New Green Card, CIS Study Discussed at Senate Hearing

By David North on May 11, 2010

The issuance of a new, more secure green card and a study by CIS Director Research Steven Camarota were among the topics discussed at this morning's hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The sole witness was Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in the Department of Homeland Security.

He announced that a new and more secure green card will be issued shortly. It will go to new permanent resident aliens, to those whose cards are expiring, and to those who have lost their cards. The new card will have, in addition to the customary photograph, "embedded data and holographs" according to his testimony.

One of his press aides said the embedded data would include a fingerprint.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) challenged Mayorkas: "Are you telling me that this document could not be counterfeited on Alvarado Street?" (a route in Los Angles where counterfeiters thrive).

"Don't say that," she continued.

Taking his cue from the senator, Mayorkas replied: "I won't say that but I will say that it will be much, much harder to copy."

The exchange between the two of them was friendly, it having been pointed out earlier in the session that the senator had suggested Mayorkas for both his appointment (in the Clinton Administration) as the U.S. Attorney in central California as well as his nomination to his current job.

There were two facts about the new green card that neither mentioned. First, it will not be the only green card around for a long time; the current ones have ten-year-life spans, so the current cards will be valid for a decade. Further, and less worrisome, there is still an earlier card, last issued in the 1980s that never expires. Another possible approach for the counterfeiters is to make a document that look like the new card, but does not carry the embedded data; such a card could pass all but the most intense examinations of it.

Second, no one mentioned that the new card will cost $370 in fees.

Dr. Camarota's study was cited by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee. Stressing his concern about terrorists using the immigration process to enter the U.S., he cited the CIS study, saying it showed that out of 48 admitted terrorists in 2002, 16 were on temporary visas, 17 had green card status or were naturalized citizens, a dozen were illegal aliens, and three were connected to the asylum program. He said the study underlined the need to be very careful in the issuance of immigration documents. He also pointed out problems in the R-1 program, which provides visas for religious workers.

Sessions also criticized what he regarded as the submission of the E-Verify program for identifying legal workers "to the Civil Rights Division" of the Justice Department. He said, in effect, that if there are problems with the E-Verify program they should be resolved by DHS, not by another department. (DHS has set up an arrangement with the Justice Department for complaints about any alleged misuse of E-Verify to be handled by the Civil Rights Division. E-Verify allows employers to check governmental databases to make sure that the people they have hired are, in fact, legal workers.)

Several of the senators present took advantage of the opportunity, as is their wont, to pursue narrower interests. The chair, Sen. Leahy (D-VT), prodded Mayorkas on the fact that dairy farmers (who are clustered in his state) do not have access to the H-2B temporary farm worker program – Mayorkas reminded him gently that the statute only allows the H-2B program to work with seasonal agricultural needs, and dairying is a year-around activity.

Leahy also announced that he would introduce legislation to make the E-5 investor immigrant program a permanent one. (For a less enthusiastic view of that program see here and here.)

Similarly, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) complained that the arts community, that uses the O-1 visas to bring in overseas talent, had to put up with an eight-month decision-making process about these petitions. Mayorkas said that his agency had cut the processing time in half, to four months.

On a broader issue, Hatch expressed his concern about the incidence of marriage fraud, including the form of it that involves an alien conning an American into marriage, and then dropping out of the marriage as soon as the green card arrives. He asked Mayorkas for statistics on how often this happens, and the director said he would submit the data in writing.

Naturally, several of the senators talked about the Times Square would-be bomber, and pressed the director on what the government was doing to sort terrorists out of the immigration process. Though he said that "privacy concerns" prevented him from commenting directly on the prospects of de-naturalization of Faisal Shahzad, Feinstein outlined a generic case, much like that of Shahzad, read him a section of the federal code about taking away citizenship in such cases, and got the director to agree that in such a case the individual would lose his citizenship.

For more on how Shahzad managed the nonimmigrant-immigrant-and-naturalization systems, see Jessica Vaughan's blog posting on the subject.