Immigration and Naturalization Operations in Alaska

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Spring 2003). "Immigration and Naturalization Operations in Alaska." Alaska Justice Forum 20(1): 1, 10–12. Since 1980 there have been over twenty-five pieces of federal legislation affecting immigration and naturalization, including comprehensive acts passed in 1986, 1990 and 1996 and the national security legislation passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The overall effect of the legislation of the past two decades has been to place heightened controls on admission to the U.S. and to broaden the powers of law enforcement agencies in arresting and detaining foreigners. The data in this article cover the operations of the former Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in Alaska from FY 1999 through FY 2001, with additional information on INS detention operations through FY 2002. A sidebar story discusses international students in Alaska.

Further reading

The report The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Charged in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks, produced by the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, is available at www.justice.gov/oig under special reports.

Since 1980 there have been over twenty-five pieces of federal legislation affecting immigration and naturalization, including comprehensive acts passed in 1986, 1990 and 1996 and the national security legislation passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The overall effect of the legislation of the past two decades has been to place heightened controls on admission to the U.S. and to broaden the powers of law enforcement agencies in arresting and detaining foreigners. The legislation has been tied to, or paralleled, both national welfare reform and crime control efforts, particularly drug control—with much of the legislation in the 1990s reflecting a concern with aliens and criminal behavior and aliens and financial responsibility. Since 9/11, the concern has been terrorism.

The most recent data providing an overview of the work of forestalling illegal immigration and facilitating legal admission to the U.S. come from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. Until this spring, INS bore primary responsibility for structuring immigration; facilitating naturalization—the process of acquiring citizenship—and arranging for the deportation of those who enter the country illegally. With the birth of the Department of Homeland Security, these functions have been split up and placed under several bureaus in the new department. (See accompanying article “Reorganization of INS.”) The data presented here reflect the old configuration.

In Alaska, the functions of the INS have been administered from Anchorage, where the district headquarters is located. As with most government operations here, INS functions involve relatively few people over a vast area. The agency has administered essentially the same range of programs and operations here as in more densely populated states, including enforcement operations.

The data in this article in general cover INS operations from FY 1999 through FY 2001—just beyond the date of the terrorist attacks. (The federal fiscal year ends September 30.) In addition, because of the reported broader use of detention powers by law enforcement in the months since 9/11, the article also presents figures on INS detention operations for Alaska through FY 2002.

Immigration and Naturalization

In FY 2001 the INS recorded the admission of 1,401 legal immigrants who declared Alaska as their intended state of residence. The most sizeable national groups came from the Phillippines (366), Mexico (126), Canada (94), Russia (89), and Korea (79).

There is a complex structure of categories and regulations governing naturalization, but in general legal immigrants are eligible to become U.S. citizens after five years of residency in the country. In Alaska, in FY 2001, 710 people were naturalized. Of these, the most sizeable national groups came from the Philippines (170), Korea (87) and Mexico (60).

Asylum

Aliens within the U.S. who are unable or unwilling to return to the country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution may apply for asylum. Individuals have been able to apply in two ways: through an interview with an INS asylum officer, or, if apprehended, with an immigration judge as part of a removal proceeding. An individual’s immigration status—legal or illegal—is not relevant to the asylum claim. If an application for asylum is denied by the INS, the case may be appealed to an immigration judge.

In 2001, the INS granted asylum in over 20,000 cases and the EOIR approved just under 10,000—a total of over 28,000 individuals awarded asylum throughout the country.

Asylum applicants in Alaska apply through the San Francisco office. For fiscal years 1999-2001, the INS granted asylum in 21 cases, with 34 individuals (Table 1). One case was denied and closed; 19 were referred to immigration court. (Figures on asylum cases heard in immigration court accompany the article “Immigration Court in Alaska, 1993-2002.”)

Table 1. Immigration and Naturalization Service Asylum Cases in Alaska, FY 1999-2000

After a year with asylum status an individual may apply for lawful permanent resident status. In Alaska 119 asylees adjusted their status in this way from FY 1999 through FY 2001.

With the reorganization of INS functions in the Department of Homeland Security the asylum program is operating, in spring 2003, under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

Temporary Admissions

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has also maintained data on temporary admissions. The typical non-immigrant foreign national admitted to the United States is a tourist, but there are also other classes for admission, including students, diplomats, and business people. In 2001, Alaska had 86,682 temporary admissions. By far the greatest number of these were classified as visitors for business or pleasure (82,172). There were also significant numbers of students (383), treaty traders and investors (401), temporary workers (473) and exchange visitors (798). The highest numbers of these visitors came from the United Kingdom (17,850), Japan (14,607) and Germany (10,269).

Enforcement of Immigration Laws

Through its various subdivisions, the INS has borne responsibility for locating and arresting individuals illegally present in the country. The arrests are called apprehensions. An individual apprehended by the INS is placed in removal proceedings, which usually involve an immigration judge. (See accompanying article “Immigration Court in Alaska 1993-2002.” Immigration proceedings are civil proceedings and, in general, criminal process protections do not apply. An individual has a statutory right to counsel but not at government expense.) These proceedings can result in removal from the country, voluntary departure, adjustment to legal status or termination of proceedings. (All of these possible outcomes are highly structured by additional regulations and procedures.)

In Alaska, INS inspections officers have monitored airports and other points of entry and investigations personnel have worked within the state to enforce immigration laws. (The Border Patrol—another subdivision of INS—does not operate in Alaska.)

The annual figures on detention and removal provide a perspective on the enforcement operations of INS. Table 2 presents the numbers of individuals detained by the INS in Alaska from FY 1999 through FY 2002. Of the total 1117 individuals detained over the four years, at least 391 left the U.S. as a result of proceedings conducted in Alaska—either through voluntary departure or deportation. Of the remaining 726, an additional undetermined number will have also left as a result of INS proceedings here or elsewhere.

Table 2. Individuals Detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Alaska, FY 1999-2002

Table 3 presents the criminal status of those detained by the INS in Alaska. The immigration legislation passed in 1996 requires, in general, that non-citizens convicted of an aggravated felony, an offense related a controlled substance, a firearms offense or domestic violence be deported. Of the total 252 detainees deported from Alaska since FY 1999, 34.5 per cent—87—have had criminal convictions, and of these, 50 had convictions for aggravated felonies. An additional number of those transferred out of state have also had criminal convictions.

Table 3. Criminal Status of Immigration and Naturalization Service Detainees in Alaska, FY 1999-2002

As the tables indicate, a significant number of individuals apprehended by the INS in Alaska are eventually transferred out of the state, to another INS office. This occurs because the agency does not operate a detention facility within the state. Those who are being held for removal proceedings (some individuals are released on their own recognizance) are usually sent to the INS contract facility in Seattle.

In light of reported government use of arrest and detention powers after 9/11, it is important to note that the available figures for Alaska show no unusual rise in apprehension and detention of foreign nationals in the first year following the terrorist attacks. Figures on the length of detention—that is, the time from apprehension by the INS through case disposition by an immigration judge for those individuals who have been held in a facility—could not be obtained.

Expedited Removal

Since 1997, the INS has also had authority for expedited removal—a process through which an INS officer can order an inadmissible individual arriving at a point of entry removed without further hearing, unless the person states an intent to claim asylum. Alaska figures show 137 expedited removals from FY 1999 through mid-April 2003. This figure includes both individuals who have arrived by air and a number of crewmen on vessels brought into port for fishing violations. As standard procedure in Alaska, the INS District Director has signed all orders for expedited removal.

Other INS Operations

This article has focused primarily on those aspects of INS operations which primarily affect individual immigrants. It has not looked at the investigations programs of INS or other operations which combat broader criminal operations, such as alien smuggling, money laundering, or fraud related to immigration laws, nor has it examined workplace investigations. These have been substantive components of INS operations, often involving work with other law enforcement agencies.

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The figures given in this overview of government administration of immigration predate the substantive changes being effected by the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. It is not yet known if data under the new department will be reported in the same way or what new functions and operations may emerge.

The information contained in the preceding article was obtained from data assembled by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and from interviews with acting Alaska directors of BICE, BCBP and BCIS within the Department of Homeland Security.