Appropriations Committee Releases FY2018 DHS Bill, Includes $1.6 Billion For Border Wall

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Posted: 2:22 am ET
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On July 11, the House Appropriations Committee released its proposed fiscal year 2018 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill, which will be considered by the subcommittee on July 12. The legislation directs $44.3 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $1.9 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The bill includes $1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the U.S. southern border. It also includes $6.8 billion – the same as the President’s request – for disaster relief and emergency response activities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to the Committee’s statement.

The bill highlights include the following:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

The bill contains $13.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for CBP – an increase of $1.6 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. These resources ensure our borders are protected by putting boots on the ground, improving infrastructure and technology, and helping to stem the flow of illegal goods both into and out of the country. Within this total, the legislation includes:

  • $1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the Southern border – including bollards and levee improvements – meeting the full White House request;
  • $100 million to hire 500 new Border Patrol agents;
  • $131 million for new border technology;
  • $106 million for new aircraft and sensors; and
  • $109 million for new, non-intrusive inspection equipment.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – The bill provides $7 billion for ICE –$619.7 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Within this total, the legislation includes:

  • $185.6 million to hire 1,000 additional law enforcement officers and 606 support staff;
  • $2 billion – an increase of $30 million above the requested level – for domestic and international investigations programs, including efforts to combat human trafficking, child exploitation, cybercrime, visa screening, and drug smuggling;
  • $4.4 billion for detention and removal programs, including:
  • 44,000 detention beds, an increase 4,676 beds over fiscal year 2017;
  • 129 Fugitive Operations teams; and
  • Criminal Alien Program operations, including the addition of 26 new communities to the 287(g) program, which partners with local law enforcement to process, arrest, and book illegal immigrants into state or local detention facilities.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

The bill includes $7.2 billion for TSA – a decrease of $159.8 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This includes full funding ($3.2 billion) for Transportation Security Officers, privatized screening operations, and passenger and baggage screening equipment, in order to speed processing and wait times for travelers and cargo. This also includes $151.8 million to hire, train, and deploy 1,047 canine teams to further expedite processing time.

Cybersecurity and Protection of Communications

To combat increasingly dangerous and numerous cyber-attacks, the bill includes a total of $1.8 billion for the National Protection and Programs Directorate to enhance critical infrastructure and prevent hacking.

Within this amount, $1.37 billion is provided to help secure civilian (.gov) networks, detect and prevent cyber-attacks and foreign espionage, and enhance and modernize emergency communications. Funds are also included to enhance emergency communications capabilities and to continue the modernization of the Biometric Identification System.

Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)

The legislation does not fund most CIS activities, as these are funded outside the appropriations process through the collection of fees However, the bill does contain $131 million for E-Verify, which is funded within CIS and helps companies ensure their employees may legally work in the United States.

SEC. 107 of the bill requires the following:

(a) Not later than 30 days after the date  of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Committees on the Judiciary of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate, and the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives, a report for fiscal year 2017 on visa overstay data by country as required by section 1376 of title 8, United States Code: Provided, That the report on visa overstay data shall also include—

(1) overstays from all nonimmigrant visa categories under the immigration laws, delineated by each of the classes and sub-classes of such categories; and 

(2) numbers as well as rates of overstays for each class and sub-class of such nonimmigrant categories on a per country basis.

(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall publish on the Department’s website the metrics developed to measure the effectiveness of security between the ports of entry, including the methodology and data supporting the resulting measures. 

For the complete text of the FY 2018 Subcommittee Draft Homeland Security Appropriations bill, see: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AP/AP15/20170712/106241/BILLS-115HR-SC-AP-FY2018-HSecurity-FY2018HomelandSecurityAppropriationsBill-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf

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Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Refused Clearance to Enter the U.S. Via Visa Waiver Program

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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We’ve featured a quote from him here in 2009 (Quote: I’m actually a bad man who happens to have a limit…).  Craig Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.  If you don’t remember him, The Guardian’s 2004 piece, The envoy who said too much, would refresh your memory. Quick excerpt with some of his quotable lines:

“There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” He says he advocates a new style of ambassadorship, one that is more down to earth and less stuffy. “You don’t have to be a pompous old fart to be an ambassador.”
[…]
“I joined the Foreign Office, not a monastery,” Murray explains. “I have no intention of living like a monk – not that I have anything against monks. It has been put to me that this is perhaps not what ambassadors do…”
[…]
At the Foreign Office there are some who feel Murray should have drawn a line under his battle with London, quietly returning to work, stiff upper lip intact. One FCO official suggested in his correspondence with Murray, that the ambassador should have just called the abuses “horrid”, sat down, and then toed the line. Murray replied: “As you may know I have a slight speech impediment and cannot call anything ‘howwid’.”

On September 5, the former ambassador writes in his blog that he has been refused entry clearance to the U.S. under the visa waiver program:

I have been refused entry clearance to the USA to chair the presentation of the Sam Adams Award to CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou and to speak at the World Beyond War conference in Washington DC. Like millions of British passport holders I have frequently visited the USA before and never been refused entry clearance under the visa waiver programme.
[…]
It is worth noting that despite the highly critical things I have published about Putin, about civil liberties in Russia and the annexation of the Crimea, I have never been refused entry to Russia. The only two countries that have ever refused me entry clearance are Uzbekistan and the USA. What does that tell you?
[…]
I have no criminal record, no connection to drugs or terrorism, have a return ticket, hotel booking and sufficient funds. I have a passport from a visa waiver country and have visited the USA frquently before during 38 years and never overstayed.

Below from US Embassy London’s Visa Waiver page:

Citizens of the United Kingdom, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein,Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan (passport must have been issued on or after December 29, 2008 and contain a National ID number) holding a valid, full validity e-passport with an electronic chip who are traveling 

  • for business, pleasure or transit for less than 90 days. Visa-free travel does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the United States for more than 90 days;
  • are not ineligible to receive a visa under U.S. visa law. Travelers who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, those with criminal records, (the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to U.S. visa law), certain serious communicable illnesses, those who have been refused admission into, or have been deported from, the United States, or have previously overstayed on the VWP are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

Plus, if entering the United States by air or sea are:

    • holding a return or onward ticket. If traveling on an electronic ticket, a copy of the itinerary must be carried for presentation to U.S. immigration at the port of entry. Note: Travelers with onward tickets terminating in Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean Islands must be legal permanent residents of these areas;
    • entering the United States aboard an air or sea carrier that has agreed to participate in the program. This includes aircraft of a U.S. corporation that has entered into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to carry passengers under the Visa Waiver Program. Note: Other private or official aircraft or vessels do not meet this requirement; and
    • have received travel authorization under ESTA;

 

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DHS Proposes Collection of Social Media Identifier For U.S. Visitors

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Via the Federal Register:

On December 18, 2015, the President signed into law the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. To meet the requirements of this new Act, DHS strengthened the security of the VWP by enhancing the ESTA application and Form I-94W. In two recent emergency submissions under the Paperwork Reduction Act, additional questions were added to ESTA and to Form I-94W that request information from applicants about countries to which they have traveled on or after March 1, 2011; countries of which they are citizens/nationals; countries for which they hold passports; and Global Entry Numbers.

DHS proposes to add the following question to ESTA and to Form I-94W:

“Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” It will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.

The information collection is optional under the proposed rule.  DHS estimates that there will be over 32 million travelers who will be  Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) respondents and nonimmigrant visa respondents entering the United States and filling out the I-94 Arrival and Departure forms.

The question we have is 1) Will the baddies be dumb enough to provide their social media identifiers if they have nefarious intent during their travels? 2) Does DHS have a system that combs through this huge haystack to find a a few needles?

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US Implements Visa Waiver Restrictions For Dual Nationals From Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria

Posted: 6:09 pm EDT
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The ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes a provision for “terrorist travel prevention and visa waiver program” officially called the ‘‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015’’.  The new law which affects dual nationals from WVP countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria includes a waiver to be be exercised by the DHS secretary.  The new law also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on each instance in which the Secretary exercised the waiver authority during the previous year.

On January 21, the State Department announced the implementation of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program. Below is the announcement:

The United States today began implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day and is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining the highest standards of security and border protection. Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at our embassies or consulates. For those who need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. embassies and consulates stand ready to process applications on an expedited basis.

Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.

Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:

  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
  • Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

Again, whether ESTA applicants will receive a waiver will be determined on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the terms of the law. In addition, we will continue to explore whether and how the waivers can be used for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States.

The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation.

An updated ESTA application with additional questions is scheduled to be released in late February 2016 to address exceptions for diplomatic- and military-related travel provided for in the Act.

Information on visa applications can be found at travel.state.gov.

Current ESTA holders are encouraged to check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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A couple days ago ….

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Barzun Visits Global Entry Sign-Up Booth at Google UK

Posted: 12:02 pm EDT
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Via US Embassy London/FB:

23528561881_b5a392b3b6_z

Ambassador Barzun visits the Global Entry Sign-Up Booth at Google UK

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Members can enter the country through the automatic kiosks at airports. Membership also includes TSA Pre✓® which provides trusted travelers with expedited security screening so travelers do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. More details can be found here.

 

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Three Senior Administration Officials Conduct Briefing on K-1 Visa Screening Process

Posted: 4:27 am EDT
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We previously blogged about the State Department’s inadequate public response to inquiries about the K-1 visa process (see @StateDept Spox Talks About K-Visas Again … C’mon Folks, This Is Not Fun to WatchDear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing). On December 17, the State Department conducted an on-background overview of the current K-1 visa screening process and security screening process for U.S. visas. The special briefing via teleconference preceded President Obama’s remarks at the National Counterterrorism Center today. The briefing did not get into the specifics of the San Bernardino attackers and the senior officials only answered four questions from three reporters from the AP, CBS News and the Christian Science Monitor.

So here’s the K-1 process and vetting described by the senior administration officials:

US Citizen file the K1 petition (DHS/USCIS) – SAO #1

I thought it would be helpful to sort of tee off this call by sort of giving the – sort of the overarching view of how a K-1 visa application sort of moves through the process. And the first step is with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where a U.S. citizen spouse will petition USCIS – it’s a I-129F petition, which is a petition to permit a foreign national fiance(e) who is living overseas to potentially come to the United States and get married to a U.S. citizen here.

So the process is that the U.S. citizen spouse files a petition with USCIS, and USCIS does some background checks with systems within the Department of Homeland Security, as well as some interagency systems, and then evaluates whether or not a – this petition should be granted. And when the petition is granted, then the next step in the process – so there’s one sort of initial set of background checks, at least the watch list checks, et cetera.

Foreign fiance(e) apply for a visa (State/NVC/Embassy) – SAO #2

Once the I-129F petition is approved by the Department of Homeland Security, the package of the appropriate information is forwarded to our National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and sent out to the post at which the fiance(e)s have determined that they would like to have their visa interviews and clearance conducted. And so once the scheduling is done and the interview date is decided, at that time we conduct our first – our interview with the visa applicants as well as our suite of clearance procedures that we follow.

And the first point I want to make about this – these clearances and security clearances that we do is that they apply, obviously, to the K-1 visa application category, but they apply as well across the board to all immigrant and non-immigrant visa categories. We strive to have the most rigorous security and background vetting for all people who apply for visas to enter the United States.

And so as stated a second ago, the first thing that we do is a interview. Nearly all visa applicants, non-immigrant and immigrant visa applicants, are interviewed by a consular officer. And all immigrants and fiance(e) visa petitioners are interviewed by a consular officer. We also conduct a series of background checks. As a matter of standard procedure, all visa applicants’ data are reviewed through our online database, which contains nearly 36 million records of persons found ineligible for visas in the past or against whom potentially derogatory information exists. And these records in our database are drawn from sources and records throughout the U.S. Government.

We also run all visa applicants’ information against our online visa record system called the Consular Consolidated Database to detect and to respond to any derogatory information regarding visa applicants as well as current visa holders. And this database contains more than 181 million immigrant and non-immigrant visa records. We collect 10 fingerprints from nearly all visa applicants – and again, including all immigrant and fiance(e) visa applicants. And these fingerprints are screened against two key databases. The first of those is the Department of Homeland Security’s IDENT database, which contains a watch list of available fingerprints of known or suspected terrorists, wanted persons, and immigration law violators. We also run these 10 prints against the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System, which contains, among other records, more than 75.5 million criminal history records.

All visa applicants are screened against a watch list of photos of known or suspected terrorists, which we have obtained the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, as well as the entire gallery of visa applicant photos that are contained in our database systems.

In 2013, the State Department, in coordination with multiple interagency partners, launched the Kingfisher Expansion counterterrorism visa vetting system, which supports a complicated – I’m sorry, a sophisticated comparison of multiple fields of information drawn from applicants’ visa applications. And we run them against information in U.S. Government terrorist identity holdings. I will let the third Administration official describe that system in more detail.

And finally, we also coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security’s PATRIOT and Visa Security Program. This program is active currently at more than 20 of the identified high-threat posts around the world. The PATRIOT is a pre-adjudication screening system and vetting initiative that employs resources from both DHS/ICE, as well as Customs and Border Protection. It was established to identify national security, public safety, and other eligibility concerns relating to visa applicants prior to visa issuances. And finally, PATRIOT works in concert with the Visa Security Program – again, located at over 20 high-threat posts. ICE special agents assigned to these Visa Security Program posts provide on-site vetting of visa applications as well as other law enforcement support to our consular officers abroad.

And finally, I’ll just close by letting everybody know that our security vetting of visa applicants is not a one-time look at these people. Once we have these records and other information available from other databases, we constantly review and look at the records of these individuals as new information is made aware of us. And if information becomes available, that would perhaps support the revocation of that visa, the appropriate messages are sent to the State Department, and we will consider visas for revocation due to derogatory information. Since 9/11 we have revoked over 122,000 visas, including 9,500 visas for potential ties for terrorist activity.

Foreign fiance(e) with a visa apply to enter the United States (DHS/CBP) – SAO #1

Because CBP has independent authority whether or not to allow somebody to come into the United States and determine whether somebody is admissible or inadmissible, and those checks include interagency watch list checks. But also the National Targeting Center that’s run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection also does screening of individuals and runs not only against watch lists, but also data analytics on, say, airline data that – data that we get from the airlines: advanced passenger information as well as passenger name record information to determine and to guide the decision making by U.S. CBP officers at ports of entry as well as some overseas, depending on when they – where they’re coming in through, determine whether or not this person could present a threat to the United States or is inadmissible for any other reason.

After marriage, foreign fiance(e) now spouse adjust status in the United States to become a Permanent Resident (DHS/CIS) – SAO #1

Then – so once the person then comes into the United States, then within 90 days, under the K-1 visa or under the I-129 petition – the I-129F petition, they have 90 days to get married. And then the next step would be an adjustment of status for the fiance(e), or now the married partner, to get LPR status, so a green card status. And at that point, USCIS – there’s another round of checks to determine whether or not somebody should be adjusted of status and become a green card holder, and at that point there are background checks. There are interagency watch list checks. And then also importantly, there is an interview at that point of both the fiance(e) – or both partners, both the husband and wife or the married partners – to determine whether or not LPR status should also be granted. And that’s obviously looking at not only for national security reasons, but also for fraud reasons, to make sure that this is not a sham marriage and – or any of – other circumstances where LPR status would not be granted.

Note: Foreign spouse actually gets a Conditional Permanent Status issued by DHS/CIS valid for two years. In order to remain a permanent resident, a conditional permanent resident must then file a petition to remove the condition during the 90 days before the card expires if he/she is still married to the same U.S. citizen after two years. Spouses of U.S. citizens may apply for naturalization if a permanent resident for at least 3 years and meet all other eligibility requirements.

Vetting Process via Kingfisher Expansion – SAO #3

I will describe the visa vetting process that takes place through the Kingfisher Expansion tool. The Kingfisher Expansion is a system for conducting interagency counterterrorism screening for all visa applicants, which includes the K-1 visa applicants. As previously stated, the Department of State launched the KFE system in 2013 in partnership with the National Counterterrorism Center, and DHS, FBI, and the Terrorist Screening Center.

KFE checks are initiated when a U.S. embassy or consulate submits a vetting package, which consists of all visa applicant information as well as any additional information from post. And that is submitted to NCTC. In an automated process, NCTC compares the applicant data against its holdings. The automated review process takes place in a highly classified environment and responds to post within minutes with a red light or green light response. Any KFE red light response triggers a Washington-based interagency review of the case in which NCTC analysts along with FBI, DHS/ICE, and the Terrorist Screening Center review the application. All visa cases are continuously screened at NCTC during the validity period of the visa to identify any new derogatory CT information that arises on an applicant post issuance. NCTC alerts State, DHS, FBI, and TSC of any applicants who match the new terrorism information.  And with that, that is our NCTC screening process.

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HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT
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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

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U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.

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