Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Refugee Program Is Actually an Unauthorized Family Reunification Program For People Who Came To The United States Illegally

Central American "Refugee" Program Admits Few Actual Refugees

By Jessica Vaughan

Most of the youths being approved under the Obama administration's new Central American Minors Refugee/Parole (CAM) Program do not qualify as refugees, but are being admitted as parolees, according to new data released in a stakeholders' teleconference last week, confirming earlier reports.

This program, unveiled in November 2014, has been misleadingly described as a refugee program that will provide a safe alternative to hiring the criminal alien smuggling organizations that have been enriched by the administration's open door policy for illegal juvenile and family arrivals from Central America. In the official program announcement, the State Department stated:

The refugee/parole program will not be a pathway for undocumented parents to bring their children to the United States.

In fact, as even the most cursory examination of the program makes clear, the CAM is essentially an unauthorized family reunification program for Central Americans who came to the United States illegally and who are not eligible for any legal program to bring in the family members that they left behind.

So far, about 4,300 applications have been accepted, representing about 4,800 people. The parent sponsors must fall into one of five categories, mostly covering illegal aliens in the United States who have been given a temporary quasi-legal status.

Of those adjudicated (so far about 90), only 12 percent received conditional approval as refugees. The vast majority, 84 percent, were conditionally approved as parolees. The remaining 4 percent are undergoing additional review (meaning they don't appear to be approvable at this point, but the agency will do its best to find a way to say yes).

A representative of one of the many "mas-migration" groups on the conference call voiced disgruntlement that so few of the applicants were being awarded refugee status, which in addition to qualifying the applicant for a vast array of public welfare benefits also leads to a green card and potentially citizenship. A USCIS presenter noted that parole is not such a bad deal either, as it's a status from which one potentially can adjust to a green card, and the relatives of parolees also can obtain parole.

A participant from the Post-Deportation Human Rights Program of Boston College asked the government officials to confirm that it is possible for juveniles who have been deported from the United States, and who have other problems such as criminal convictions or gang membership that would normally disqualify them, to be approved for this program. The officials confirmed that this is possible, and that these applicants could seek a waiver for certain disqualifying factors, as refugees can.

One participant asked if a parent could sponsor a child for this program if the parent is currently in removal proceedings. A government official said he would look into that.

No information was offered on how many of the applications have been received in each of the qualifying categories of sponsors. This information is tracked on the Affidavits of Responsibility that are part of the application. The five categories of status that qualify a parent to sponsor a child through CAM are: Lawful Permanent Resident (even though green card holders already can sponsor their children so they have no need for refugee status or parole); Temporary Protected Status; Parole; Deferred Action (including U visa holder, VAWA petitioners, and DACA recipients); and Deferred Enforced Departure/Withholding of Removal. All of these categories except for LPR are used primarily to launder the status of illegal aliens. Under the law, individuals with TPS, Parole, Deferred Action, and DED are not permitted to sponsor family members for admission because they are not a legal form of admission or permanent residence.

During the Q&A part of the teleconference I asked if the government presenters could provide information on 1) the number of applicants seeking waivers of ineligibility/inadmissibility and 2) the number of applications from sponsors in each of the five qualified categories. They asked me to submit the questions through their website, and I have not heard back. The Senate Judiciary Committee submitted similar questions after holding a hearing on the program last April entitled "Eroding the Law and Diverting Taxpayer Resources: An Examination of the Administration's Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program".

Reprinted from Jessica Vaughan’s Blog, Center for Immigration Studies

Ben Ferro (Editor,

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Although No Longer a “Hot News Item”, Wave Of Illegal Aliens Continues Unabated Across Our Southern Border

Thousands of Children Crossed US-Mexico Border in October

By Seth Robbins, Associated Press

Nearly 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children were caught illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico in October, almost double the number from October 2014, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Also, in the figures released Tuesday, the number of family members crossing together nearly tripled from October 2014 — from 2,162 to 6,029.

The numbers spiked despite expectations of lower numbers due to the colder winter months coming, better enforcement along the border and efforts by Mexican authorities to stem the stream of Central American migrants to the U.S. Though tens of thousands of women and children from Central America were caught at the border in summer 2014, it had dropped by nearly half during the 2015 federal fiscal that ended Sept. 30.

The 4,973 unaccompanied children caught at the border last month is the highest number that Washington, D.C.-based think tank Washington Office on Latin America has recorded for October since their records began in 2009, said Adam Isacson, a border expert and senior analyst.

The high numbers buck the typical trends of crossings peaking in spring then declining through summer and fall, Isacson said. But there was an uptick in families and children crossing in July, and the numbers have stayed over 4,000 each month since.

"Rather than a big jump, it's been a steady burn," he said. "I think we are almost in crisis mode with this many months of sustained arrivals."

Most children and families trying to cross the border in October were from El Salvador. Increased violence in the tiny country, which averaged 30 murders a day in August, is likely partly to blame, Isacson said. Previously, Guatemala had the most families and children apprehended at the border.

While the Rio Grande Valley remains the center of migration flows in Texas, immigrants are starting to venture farther west. The number of unaccompanied children caught in Del Rio sector jumped from 120 to 237, while 187 children were apprehended in the remote Big Bend area, up from just 13 a year ago.

According to internal intelligence files from the Homeland Security Department, most families interviewed told Customs and Border Protection officials that smugglers decided where they would try to cross. They reported that the cost ranged from about $5,000 to cross the border near Matamoros or Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from the Rio Grande Valley, but was about $1,500 to $2,000 to cross near Ciudad Acuna, across the river from Del Rio.

Carlos Bartolo Solis, director of a shelter in Arriaga, Chiapas, said migrants are eschewing the dangerous train that begins its journey near his shelter after raids by Mexican immigration authorities. The flow of migrants, however, has not diminished, he said, adding that they are moving along other routes, often walking.

"They are moving in hiding," he said in Spanish.

The administration was caught off guard by the sudden surge of children and families in 2014 and made several efforts to curb the flow of people crossing the border illegally, including media campaigns in Central America to scare people out of attempting the dangerous journey.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement this week that the campaigns are still in place and highlight that "those attempting to come here illegally are a top priority for removal."

Immigrant families caught illegally crossing the border between July and September told U.S. immigration agents they made the dangerous trip in part because they felt they were likely to succeed, according to the intelligence files. Immigrants spoke of "permisos," or passes, that they believed would allow them to remain in the United States.

Ben Ferro (Editor)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Problems with Automation: The rest of the story

On Monday, I reposted a story which appeared in the Washington Post entitled, “A Decade Into A Project To Digitize U.S. Immigration Forms, 
Just 1 Is Online” which recounts problems that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently had trying to automate their “antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records”.

The Post article, outlining a scandalous decade and disastrous waste in the electronic modernization of the INS, now USCIS under the Homeland Security Department, was a well done account of the gross ineptitude at the troubled Agency.

At the risk of being seen as piling on, we cannot pass up the opportunity to record and provide our readers with the "Rest of the Story" as a favorite radio commentator of the past coined.

Outlined below is a compilation of frank and candid recollections of many many persons who "worked" on the project from within the government and from the private sector, not for 10 years and one billion dollars but for 20 years and much more taxpayer dollars. First it must be said that while the primary participants in this effort were INS/CIS government employees and contract employees of IBM, many others from other government entities and other private contractors contributed in making this one of the biggest contracting fiascoes in government.

It can be said with certainty now, that only IBM and other contractor contributors benefited from this two decade project perhaps to the tune of two Billion dollars. Indeed the irony is that government is likely worse off than when it all began. 

As noted, during this latest endeavor, which USCIS has dubbed as “Transformation”,  the agency has spent more than a billion dollars, over a period of 10 years, with very little to show for their efforts. In fact, as pointed out in the Post article, this venture has resulted in the automation of only one of the almost 100 forms filed with USCIS.

While this revelation might seem shocking to most people, those of us who have worked for this agency and for it’s predecessor, the INS, aren’t the least bit surprised. That’s because the immigration agency has had a very long history of failed attempts to automate their paper intense immigration benefit filing and adjudication process.

A Little History

The first (and, in my opinion, the last) real success that the INS had in automating it’s records was when they deployed the Central Index System in 1985. This mainframe computer system, which tracks all immigration paper files was, in fact, so successful, that it is still very actively in use today, some 30 years later, despite dozens of efforts to replace it with newer technology.

The agency’s next major attempt at automation came several years later with the creation of the CLAIMS 3 system. Unfortunately, this system, which is used to manage most of the paper applications for immigration benefits serviced by the INS,  did not include one of the most important, the Application for Naturalization. In addition, although this CLAIMS system was available in the agency’s 4 Regional Service Centers, it was not accessible by the 80+ USCIS field offices where the bulk of the adjudication of immigration benefits took place at the time. Although much time and money was spent attempting to roll this automated system to field offices in the early 1990s, it failed miserably. In fact, only one office out of the 80 received this computer system.

Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when the INS decided to abandon the CLAIMS 3 system and create a whole new system, using a different technology, which they would eventually call CLAIMS 4. The plan was to roll all of the application form types into this new system and then take CLAIMS 3 off line. Unfortunately, after years of development, and many cost overruns, when CLAIMS 4 was finally unveiled it only supported one application, the Application for Naturalization (do I detect a theme here?).  As I understand it, development was halted because someone realized that the new system was not compatible with this newly emerging phenomena called the Internet. As a result, the CLAIMS 3 system is still in use today.

So, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, INS was stuck with two separate major automated systems, which used old technology, and which were very expensive to maintain. As I recall, in 2000 a decision was made by INS Headquarters to create yet another major system which would replace both CLAIMS systems, as well as the dozens of ancillary automated systems which filled in the gaps. This effort, christened Modernization, set out on a five year undertaking to gather technical requirements to develop a new automated system, code-named, TABS. Although the TABS experiment cost the INS millions of dollars and eventually resulted in an extremely detailed functional requirements document consisting of hundreds of pages, no actual automated system was ever built.

Enter Transformation

In 2005, after several failed attempts at modernization, the INS, now re-branded as USCIS, set out to transform its operating model from a paper intensive process to an purely electronic process, and the Transformation Program was born. To accomplish this transformation, the agency decided to bring in outside help in the form of an Information Technology contractor. After much vetting by USCIS, IBM was selected for this role. As the Solutions Architect for this project, IBM was supposed to come up with solutions to help USCIS get to its new “transformed state”. Unfortunately, this was much harder to accomplish than anyone could have imagined, and a 5 year, $500 million project has eventually stretched to almost 11 years and over 1 billion dollars (and counting).

As stated in the Post article, the project was mismanaged right from the start. Instead of building requirements for the system based on the aforementioned extensive TABS requirements document, USCIS simply threw this document out and started the requirements gathering process anew. Now, I have to tell you, I worked for the agency for more than 35 years and I can say with relative certainty that the basic mechanics of adjudicating most applications for immigration benefits hadn’t changed much, if at all, between the way it was done in 2000, as compared to 2005.

In any event, a large part of the problem with the creation and development of ELIS, as the new electronic immigration was called, was the way that the agency set about trying to determine what the new system would do. USCIS insiders have informed me that, in a misguided attempt at including everyone in the process,  this was done via large scale telephonic conference calls involving dozens of USCIS  employees in offices all over the country. These mass meetings, I’m told, were far from productive, and many times devolved into hours of petty arguments over points minutia, while missing important broad concepts.

Another problem encountered in developing the ELIS system was the apparent power struggle between the newly created Office of Transformation within USCIS, and the USCIS Office of Information Technology (OIT), which was ultimately responsible for all issues involving automation. This led to OIT being left “out of the loop” many times on technology decisions, a fact which later came back to haunt the agency.

And, although IBM, I’m told, likes to dump the whole mess which is Transformation on USCIS, they are not entirely blameless. I was once informed by a former colleague who was heavily involved in the development of the ELIS project, that it seemed to her that IBM’s primary objective in this effort was not to assist USCIS in automating its processes, but rather to sell the agency as many IBM products in the development of ELIS as they could before they were ultimately canned as the solutions architect.

Winners and Losers

In the end, IBM walked away from the project having earned triple the amount of money they were initially promised, leaving USCIS with a product that was so badly flawed that they eventually just threw it away and started with a totally new approach.

Did those who mismanaged this project so badly receive their just desserts? Well not exactly. The senior managers in charge of the project all received nice promotions to positions of their choosing, including the former USCIS Director, under whose watch this debacle took place.

And what of the few whistleblowers, who tried, in vain, to shine a light on this mismanagement? Well, they were quickly transferred to other agencies based on “management need”.

The Dust Settles

Transformation today at USCIS has taken a new direction. The new system being developed, now called ELIS2, is projected to be completed in 2019 at an additional cost to the agency of two billion dollars. I’m not that optimistic. Sources within the agency have told me that there continue to be problems with system development. Maybe USCIS should just stick with the paper-based process; after all, it’s worked OK since 1952.

Ben Ferro

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Open Letter: Curtailing Syrian Nationals Unfettered Movement Into the U.S

"An Open letter to the President"

Mr. President:

I and several other former Directors of the INS ask you in the light of the present upheaval in the EU to immediately
consider shuttering the Visa Waiver eligibility program from persons coming from European countries who have resettled
there from Syria.

In addition, acceptance of persons applying for Refugee Status from Syria should be subject to such scrutiny as necessary to establish  their bona fides identical to the former Soviet refugee program.

Ben Ferro (Editor)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Here's A Guy That Gets It‏

Sanctuary City Policies Will ‘No Longer Be Tolerated In Texas,’ Says Governor Abbott

By Bob Price,

Texas Governor Greg Abbott admonished Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez over her recent decision to consider honoring immigration detainers on a “case-by-case” basis. The governor said sanctuary city policies like this will “no longer be tolerated in Texas.”

Governor Abbott wrote the tersely worded letter to Sheriff Valdez after her decision to scale back on honoring immigration detainers sent to her jail by the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Her announcement was reported by Breitbart Texas on October 12.

“’Sanctuary City’ policies like those promoted by your recent decision to implement your own case-by-case immigrant detention plan will no longer be tolerated in Texas,” Abbott began in his letter attached below. “Your decision to not fully honor U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) requests to detain criminal immigrants poses a serious danger to Texans. These detainers provide ICE with the critical notice and time it needs to take incarcerated immigrants into federal custody.”

“Your refusal to fully participate in a federal law enforcement program intended to keep dangerous criminals off the streets leaves the State no choice but to take whatever actions are necessary to protect our fellow Texans,” Abbott continued. “Now more than ever, it is essential that state, federal, and local law enforcement work collaboratively to protect our fellow Texans and to ensure that our laws are upheld, not disregarded.”

The governor laid out actions he and the state of Texas could take in response to the renegade actions of this sheriff. Those include the following:

§        Passing laws that prohibit any policy or action that promotes sanctuary to people in this state illegally.
§        Enacting laws that make it illegal for a Sheriff’s Department to not honor a federal immigration detainer request.
§        Evaluating the extent to which local taxpayers should foot the bill for local decisions that increase costs for Texas’ health and education systems.
§        Amending the Tort Claims Act to ensure counties are fully financially responsible for the actions of any illegal immigrants who are released because the county’s Sheriff failed to honor an ICE detainer request.

Valdez says her new policy applies only to those who have committed minor offenses. She issued an order that these inmates not be held the additional 48 hours for ICE officials as has been done in the past, as reported by Breitbart Texas.

“No matter what we do, someone is going to get upset,” Valdez told Dallas Morning News reporters. “We can’t base our decisions on who is going to get upset with us. We have to base our decisions on what is best for the whole.”  She did not elaborate on how releasing criminal illegal aliens into the community before ICE is able to determine if there is grounds for detention or deportation makes her community safer.

Lopez said that instead of looking at felonies vs. misdemeanors, she would instead base her decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“Now more than ever,” Abbott concluded in his letter, “it is essential that state, federal, and local law enforcement work collaboratively to protect our fellow Texans and to ensure that our laws are upheld, not disregarded.”

Ben Ferro (Editor)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nothing would surprise me anymore!

Sources: Vocal Supporter Of Sanctuary Cities On Short List To Be Next Head Of Border Patrol

By William La Jeunesse,

A former San Francisco police chief and vocal supporter of a sanctuary cities policy is on a short list of candidates to become the new chief of the Border Patrol, according to sources.

As police chief, Heather Fong shielded illegal immigrants, including aliens who committed crimes, from deportation. In contrast, it is the job of the U.S. Border Patrol to catch and deport all illegal immigrants, including those with a criminal history.

"If they bring (a police chief) in for political purposes based on the sanctuary cities model, that politicizes the job and I think it completely undermines credibility and morale in the organization," House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News.

"If you have someone who is advocating for sanctuary cities, that's the opposite side. They welcome these illegal immigrants to stay in the country. And so I think it's at cross-purpose with the mission itself."

Fong, according to Border Patrol, DHS and Capitol Hill sources, is one of several candidates to replace current chief Mike Fischer, who announced his resignation last month.

Fong is currently an assistant secretary for state and local law enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security. If tapped, she would be the first outsider to lead the Border Patrol in its 90-year history.

That decision is up to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who released a statement Monday saying, “"At this time, CBP has not begun the search for the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. It is completely false that any individual could be a potential candidate at this time. We are currently preparing the paperwork to begin the process."

 Rank and file agents were surprised she would be considered.

"The appointment of Heather Fong would prove that the Border Patrol is no longer the enforcement agency that Congress and the American public intended it to be," according to a statement released by Brandon Judd, head of the agents' union.

"Heather Fong oversaw a sanctuary city, which is directly contrary to our mission. Her appointment would be for political purposes and the trust of the men and woman of the Border Patrol in DHS and CBP leadership would be lost."

During her five years as the chief of SFPD, Fong refused to cooperate with ICE, telling reporters in November 2008, "We do not cooperate with ICE when they go out for enforcement of immigration violations of the law."

A few months earlier, she appeared in a public service campaign telling illegal immigrants they're welcome in the city. In promoting San Francisco's sanctuary city policy on TV, radio, posters and brochures in five languages, Fong said illegal immigrants had nothing to fear under her watch. "San Francisco is committed to providing safe access to public services to our communities," she said.

In a news conference unveiling the campaign, she told reporters, "We do not work on enforcing immigration laws."

The chief of the Border Patrol position does not require congressional approval. But given the "border security first" mentality among many on Capitol Hill, McCaul said he believes bringing in an outsider could be a hard sell.

Ben Ferro (Editor)

Problems with Automation: Nothing new for Immigration Agency

Appearing below is an article, featured yesterday in the Washington Post, which outlines the struggles that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) has had trying to automate its antiquated paper-based immigration benefits process. However, this revelation comes as no surprise to me, nor to any of my colleagues who have been long time employees of USCIS and its predecessor the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Why so? Stay tuned to this site for the “rest of the story”, coming later this week.

Ben Ferro (Editor)

A Decade Into A Project To Digitize U.S. Immigration Forms, Just 1 Is Online

By Jerry Markon, The Washington Post

Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms.

A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper.

This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it’s now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now, putting in jeopardy efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship and detect national security threats, according to documents and interviews with former and current federal officials.

From the start, the initiative was mismanaged, the records and interviews show. Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.

By 2012, officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. But the agency nonetheless began to roll it out, in part because of pressure from Obama administration officials who considered it vital for their plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, according to the internal documents and interviews.

Only three of the agency’s scores of immigration forms have been digitized — and two of these were taken offline after they debuted because nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be junked.

The sole form now available for electronic filing is an application for renewing or replacing a lost “green card” — the document given to legal permanent residents. By putting this application online, the agency aimed to bypass the highly inefficient system in which millions of paper applications are processed and shuttled among offices. But government documents show that scores of immigrants who applied online waited up to a year or never received their new cards, disrupting their plans to work, attend school and travel.

“You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency,’’ said Kenneth Palinkas, former president of the union that represents employees at the immigration agency. “It’s a huge albatross around our necks.’’

DHS officials acknowledge the setbacks but say the government is well on the way to automating the immigration service, which processes about 8 million applications a year. The department has scrapped the earlier technology and development method and is now adopting a new approach relying in part on cloud computing.

“In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of simply scratching it and starting over,’’ said Shin Inouye, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We took a fresh start — a fix that required an overhaul of the development process — from contracting to development methodology to technology.’’

“Since making these changes, we have been able to develop and deploy a new system that is able to process about 1.2 million benefit requests out of USCIS’s total annual work volume,” Inouye added. “Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency, and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”

Other DHS officials emphasized that if Congress passes immigration reform in the near future, they would have an electronic system that could accommodate any significant changes, including a surge in demand from immigrants seeking legal status.

Until then, immigrants and their lawyers say they will remain hugely frustrated by the government’s archaic, error-plagued system. Processing immigration applications now often involves shipping paper documents across the country, and delays are legend. A single missing or misplaced form can set back an approval by months.

“It’s shameful that they’ve been on this for a decade and haven’t been able to get a working system in place,’’ said Vic Goel, an immigration lawyer in Reston, Va., who has followed the computerization project as a liaison for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Online forms get pulled

When the electronic immigration system began in May 2012, it was hailed as “a significant milestone in our agency’s history” by the USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, who is now the deputy secretary of homeland security.

The first form that went live was intended for foreigners who were in the United States on certain types of visas who wanted to renew their non-immigrant status.
But only a fraction of applicants ever used that form before the agency took it offline, after officials decided to abandon the initial technology and development method and move toward a cloud-based system. Some officials inside DHS said the system should never have been launched at all because of reports that it was suffering from so many technical errors.

The second form, released in 2013, didn’t fare much better. It was designed to allow a certain group of foreigners — those wanting to immigrate to the United States and invest in a business — to apply electronically. Only about 80 people used the online form, DHS officials said. More than 10,000 others opted for old-fashioned paper. It was also pulled.

The third form, which debuted last year, is the one that would allow permanent residents to renew or replace their green cards online. In nearly 200 cases, applicants did not receive their cards or had to wait up to a year, despite multiple requests, according to a June report from the USCIS ombudsman.

The agency also hoped to make it possible for immigrants to pay fees online. There are more than 40 kinds of filing fees that immigrants pay to the government with their applications. As of now, however, only one can be paid online — by those who immigrate to the United States as lawful permanent residents. And even this limited electronic payment system has encountered major problems, such as resistance from immigrants who have trouble because they may not have computers or bank accounts.

A series of government reports has skewered the online immigration system, named ELIS after Ellis Island, even after the old technology was scrapped and officials were scrambling to move to the new cloud-based approach. These studies have found that it is slow, confusing and inefficient for immigrants and government employees alike.

A report last year from the DHS inspector general’s office said it sometimes took up to 150 clicks for employees to navigate the system’s various complex features and open documents — and that the system lacked functions as basic as a usable search engine. Internal DHS evaluations have warned of “critical engineering uncertainties” and other difficulties.

“It’s in­cred­ibly slow to use the few forms they put online,’’ said Goel, the immigration lawyer. “Most immigration lawyers have concluded the system is half-baked.’’

‘It wasn’t going to work’

Government watchdogs have repeatedly blamed the mammoth problems on poor management by DHS, and in particular by the immigration agency.

When the project began, DHS was only two years old, cobbled together after the Sept. 11 attacks from myriad other government agencies, and the department was still reeling. “There was virtually no oversight back then,’’ a former federal official said.

“DHS was like the Wild West on big acquisitions.”

The Government Accountability Office has blasted the immigration service for shoddy planning, saying the agency awarded the IBM contract “prior to having a full understanding of requirements and resources needed to execute the program.” As a result, basic planning documents were incomplete or unreliable, including cost estimates and schedules. The basic requirements for the project, the report said, were not completed until 2011 — nearly three years after the IBM contract was awarded.

IBM had as many as 500 people at one time working on the project. But the company and agency clashed. Agency officials, for their part, held IBM responsible for much of the subsequent failure, documents show.

The company’s initial approach proved especially controversial. Known as “Waterfall,” this approach involved developing the system in relatively long, cascading phases, resulting in a years-long wait for a final product. Current and former federal officials acknowledged in interviews that this method of carrying out IT projects was considered outdated by 2008. “The Waterfall method has not been successful for 40 years,” said a current federal official involved in the project, who was not an authorized spokesperson and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

An IBM spokesman declined to address the criticisms, saying only that the company’s work on Transformation concluded in May.

By 2012, the system’s fundamental flaws — including frequent computer crashes and bad software code — were apparent to officials involved with the project and, according to one of them, and it was clear that “it wasn’t going to work.”

But killing the project wasn’t really an option, according to officials involved at the time. President Obama was running for reelection and was intent on pushing an ambitious immigration reform program in his second term. A workable electronic system would be vital.

“There was incredible pressure over immigration reform,” a second former official said. “No one wanted to hear the system wasn’t going to work. It was like, ‘We got some points on the board, we can go back and fix it.’”

Delays and lost papers

Immigration reform never made it out of Congress, but it could resurface after the presidential election next year. If it does, and if it involves possible citizenship or legal status for the 11.3 million immigrants who are in the country illegally, the policy would flood the government with millions of complicated new applications.

“Oh, God help us,’’ said Harry Hopkins, a former immigration services official who worked on the Transformation project. “If there is immigration reform, they are going to be overwhelmed.’’

The project’s failures already have daily consequences for millions of immigrants who are in the country legally. Immigration lawyers say the current system leads to lost applications, months-long delays and errors that cause further delays. Immigrants miss deadlines for benefits, meaning they lose everything from jobs and mortgages to travel opportunities.

Luke Bellocchi, an immigration lawyer and former deputy ombudsman at Citizenship and Immigration Services, said he has handled at least 100 cases of lost applications in the past few years, mostly for green cards.

“No one knows where these applications are,” he said. “It’s an absolute nightmare.’’

Another concern is national security. DHS officials said they are confident that the current paper-based system is not putting the nation at risk. But others, like Palma Yanni, a D.C. immigration lawyer and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, are dubious.

“If there are some bad apples in there who should not get a green card, who are terrorists who want to do us harm, how on earth are they going to find these people if they’re sending mountains of paper immigration files all over the United States?’’ Yanni asked.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"Anchor Babies" by any other name

Where ‘Anchor Babies’ Can Be a Lucrative Business

Wealthy Chinese ‘birth tourists’ on visas spend freely in Southern California

By Miriam Jordan, As reported in the Wall Street Journal

COSTA MESA, Calif.—Thousands of wealthy foreign women, mostly Chinese, come to America each year for the express purpose of having babies on U.S. soil. The women arrive on tourist visas and typically go home with the baby after several months.

But before the women leave with what critics have called “anchor babies,” they typically spend thousands of dollars in private hospitals, high-end shopping malls and luxury apartment complexes. That has made this practice, known as maternity or birth tourism, a lucrative business in certain areas of the U.S., including this one southeast of Los Angeles.

On a recent Sunday at the upscale South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Mandarin speakers, many of them visibly pregnant, far outnumbered other shoppers at Chanel, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani and other designer stores. Two women with protruding bellies emerged from Fendi speaking Mandarin, one of them pushing a new-looking stroller overflowing with bags. Down one mall corridor, seven women who appeared pregnant chatted in Mandarin on a bench, shopping bags at their feet.

“They see something they like, they buy it,” said Joanne Lee, one of three Mandarin-speaking salespeople out of six at a Coach shop. “They buy multiple pieces.”

The rise of Chinese birth tourism reflects the new wealth in China, and uncertainty among some of its citizens regarding the country’s long-term economic future. A child born in the U.S. automatically becomes an American citizen, and under federal law, when the child turns 21, he or she can sponsor foreign family members for a green card, and eventually citizenship.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which supports a crackdown on the practice and favors more immigration restrictions overall, estimates that 40,000 women visit the U.S. annually on birth tourism, most from China.

Birth tourists represent a fraction of the 2.2 million Chinese visitors who spent about $24 billion in the U.S. last year, according to the Commerce Department. But Chinese tourists overall were the biggest foreign spenders per capita, and the pregnant visitors typically stay much longer than the two-week average for Chinese visitors.

Though there are few hard figures on its full impact, maternity tourism has left a noticeable imprint on the regional economy here in recent years. Federal investigators, who raided several Southern California businesses that facilitate maternity tourism in March on suspicion that they had committed crimes including visa fraud and tax evasion, estimate that each woman pays $40,000 to $80,000 on packages that include accommodation, transportation to hospitals, and help getting passports for their newborns.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has studied the phenomenon, estimates the women spend about $1 billion annually in the U.S., a figure that excludes discretionary spending on the likes of shopping and dining out.

“These are people of means who are not going to a county hospital to deliver their babies,” he said.

Even if some maternity tourism businesses face prosecution following the March raids, Chinese women, their doctors and the hospitals where they give birth are unlikely to be penalized, said Carl Shusterman, a former federal immigration lawyer. It is legal for foreigners who are pregnant to travel to the U.S. and give birth, though it is considered fraud to lie to U.S. officials about the purpose of a visit to obtain a visa.

On a recent evening in nearby Irvine, about a dozen Chinese pregnant women strolled in the park of a resort-style residential complex. Most declined to answer questions, but Wasie Su said she entered the U.S. on a multiple-entry tourist visa to give birth. She plans to have a daughter in the country Nov. 20, and said she was doing it for the child’s future, not as a plan to gain U.S. citizenship.

“It’s worth the money and time spent here to give my daughter better options,” she said, adding, “I got my family, friends and business” in China. “I don’t want a green card from this baby.”

Donald Trump, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, suggested over the summer that the U.S.’s birthright citizenship policy be reconsidered in light of the phenomenon of “anchor babies.” That move would likely require changing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, according to legal experts.

While the women from China entered legally, thousands of women in the country illegally have babies on U.S. soil—295,000 in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center. Those babies can later sponsor their family for residency and enable them to secure public benefits.

Unlike the poorer women, who are uninsured, most Chinese women have their children at private hospitals. Newport Beach Hoag Hospital offers a “maternity package” in which, assuming no complications, a vaginal delivery costs $7,500 and a Caesarean-section birth costs $10,750. Those are substantially higher rates than are paid to hospitals by health plans of insured American patients, according to health-care experts.

In response to questions about Chinese birth tourists, Hoag said it provides health care to whoever seeks it. “Our only priority is providing the very best care for those in need,” it said in a statement.

Though they are popular with retailers and other businesses, some in Orange County voice displeasure about Chinese birth tourists.

“It bothers me that my grandchildren will be competing with these women’s babies to get into college,” said John Michael of Irvine, a retired physician, adding: “My family will have paid taxes all along, and they’ll walk right in.”

Some businesses report that the number of pregnant Chinese women coming here recently appears to be declining, which could be due to the faltering Chinese economy, or the negative publicity from the federal investigation, they say.

A salesperson at a Giorgio Armani had a different theory: It is the Year of the Ram in the Chinese Zodiac, a less auspicious time for childbirth than the Year of the Dragon, which ended in February.

Ben Ferro (Editor)