Immigration Arbitrariness

This news story is about a Turkish physician whose visa extension hit some snags at BCIS until his congressman intervened. I think it shows how arbitrary of the immigration process in the US is and how much depends on the specific immigration officer examining your case.

An impressive career, a 1,000-page visa application and 10 letters of support from some of the top names in medicine apparently weren’t enough evidence for U.S. authorities considering whether to allow a Houston doctor to stay in the country.

It took a Thursday phone call between a congressman and a high-ranking federal immigration official to cut through red tape that immigration lawyers say is increasingly common since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

[…]Dr. Remzi Bag, a Turkish physician who heads Houston’s two lung transplant programs, was granted an extension of the special visa that allows him to work in the United States after a delay that prompted worries about a possible shutdown of the transplant centers.

[…]Bag has been working as a Baylor College of Medicine physician on a three-year, O-1 visa. O-1 status is granted to foreign nationals — 25,000 in 2002 — who demonstrate extraordinary achievement or ability in science, education, business, the arts or athletics.

According to BCIS, an O-1 visa is granted to

  • An individual alien who has extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and who is coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability; or
  • An alien who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in motion picture and/or television productions and who is coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary achievement.

Continuing with Dr. Bag’s travails:

Bag, who graduated as valedictorian from medical school in Turkey, is medical director of the lung transplant programs at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and The Methodist Hospital. The 39-year-old doctor is board-certified in pulmonary medicine, critical care medicine, nuclear medicine and internal medicine.

He is a lung transplant physician — a rare expert in pre- and post-operative care for lung transplant patients — a specialty that is federally required of all lung transplant centers. Because Bag is one of only two such qualified doctors in the city and one of only 100 in the country, Baylor officials said the possibility that he might be deported threatened local lung transplant programs.

Bag’s request for a visa extension was kicked back earlier this year with a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stating the application did not establish that Bag had won a major award, “such as the Nobel Prize,” and that, in short, Bag “has a career he can be proud of, but the evidence does not establish he meets the very high standard of O-1A in his medical speciality.” Federal officials invited Bag to submit more evidence.

A Nobel Prize? Are there thousands of Nobel Prize winners trying to get the O-1A visa?

Bag said he was puzzled by the snag because, in being named medical director of the two transplant programs, he has achieved even greater distinction in his career than when he was first granted O-1 status.

This is the most surprising part. The regulations and requirements for the visa have not changed recently. Therefore, if he was eligible 3 years ago, shouldn’t he still be eligible?

Via Perverse Access Memory who also has a good post about the alarmist stories in the press nowadays about the reduction in the H-1B cap next year.

Busy Busy Busy

Sorry for the lack of posts. Amber was here for the weekend and I have been really busy with work and stuff.

I have a couple of Kashmir posts in the pipeline. Hopefully, I should post them in a day or two.

In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting things to read.

  • Via Ikram Saeed, a Village Voice article about Pakistanis in New York leaving. I have been to the Pakistani community neighborhood on Coney Island Ave a number of times, though not recently.
  • Via Eternal Illusions, a series on a Pakistani guy in Canada going to Pakistan for an arranged marriage.

Immigration Reading

Here’s some stuff I have been reading (via Perverse Access Memory).

  • Matt Welch posts about some of the problems immigrants had in the US in the past and how people consider that era now to be whitewashed into nice assimilation of immigrants.
  • Henry Farrell writes about his recent experience with immigration requirements while returning to the US with a one-way ticket.
  • Here’s a New York Times article about the Mexican ID being accepted for identification in some cities in the Midwest.
  • Also a USA Today report about immigrants moving into the interior from expensive states like California and New York.
  • And finally a NY Times article about biometric identifiers for visas and passports.

It should be remembered that if we require visitors to have passports with biometric data for the visa waiver program, for example, then the other countries might start implementing it for Americans since most of these requirements are generally reciprocal.

The article does have its share of goofs:

Biometric systems tested by the United States at the Mexican border have been sensitive enough to distinguish between identical twins.

What does that mean? Any data on false positives as well as negatives?

Under the new standards, countries would also be allowed to add additional biometric technologies to the passports, like fingerprints or iris scans.

Now photographs and fingerprints are well-established, but iris scans? Do we really want to get our irises scanned?

But Mr. Shagnon said the passport system relies partly on facial measurements that do not change as people age or even get plastic surgery.

Now really? Every facial recognition system breaks down at some point. A good system must be able to differentiate among millions of people while at the same time being robust to lighting, facial expression and changes in facial appearance from day to day. I am not considering pose here since it can be assumed that for applications like this the subject will be facing the camera.

BCIS Sucks Big Time

Repeat after me, BCIS people are fucking assholes.

Now, it seems they have lost information from their system of the approval of my application from 1.5 years ago.

I think I need to contact my Congressman or Senator.

POSTSCRIPT: That missing data has to do with my status in the US. So I am mighty worried.

BCIS Sucks

That is the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).

But you already knew that.

Immigration and National Security Report

As I promised, here are some of the highlights from the report by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

Our new security measures must be effective rather than merely dramatic, and must not destroy what we are trying to defend. The government’s post-September 11 immigration measures have failed these tests.

These actions have not only done great harm to the nation; they have also been largely ineffective in their stated goal of improving our domestic security. Despite the government’s heavy-handed immigration tactics, many of the September 11 terrorists would probably be admitted to the United States today.

[…]Our 18-month-long review of post-September 11 immigration measures determined that:

  • The U.S.government overemphasized the use of the immigration system;
  • As an antiterrorism measure, immigration enforcement is of limited effectiveness; and
  • Arresting a large number of noncitizens on grounds not related to domestic security only gives the nation a false sense of security.

[…]Many of the government’s post-September 11 immigration actions have been poorly planned and have undermined their own objectives. For example, the goals of the special call-in registration program have been contradictory: gathering information about nonimmigrants present in the United States, and deporting those with immigration violations. Many nonimmigrants have rightly feared they will be detained or deported if they attempt to comply, so they have not registered.

Our research also found serious problems at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that are hampering our nation’s counterterrorism efforts and damaging other key national interests. The State Department has tried for 10 years to get access to FBI information to add to its terrorist watchlists; those discussions are still going on. Automating this process would help to overcome long delays in visa approvals that are damaging U.S. political and economic relations abroad. It would also allow agencies to focus on a more in-depth risk assessment of visa applicants who raise legitimate security concerns.

Here are some highlights about the people detained after September 11:

Unlike the hijackers, the majority of noncitizens detained since September 11 had significant ties to the United States and roots in their communities. Of the detainees for whom relevant information was available, over 46 percent had been in the United States at least six years. Almost half had spouses, children, or other family relationships in the United States.

The post-September 11 detainees suffered exceptionally harsh treatment. Many were detained for weeks or months without charge or after a judge ordered them released. Of the detainees for whom such information was available, nearly 52 percent were subject to an “FBI hold,” keeping them detained after a judge released them or ordered them removed from the United States. More than 42 percent of detainees were denied the opportunity to post bond. Many of the detainees were subjected to solitary confinement, 24-hour lighting of cells, and physical abuse.

Many of the detainees were incarcerated because of profiling by ordinary citizens, who called government agencies about neighbors, coworkers, and strangers based on their ethnicity, religion, name, or appearance.

Most important, immigration arrests based upon tips, sweeps, and profiling have not resulted in any terrorism-related convictions against these detainees. Of the four detainees in our sample who had terrorism-related charges brought against them, all four were arrested based on traditional investigative techniques, not as the result of immigration enforcement initiatives.

Finally,we found an important international echo effect from domestic immigration policy. By targeting Muslim and Arab immigrants the U.S. government has deepened the perception abroad that the United States is anti-Muslim and that its democratic values and principles are hypocritical. This echo effect is undermining U.S. relationships with exactly the moderate, pro-Western nations and social groups whom we need in our fight against terrorism.

They also have a number of recommendations covering congressional oversight and legislation, information sharing and analysis, due process and immigration procedure issues, law enforcement programs, national unity, and foreign policy.

Now, I do believe that the government should act against illegal immigration. But there are two major problems with how the administration has handled this issue.

  • Selective targeting of Muslims and Arabs: Any selective enforcement of the law is generally bad.
  • The administration has given the impression that this enforcement of immigration law is necessary for national security reasons. That is hogwash in my opinion as is made clear in this report. Enforcing immigration law is by itself a good thing but the way it has been done since September 11, 2001 has done nothing for our national security.

Immigration and National Security

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, has published a report that says that the post-September 11 roundup of immigrants was actually bad for national security.

I haven’t read it yet, but it seems interesting because one of the authors is Doris Meissner who was INS Commissioner during the Clinton administration. Also, on their board of trustees is James Ziglar, the last INS Commissioner.

I’ll blog about it some time next week.

(Via TalkLeft.)