The attention given the Obama Administration's expanded use of aerial drones (of late in Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, at the U.S. border, and perhaps over other points unknown) to bombard unsuspecting targets and predictably, if not wilfully, cause civilian casulaties, may have distracted from other important meanings of the word. Webster's Dictionarydefines "drone" in four distinct ways:
1 : a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen
2 : one that lives on the labors of others : PARASITE
3 : an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control
4 : DRUDGE . . .
Surprisingly, all four definitions, literally or figuratively, apply to recent action of the Department of State in unleashing a veritable arsenal of consular drones into the immigrationsphere on April 27. The DOS's surreptitious bomb droppings involve a far-reaching final rule issued without the usual forewarning of published notice and the opportunity for public comment as contemplated under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Claiming that the rule is exempt from APA formalities, State (with signoff by Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs) proclaimed by ipse dixit a regulation expanding the authority of American consular officers to revoke U.S. visas previously issued to foreign citizens.
Typical Paparelli hyperbole, you might say, associating pilotless bombers that kill and maim with a dry rule published in the Federal Register. Let's see.
Visa officers -- of both genders --- are mated to, and serve and service, the hive that is State (definition 1), although admittedly they are not "stingless," as I'll soon show. Their unwarranted visa refusals and revocations suck out the lifeblood of family unity and entrepreneurship that nourishes this Nation of Immigrants (definition 2). Too often thoughtlessly, they do the bidding of distant masters at State and Homeland Security, and are therefore reliably compliant in a Disney animatronic sense (definition 3). And their work is unrlenting drudgery, given that State allows them just minutes to decide the destiny of visa applicants, no less decisively than a set of fast-closing subway doors determined the alternative fates of the characters in the 1998 film Sliding Doors (definition 4).
I've railed before, quite often and at length, about the harm to American families and firms caused by the unregulated power of U.S. consular officials to deny visa applications of deserving foreign citizens (to review my prior rants, the curious need only type the words "visa refusals" in the search box to the right). Still, this new drone attack is insidious in several ways:
- Whimsy's Silent Death Knell. The final rule allows immigrant and nonimmigrant visa revocations in the consular officer's (potentially whimsical) discretion, whereas the prior regulations (see the IV rule and the NIV rule) made the decision purely one involving straightforward findings, of fact and and under law, that the applicant was not or is no longer eligible for the visa. Presumably, the new regulation supplants State's Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provision denying consular officers the "authority to revoke a visa based on a suspected ineligibility, or based on derogatory information that is insufficient to support an ineligibility finding." Previously, consular officers had no power (only State had the authority) to decide so-called "prudential revocations" which according to the current version of the FAM, "simply reflect that, after visa issuance, information surfaced that has called into question the subject’s continued eligibility for a visa."
- Shut My Mouth. The final rule removes any express opportunity for the applicant or his/her attorney to present evidence to confirm that the inividual is legally entitled to keep the visa under immigration law. Instead, the new rule provides that consular officer "consider . . . information related to whether a visa holder is eligible for the visa."
- No Chance to Scream. Nothing in the final rule requires the consular officer to allow the applicant or counsel to inspect and rebut "derogatory information unknown to the applicant," unlike the USCIS regulation, 8 CFR § Sec. 103.2(b)(16), which grants this customary due process protection.
- Shoot First, Ask Questions Later. The final rule creates an illusory "provisional revocation" process that is indistinguishable from an unconditional revocation, namely, the immediate nullification of the visa for use in traveling to the United States. The former regulations required the consular officer, if practicable, to issue a notice of proposed revocation and thereby allowed an opportunity for rebuttal or reconsideration before the actual revocation took place.
- Queen Mother Bee, May I? The new rule relieves the consular officer of the duty in several types of cases to seek State's prior permission in the form of an Advisory Opinion. Now a consular officer, without hesitation or consent, can uncap and click the visa revocation button and fire off a drone.
- 'Tain't Fair. Consular officers now have authority under the final rule to revoke a visa even if the visa holder is already in the United States -- an action that heretofore only State could do under the present version of the FAM. Under Immigration and Nationality Act § 221(i), a consular revocation cannot be reviewed by any court except in limited circumstances during a removal (deportation) hearing. Thus, a consular decision, perhap made on incorrect information and without notice to the visa holder or a rebuttal opportunity, transforms an otherwise law-abiding foreign citizen into a deportable alien whose only remedies are to be hauled before an immigration judge or hop on the first flight back home.
Even before State's fait accompli drone attack, the DOS recognized and forewarned consular officers to "be alert to the political [and] public relations . . . consequences that can follow a visa revocation," noting in the FAM that the "revocation of the visa of a public official or prominent local or international person can have immediate and long-term repercussions on our political relationships with foreign powers and on our public diplomacy goals in a foreign state." Apparently, visa revocations involving lesser known foreign figures are of inconsequential concern to the Department.
I'll end my droning with a suggestion to State:
If you care about our nation's image in the world and the soft skills of diplomacy, as you oft proclaim, withdraw this silly and pernicious rule. Contrary to your bald assertions in the preface to the rule, your release of immigration drones will inevitably trigger "adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, [and] the ability of United States-based companies to compete with foreign based companies in domestic and import markets." Your rule also raises the prospect that families of "little people" -- to snatch a phrase from the "Queen [Bee] of Mean,"Leona Helmsley -- will be torn apart by your improvidently released drone attack on fair play and simple justice.
With your actions as added martial fodder, is it any wonder that Superman is renouncing his U.S. citizenship because he cannot in good conscience continue to link truth and justice to the American way?
Angelo Paparelli is a partner of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Mr. Paparelli, with a bicoastal practice in Southern California and New York City, is known for providing creative solutions to complex and straightforward immigration law problems, especially involving mergers and acquisitions, labor certifications and the H-1B visa category. His practice areas include legislative advocacy; employer compliance audits and investigations; U.S. and foreign work visas and permanent residence for executives, managers, scientists, scholars, investors, professionals, students and visitors; immigration messaging and speech-writing; corporate policy formulation; and immigration litigation before administrative agencies and the federal courts. He is frequently quoted in leading national publications on immigration law. He is also President of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, a 30-firm global consortium of leading immigration practitioners. Paparelli’s blog and a comprehensive list of his many immigration law articles can be found at www.entertheusa.com. He is an alumnus of the University of Michigan where he earned his B.A., and of Wayne State University Law School where he earned his J.D. Paparelli is admitted to the state bars of California, Michigan and New York.