US issues ID cards to migrants awaiting deportation proceedings

US issues ID cards to migrants awaiting deportation proceedings

Immigration Enforcement Card (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

Immigration Enforcement Card (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

U.S. immigration officials plan to issue photo IDs to immigrants undergoing deportation procedures to reduce paper usage and help people keep up with required meetings and court hearings, officials said.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s proposal is still being developed as a pilot program, and it wasn’t immediately clear how many the agency would issue. The cards would not be an official form of federal identification and would indicate that they were to be used by the Department of Homeland Security.

The idea is for immigrants to access information about their cases online using a card, rather than paper documents, which are cumbersome and can fade over time, officials said. They said ICE officials could also check the maps on the spot.

“Moving to a secure card will save the agency millions, free up resources and ensure information is quickly accessible to DHS officers while the agency’s FOIA backlog is being cleared,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement, referring to to unfulfilled public requests for government documents. According to government data, Homeland Security receives more Freedom of Information Act requests than any other federal agency, and many of these involve immigration records.

The proposal has sparked a number of questions about what the card could be used for and how secure it would be. Some fear the scheme could result in migrants being tracked awaiting their day in immigration court, while others suspect the cards could be promoted by migrant smugglers to try and trick others into making the dangerous journey to to do north.

In a budget proposal for the next fiscal year, the Biden administration is calling for 10 million US dollars for the so-called ICE Secure Docket Card. It wasn’t immediately clear if the money would cover the pilot or a broader program, or when it would start.

The administration has come under pressure as the number of migrants trying to enter the country at the south-western border has increased. Border guards stopped migrants more than 1.1 million times from January to June, nearly a third more than the same period of an already high 2021.

Many migrants are being turned away due to COVID-19-related restrictions. But many are allowed to enter and are either detained while their cases roll through immigration courts, or released and have to report regularly to ICE officials until a judge rules on their cases.

Those most likely to be released in the United States come from countries where public health expulsion is complicated by cost, logistics or strained diplomatic relations, including Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

At emergency shelters, bus stops and airports along the US-Mexico border, migrants carefully store their papers in plastic sleeves. These are often the only documents they need to get past airport security to their final destination in the United States. The often dog-eared papers can be crucial for getting around.

An immigration case can take years and the system can be confusing, especially for immigrants who speak little English and may have to work with a number of government agencies, including ICE and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which issue work permits and green cards. The US immigration courts are overseen by the Department of Justice.

Gregory Z. Chen, executive director for government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said migrants mistakenly went to ICE offices instead of courts for scheduled hearings, which they subsequently missed. He said as long as immigrants’ privacy is protected, the map could be helpful.

“If ICE uses this new technology to allow non-citizens to log into ICE or report information about their location and address and then get information about their case — where their court hearings might be held, what the requirements might be for them to abide by the law – that would be a welcome approach,” Chen said.

It was not clear if Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration would accept the cards for airport travel, or if private companies would consider them valid.

The United States does not have a national photo ID. Instead, residents use a variety of cards to identify themselves, including driver’s licenses, state ID cards, and consular ID cards. What constitutes a valid ID is often determined by the entity trying to verify an individual’s identity.

Talia Inlender, associate director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School, said she was skeptical that using a card to access electronic documents would simplify the process for immigrants, particularly for those without a lawyer, and asked if the card has technology that could be used to step up government surveillance of migrants.

But having ID could be useful, especially for migrants who need to travel within the US, Inlender said.

“Many people are fleeing persecution and torture in their countries. They don’t show up with government documents,” Inlender said. “Having some form of identification to be able to move around in everyday life can be helpful.”

That has some Republican lawmakers worried the cards could attract more migrants to come to the US or access benefits they aren’t entitled to. A group of 16 lawmakers sent a letter to ICE last week raising questions about the plan.

“The government is now reportedly planning further reckless policies that will further exacerbate this ongoing crisis,” the letter said.

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