Data Systems

Immigration order means big lift for CIS, ICE

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Implementing President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration will bring changes -- some subtle, others possibly overwhelming -- for the agencies that process immigration paperwork and handle enforcement duties.

As the president announced his immigration action on Nov. 20 that will grant temporary legal status and work permits to almost 5 million illegal immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent memos to the DHS agencies closest to the operations -- Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection -- asking them to review their operations. And two senior Department of Homeland Security executives, though not willing to speak for attribution, told FCW in the days leading up to Obama's announcement that the agency was already scoping out required IT system changes in anticipation of new policies.

In the memo to ICE Acting Director Thomas Winkowski, Johnson told the agency to modify one of its most contentious biometric data-sharing programs with the FBI to take a more targeted approach.

He told CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowski to create three tasks forces under the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan announced last May. The task forces would incorporate elements of the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE and CIS, focusing on various aspects of maritime and land security along the southern border.

In a memo on to CIS Director Leon Rodriguez, Johnson ordered a list of changes and modifications to that agency's immigration application processes, including opening up work permit eligibility for the parents with children who are U.S. citizens and widening age requirements under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allows some undocumented children to remain in the U.S. to get an education.

Johnson told ICE to end its Secure Communities program that tasked local police with sending fingerprints of people they arrest or booked into custody to the FBI for a criminal record check. The FBI automatically forwarded those fingerprints to DHS to check against its immigration databases; ICE would begin enforcement action if the checks showed that an individual was unlawfully in the U.S. or was a candidate for deportation because of a criminal conviction.

ICE has said more than 283,000 convicted criminal aliens have been deported as a result of the interoperability program. Immigration activists and some states have long complained that it has blunted trust in law enforcement and discouraged crime reporting in immigrant communities because of the indiscriminate threat of deportation.

Johnson ordered ICE to replace Secure Communities with a new program called the Priority Enforcement Program. The new program will maintain the fingerprint-based biometric data submitted by state and local law enforcement agencies to the FBI. But ICE will have to show evidence that a detained person has a removal order against them, or is a likely candidate for deportation because of conviction of certain serious crimes, or because they pose a danger to national security.

Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based that opposes increased immigration, said the change probably wouldn't alter the back-office information sharing operations between the agencies, but was more of a "tightening of the leash" on ICE's deportation parameters.

The changes CIS is charged with making, Vaughn said, are more sweeping -- both policy-wise and in terms of the systems used. She warned that the changes could lead to deepening delays in processing applications -- not only for work permits for immigrants affected by the executive order, but for other everyday cases such as foreign adoptions and sponsoring legal immigrants.

DHS and CIS didn't respond to inquiries from FCW concerning the specific system changes required.

According to the letter from Johnson, CIS must begin preparing to receive additional applications under the order in the next few months.

Parents with children that are U.S. citizens can begin applying for work permits in six months, while new applicants for DACA can apply in 90 days. The president's order extended current DACA-approved students' renewal period from two years to three, essentially deferring their reapplication period a year, said Vaughn.

CIS depends on fees from applications to support its operations rather than a congressional appropriation. With the new wave of applications, funding an expansion of processing operations could also be an issue, she said.

Congress would have to approve any new or increased fees, Vaughn said, an unlikely proposition at best. It's much more likely that Congress will act to defund the program entirely, although Vaughn noted that CIS could develop work-arounds to pay for the influx.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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