SEPTEMBER 11 TERRORIST ATTACKS
AND U.S. IMMIGRATION LAW & POLICY

Revised Date: May 16, 2002

Dear Clients, Friends and Supporters,

On September 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, the most destructive acts of terrorism in U.S. history shocked and saddened the nation and the world. Thousands of civilians were killed and billions of dollars in property were destroyed.

In the aftermath of these tragic events, the nation and free world united in an alliance against such terrorist attacks. The President, lawmakers and allies abroad have mounted a vigorous and multi-facted war campaign to fight terrorism worldwide.

2001 U.S. State Dept. Information List on Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Unfortunately, less desirable consequences also followed in the days after the events. Initial disruptions occurred in daily services and activities such as communication, air travel, mail delivery, business and commerce, and government services and processing.

I have recently been asked countless times about what effect, if any, these events and their aftermath may have on U.S. immigration rules and policy and U.S. consular processing. Needless to say, this is a difficult question to answer at best. Here's my try.

1. Heightened security and border enforcement:
Immediately after the events, the Immigration Service, together with all major U.S. agencies and departments such as Justice and State and the military and U.S. customs, were placed on heightened alert. The U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders were closed at first, apparantly as an attempt to slow or prevent certain travelers who should not leave from doing so, and shortly thereafter various persons were arrested and held on charges of immigration violations. Border points however are now open. Naturally, however, enforcement at the border is tight.

As a consequence of new stricter Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airport security regulations, both domestic and international air travel will likely be slower and more cumbersome throughout the country. Immigration Service officers have begun security checks of all foreign citizens in U.S. airports on domestic flights. Immigrants should carry their passports and green cards; non-immigrants should carry their passports, I-94 and other immigration papers.

FAA Safety Information.

U.S. DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Information.

On November 19, 2001, President Bush signed into law the Aviation Security Law which places airport screening security under federal authority and introduces federal sky marshalls on many flights.

On May 14, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Enhanced Border and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 which authorizes the hiring of 400 new border inspectors and investigators, requires tamper-resisitant "Bio-Metric Data" Travel Documents read by automatic scanners at immigration checkpoints, and establishes a foreign student tracking system that records issuance of student visas and enrollment of student visa holders at their designated schools.

2. Immigration Service offices and U.S. Embassies:
Many U.S. offices were closed immediately after the events due to security concerns. Immigration Service offices were quickly re-opened. On Monday, October 15, 2001, the Immigration Service Vermont Service Center received an anthrax hoax scare in the mailroon prompting Immigration Service to temporarily close all mail operations nationwide, pending issuance of new mail-handling guidelines. However, by Friday, October 19, 2001 all Immigration Service mail rooms returned to normal operations.

As for the U.S. Embassies, they are almost all operating normally and conducting standard diplomatic and visa functions but under heighted alert. They have been given broad discretion to close "at will" in the event that in their judgment security is untenable. They have also taken special security precautions such as stocking a reserve of medicines and antibiotics.

A few U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the world did close and are only now re-opening, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Japan, Russia, and Ecuador. The U.S. Embassies in Peru and Colombia have not thus far been affected.

3. Slowdown in Processing:
An obvious issue of great concern to everyone with pending petitions is: What, if any, slowdown in processing time there might be? There was a slowdown and outright halt very early on in the first few days in activites such as mail delivery, air traffic flow, communications, and government delivery of services in light of urgent security concerns.

It is my belief and best information that this initial slowdown was not and is permanent. In the days since the attacks, dministrative processing of visas is advancing forward in the normal course. Our office will be monitoring Immigration Service reported processing times for any changes from the past.

It would appear clear however that the bureacratic priority of the Immigration Service and the Consulates may have shifted: now much more focused on security and border enforcement issues, background screening for terrorist connections and visa fraud detection. On the other hand, it is unlikely that this would force meaningful changes in processing speed of routine petitions which are "clearly approvable" without any "color" of fraud or security concerns.

4. Visa Rules and Regulations:
As concerns fiancee and spousal visas, I do not expect that any changes in rules, regulations or processing speed in the administrative processing of such visas, other than stricter security background checks.

Other types of visas, such as temporary business, student and tourist visas, are another matter. Many commentators and public voices have raised some concerns about how some temporary visa holders such as putative terrorists can enter our country without being better detected, screened out or at least tracked after entry. Thus, Consular processing of non-immigrant temporary business, student and tourist visa applications may be more closely scrutinized. In fact, the State Department has announced slowdown in processing visas for Arab and Muslim male applicants. See Longer Visa Waits, ArabicNews.com, Nov. 12, 2001. INS has already begun the creation of a computerized database to track student visa holders. Perhaps some form of INS follow-up I-94 tracking may also eventually be instituted.

On October 29, 2001, President Bush announced new and stricter controls on the foreign student visa program and other non-immigrant visas, and the creation of a new task force to help track visa holders. These stricter controls mean longer processing times in order to allow for complete security background checks. See: Visa Process to Allow for More Time for Background Checks, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 01, 2001.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, the new Enhanced Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 created a student visa tracking system that records issuance of student visas and enrollment of student visa holders at their designated schools.

As concerns new legislation, the new Anti-Terrorism Law, THE USA PATRIOT ACT OF 2001, was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on October 26, 2001. The immigration related provisions of this Act apply to all non-U.S. citizens in our country, and include provisions which allow federal authorites to: 1) define terrorism broadly to include all attacks on physical, transportation and even cyberspace resources 2) wiretap all telephones of suspected terrorists, and seize voice mails, e-mails and even history of website visits under search warrant, 3) access secret grand jury testimony and evidence on terrorists, 4) detain immigrants suspected of terrorism for up to seven days without charge, and detain immigrants "certified" as terrorists indefinitely, subject to only to limited habeus corpus and judical review, 5) search homes and businesses for terrorists under court order without notice to the property owners, 6) develop a better database and entry-exit system for temporary visa holders and 7) better regulate certain financial transactions in an effort to curb money-laundering.

5. Some Positives Have Indeed Come From This
Our country has unified together in an unprecedented way. Our people and authorities are working together as never before in a spirit of generosity to help the victims of these tragedies, and protect the nation in the future. Travel may actually emerge safer and more secure than ever before. State Department has set up and Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management to help citizens abroad: State Department Travel Help. Bargain airfare specials are now being offered by airlines and travel agents. See: Bargain Fares. Excellent Travel Insurance is available: Travel Guard. Excellent Medical Insurance is also available: Medical Insurance. And ultimately government processing may truly prove to be more efficient and careful, and thus improving the issuance of fiancee, spousal and family visas.

Thank you for your continued confidence and support during these trying times. If patience was ever needed more in the visa process, it is now.

Stay confident and you and yours will indeed receive your visa!


Gary Bala
USA Immigration Attorney
Pennsylvania USA

E-Mail: garybala@VISA-Attorney.com


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Gary Bala, USA Immigration Attorney.