the designated countries and two thirds of that number were Iraqis. Civil libertarians and immigration-law specialists said the wording of the administration’s policy is so broad that it could ultimately require the imprisonment of thousands of asylum seekers. "This sends a message to people who are the victims of human rights abuses that we are going to put you into detention if you come from the very countries that the U.S. has identified — that President Bush has identified — as having torture chambers and committing egregious human rights abuses," said Bill Frelick, director of the refugee program for Amnesty International USA.

“It’s a shocking development,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil-rights group, said of the asylum policy. “Many asylum applications can take years. It seems unfair to put people in jail who are escaping persecution and who have done nothing wrong just because they are from certain countries.” Secretary Ridge defended the policy as a prudent and temporary measure to allow U.S. officials to keep track of asylum applicants while the government investigates their claims that they were in danger in their native lands. Asylum seekers would ordinarily go free while their claims where being processed which could last several months to over a year. Officials say that they will not detain asylum seekers already living in the United States.


Non-citizens in the Military


More than 30,000 resident aliens are serving on active duty in the U.S. military, which constitutes about 2 percent of 1.4 million soldiers. President Bush has made it easier for immigrants in the military to obtain citizenship by eliminating a three-year wait they had faced before they could apply. The president’s executive order applied to any member of the military serving after September 11, 2001. It essentially allows them to apply for citizenship immediately and is described as a gesture to thank the soldiers for their service in defending the country. Sgt. Joel Chaviano supports the executive order saying, “these guys are serving our country. They swore to defend the Constitution. They deserve to be citizens.”


The federal government says that it is ready and is going to do everything possible to minimize disruption to people and commerce during the new security alert.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind, Susser, Haas & Devine's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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