Leadership Journal Archive
October 12, 2007 - January 19, 2008

June 30, 2008

CBP Laptop Searches

As the nation’s frontline border agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encounters more than one million travelers every day at U.S. ports of entry and is responsible for enforcing more than 600 federal laws at the border, including laws relating to narcotics, intellectual property, child pornography and other contraband, and terrorism.

Our ability to inspect what is coming into the United States is central to keeping dangerous people and things from entering the country and harming the American people. One of our most important enforcement tools in this regard is our ability to search information contained in electronic devices, including laptops and other digital devices, for violations of U.S. law, including potential threats.

These searches have helped limit the movement of terrorists, individuals who support their activities, and other threats to national security. During border inspections of laptops, CBP officers have found violent jihadist material, information about cyanide and nuclear material, video clips of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), pictures of high-level Al-Qaeda officials, and other material associated with people seeking to do harm to our country. For example:
  • On November 14, 2006, Detroit CBP Officers inspected the baggage of an Ethiopian-born, naturalized U.S. citizen based on a law enforcement tip that he was attempting to smuggle currency into the United States. The inspection revealed approximately $79,000 in unlawful U.S. currency. CBP then reviewed his laptop computer and discovered information about cyanide and nuclear material. The individual pleaded guilty to bulk cash smuggling and making false statements. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison.
  • On September 26, 2006, an individual, traveling on an F-1 student visa arrived at Minneapolis St. Paul Airport from Amsterdam. He was selected for secondary screening. A review of his laptop computer revealed numerous video clips of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) being exploded. Another file on the computer showed the individual reading his will and included pictures of high-level Al-Qaida officials. Based on this and further derogatory information uncovered by computer forensics, the individual was refused admission, convicted of visa fraud, and removed from the country.
  • On February 22, 2007, an individual arrived at the San Francisco International Airport seeking admission as a U.S. lawful permanent resident. CBP referred him to secondary inspection based on his behavior and questions by CBP officers. During an inspection of the individual’s laptop computer, officers discovered violent jihadist materials. This evidence led to expert testimony in immigration proceedings that identified the individual as a target for a terrorist group recruiting. His laptop was seized as evidence in this case and he is in removal proceedings.
CBP border searches also have uncovered intellectual property rights violations and child pornography:
  • On December 6, 2004, a Canadian national suspected of stealing proprietary software programs from a U.S. company and attempting to sell the software to the People’s Republic of China arrived in Orlando, Florida, to attend a defense conference. ICE agents coordinated with CBP to conduct a border search of the individual and his belongings when he entered the United States. A preliminary search of his laptop revealed software belonging to the American company. On June 18, 2008, he was sentenced in the Northern District of California to two years incarceration for violations of the Economic Espionage Act and the Arms Export Control Act. He also received a $10,000 fine and 3 years probation. This joint ICE and FBI investigation was made possible by information gained by the initial CBP border search of the individual’s laptop and portable hard drive.
  • And on July 17, 2005, an individual arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Manila, Philippines. He was selected for a secondary examination and exhibited nervous behavior when questioned about the purpose of travel to Manila. After failing to provide consistent answers about his occupation and purpose of travel, a declaration was obtained and the individual’s luggage was inspected. Upon inspection of his laptop and CDs found in the individual’s luggage, officers found images of child pornography.
It is not our intent to subject legitimate travelers to undue scrutiny, but to ensure the safety of the American public. In conducting these searches, we are fully dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all travelers. Similar to our efforts with respect to vehicles, suitcases, backpacks, hard-copy documents, and conveyances, our examinations of laptops and other digital devices are consistent with longstanding constitutional authorities at the border and have been affirmed by federal courts throughout the country, including most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Moreover, CBP officers adhere to strict constitutional and statutory requirements, including the Trade Secrets Act, which explicitly forbids federal employees from disclosing, without lawful authority, business confidential information they may access as part of their official duties. We also protect information that may be uncovered during examination as well as private information that is not in violation of any law.

We have a responsibility to ensure that any item brought into the country complies with the law and is not a threat to the American public. To treat our inspections of digital media at the border differently from any other documents or conveyances would give terrorists and criminals an advantage they should not have and that our nation cannot afford.

Jayson Ahern
Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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June 23, 2008

Processing Questions

I’ve been reading—absorbing the more than 400 comments you left from my last Journal entry. You’ve asked many questions—mostly about our processing times, wait times for visa approvals, and how we’re responding to the record number of applications we received last year.

But most of all, you want to know when USCIS will complete your case. Let me try to address some of your concerns.

After visiting local USCIS offices around the country and reviewing our current production statistics, I am confident USCIS will beat our projected 13- to 15-month processing estimate for completing naturalization applications filed after June 1, 2007—while we continue to improve processing times for other applications and petitions. Next month, we will provide you with a detailed report with updated processing times for all USCIS offices.

Our employees are hard at work every day, including evenings and weekends, processing files and interviewing applicants. The results of their efforts show tremendous productivity. I am optimistic that USCIS will exceed our goal of completing more than 1 million naturalization applications this fiscal year, which ends September 30, compared to last year’s 748,000 naturalization cases. And so far, applications received have been lower than normal this year. If that continues, we’ll bring processing times down further than we projected.

Many of you also asked about the processing times displayed at http://www.uscis.gov/, and why the dates sometimes go backward rather than forward. We estimate those dates based on a formula that calculates, among other things, the number of cases received within a defined period, how many cases we’ve completed during that time period, and how many cases remain in process that are [*] beyond our established processing time goals. Sometimes the flow of cases received and completed changes during a specific period in a way that shifts the date backwards. The processing timeframes shown on our webpage reflect applications just completed. So the page is only a tool for customers to estimate our current processing times.

In addition, the average processing times posted on our website do not take into account the many issues that may arise when a particular case is under review. For example, sometimes a USCIS officer may need to ask for additional information before a final decision can be made. If your case has been delayed beyond our posted processing times and you have not been asked for additional information, we encourage you to call our customer service line at 1-800-375-5283 to inquire about the status of your case.

Some of you also asked about the long wait for employment-based visas. The law limits how many people can immigrate in these employment based preference categories each year. That determines how many cases we can complete and often establishes how many new cases we can accept. To complicate matters, demand often far exceeds that supply. To assist applicants who are awaiting those visas, we will soon begin to issue Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that are valid for 2 years for certain applicants who filed an application to adjust their status to permanent resident but are still awaiting an immigrant visa number.

Others have asked why petitions for their relatives take so long to process. Usually, it’s because an immigrant visa simply isn’t available. More than 1 million petitions to sponsor a relative are still awaiting visas. USCIS must manage our work based on the number of visas allowed by law. To change that, Congress would have to amend the law. No USCIS employee wants to keep a family apart or withhold proof of eligibility to work, but we must work within the requirements set by law.

Our current immigration system challenges us with backlogs on a regular basis. During the past fiscal year, we’ve begun to make improvements that will permanently eliminate future backlogs, including hiring additional employees, instituting new business processes and technology, and creating a new employee culture focused on professional training and development.

Will we succeed overnight? No. Making these changes—the right way—will take longer than my tenure as Acting Director. Nonetheless, we’re committed to making them sooner rather than later.

Thanks for taking time to read this entry.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

[* update: Changed "our" to "are."]

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June 20, 2008

Dollars and Sense

Today we announced nearly $80 million in grants that will help states and territories strengthen the security of their driver’s licenses and identification cards. This allocation brings the total amount we’ve provided for REAL ID implementation to more than $361 million; and, if Congress approves our budget request for next year, that number will grow to $511 million.

I think you’ll agree that more than half a billion dollars is a significant investment and is indicative of our pledge to help states implement this important security measure. Of course, this is in addition to our regulatory changes that reduced state implementation costs by roughly 73 percent. But, instead of discussing dollars and cents, I want to focus on the big picture and share with you some reasons why secure identification is so imperative in the 21st century.

First, I’m sure we can all agree that in our post-9/11 world, it’s vital to keep identity documents out of the hand of terrorists. (In case you’re wondering, 18 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had U.S. licenses or IDs – many of them easily obtained through fraudulent means).

Second, speaking on behalf of identity theft victims, I think we can also agree that there’s a growing need to address the ease with which anyone can obtain a driver’s license or create a fake one, rob someone of their identity, and disrupt their life for years.

And third, when you board an airplane, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that your fellow passengers are, in fact, who they say they are, and their actual identities match what is listed on their IDs?

Of course.

The arguments for having secure identification speak for themselves. That’s why the 9/11 Commission recommended closing this glaring security loophole, and that’s why Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005.

Since then, we’ve been working with states to implement these minimum security standards in a balanced, sensible fashion. Part of this involves providing funds, maintaining flexible deadlines, and partnering with states on a host of technical issues that will bring our long-neglected identification system into the 21st century.

The bottom line is that this is a shared responsibility--not a federal mandate or a national ID--but a collective response to an obvious problem. Secure identification makes it much more difficult for identity thieves, criminals, and potential terrorists to harm us. At DHS, we’re continuing to work with states and territories to do everything we can to close this gap and protect our citizens.

Stewart Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy

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Don't Procrastinate - Get Prepared

Rock Springs, WI, June 14, 2008 (Photo FEMA/Bahler
Bill Munro, owner of a dry cleaning and safety apparel business in Texas, had an emergency plan when Hurricane Rita hit. The problem was, it was outdated. It took him a week to reopen. Munro took this lesson seriously. Today he will tell you that not only is his plan updated, but, if faced with another disaster, he will back open in 48 hours.

America's businesses form the backbone of our nation's economy. Their ability to survive and recover from a disaster--like the floods we are seeing the Midwest--is critical. One in four businesses never reopen following a disaster, according the Institute for Business and Home Safety. This statistic is startling especially when you consider small businesses alone account for more than 99% of all companies with employees.

Unfortunately, emergency preparedness planning for many falls at the bottom of the to-do-list due to lack of time and resources. But as the country watches the devastation taking place in the Midwest, I want to urge all business owners and managers to take some simple steps to protect their companies in the case of an emergency so their businesses will have a stronger chance of survive - don't be the one and four.

A commitment to planning today will help support employees, customers, the community, the local economy and even the country. The Department's Ready Business Campaign provides practical steps and easy-to-use templates that will allow organizations to plan to stay in business, talk to their employees and protect their assets.

It's important for businesses to identify operations most critical for survival and to find a mechanism to stay in communication with employees, suppliers, and customers. By doing this, companies will be making their communities more resilient.

Finally, workplace preparedness also spurs individual and family preparedness. By involving your employees in the planning process and practicing your plan, business owners and managers will be motivating their employees to take steps at home, too. This is important because it will help get employees back to work quicker and also helps raise the basic level of preparedness across the country. So, planning is a good business practice that helps your business, your employees and your community.

During this time of severe devastation we encourage all businesses, individuals and families to get prepared by visiting http://www.ready.gov/.

Alfonso Martinez-Fonts
Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector Office

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June 9, 2008

My, How Times Change

Members of a team from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)attempt to gain entrance to an apartment building in search of a suspect during a sweep to capture illegal aliens with a criminal record in the Boston area.
It’s interesting how one’s convictions can change so dramatically.

You may recall an October 5, 2001 editorial by The New York Times entitled “Terrorism and Immigration,” written less than a month after 9/11. It opined that “The best way to preserve the American people’s commitment to keeping their doors open to the world is to crack down on lax enforcement of the immigration laws, with a sense of urgency.” And further noted that, “the ease with which the hijackers took advantage of this country’s lax enforcement of immigration laws is indeed alarming.”

So my question to The New York Times, "What has changed?"

In its June 3 editorial, “The Great Immigration Panic,” the same newspaper decried the country’s “war on illegal immigration.” It referred to recent immigration enforcement as “an escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces,” that have “spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people…”

What would The New York Times have us do? Revert back to a pre-9/11 approach of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws on an ad hoc basis? Or continue to strategically investigate and arrest people who are blatantly abusing the system and breaking the law?

The clear answer for me and the rest of the men and women at DHS is to enforce the law. While it has been more than six years since the 9/11 attacks, it’s inconceivable to suggest that it would be acceptable to now ignore our sworn duty.

Furthermore, far from “languish[ing] without lawyers and decent medical care,” as The New York Times would have its readers believe, those who are arrested on immigration charges have access to legal representation and medical care.

The unfortunate truth is that our nation’s immigration system is indeed broken, and it can only be fixed by repairing decades of failed policies and neglect. Ignoring the problem by disregarding the rule of law will not get us any closer to a solution. We must continue to uphold our nation’s laws and work with Congress, the business community, and stakeholders at every level to solve this dilemma.

While The New York Times flip flops on this issue, you can count on the men and women of DHS to carry out their duties in a manner in which the American people can be proud.

Thanks for reading.

Stewart Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy


June 3, 2008

Progress Made in Travel Security

I’m pleased and proud that today the Department is announcing a final rule and schedule for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA will add new security to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the program that lets millions of visitors from countries like the U.K., Japan, and France come to the U.S. without first getting a visa.

Three years ago, when the Policy office was created, one of the first things we looked at was the VWP landscape. There were voices seeking to close the program down. They pointed out, correctly, that the VWP was the product of an earlier age. If you’re most worried about foreign visitors becoming illegal immigrants, then it makes sense to relax visa requirements from other developed countries. If you’re worried about terrorism, though, it doesn’t make sense to admit any visitors without an opportunity to screen them first. Just because a country is economically developed and has a friendly government doesn’t mean there are no terrorists in that country willing to attack us.

That was one view, and a reasonable one. At the same time, we heard voices calling for expansion of the program, in part because it increasingly did not reflect the world in which we live. Some of our best allies – and some of the most rapidly developing economies -- are in Eastern Europe, and they don’t have VWP status.

Our solution was to expand the program – but only after dramatically improving the security guarantees that it requires.

ESTA is one of those guarantees. It is an electronic website where visitors to the U.S., many of whom have already gone on line to make a reservation with their airline, will now do the same with the United States. Instead of filling out a form on the plane, to be handed in at the immigration booth, visitors will supply the same information electronically and in advance of travel. From the traveler’s point of view, it means no more having to beg or borrow a pen from the flight attendant. Plus, if there are any admission problems, they can be resolved before the flight.

From DHS’s perspective, we have the information in advance – in time to make decisions about the tiny handful of travelers who pose security concerns. Plus, we don’t have to try to decipher everyone’s handwriting on the forms. It’s a win-win, particularly because the travel authorization will be good for two years.

Of course, no policy achievement in Washington is complete without press that doesn’t quite get it right. To be clear, this is not a visa; it is a substitute for forms that visa waiver travelers already fill out, and it is based on an Australian reporting system that has never been seen as a visa by other countries. Nor does it require 72 hours notice for travel to the U.S. It is recommended that individuals who plan to travel under the VWP apply for their ESTA as early as possible so as to avoid last minute problems. ESTA has been designed to accept applications for last minute and emergency travel. [*]

The system is now scheduled to be fully applicable to all VWP travelers in January 2009. That opens the way to admitting new members from Eastern Europe and elsewhere (assuming the other security requirements are met) – and substantially improving security – all in less than four years. It’s not often that officials get to see a policy initiative go from “glint in the eye” to interagency agreement, legislative authorization, and full implementation, all in their term of office. I’m deeply pleased and grateful to all the decision makers and participants who embraced our vision of a VWP that is both more secure and more broadly based.

Stewart Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy

[* update: Changed last sentence from: "We will have a means to apply up to the time of travel in emergency case."]

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Get Serious! Hurricane Prep

Hurricane Season 2008--Get Serious, Get Prepared Every year, as hurricane season approaches, I take the time to make sure my home is ready. Like Americans in many coastal states, I make sure my supplies and plans are all up-to-date.

This year, I was joined by members of the media and showed them exactly what I do in the hope that they would get out our message to everyone: Get Serious, Be Prepared.

Davie, Fl, June 1, 2008- FEMA Administrator David Paulison demonstrates his family's personal hurricane preparedness items for the media at his home. Hurricane season began June 1. (FEMA Photo/Fernandez)At my home we have a generator, and I make sure before the season starts that we have sufficient fuel on hand to run it. I bought new batteries for my flashlights and radio. I checked my storm shutters to make sure they were in good shape and also confirmed I had little things like tarps and duct tape that can be essential if my shutters, windows or roof are damaged by a storm. I made sure I had enough prepared food and water on-hand to support my family for at least three days.

Go to ready.gov for some helpful information to help you prepare.

Sadly, there are some who still wait until it’s too late. In fact, a recent Mason-Dixon poll shows 85% of coastal residents made no additional preparations for a Hurricane in the past year; 50% said they would not make any preparations until two days before a hurricane is predicted to hit them. On top of that, 13% said they would not evacuate even if ordered to do so. More on the Mason-Dixon poll.

FEMA is doing our part to get ready.

This year, FEMA has teams standing by to be on the ground within hours of a storm or other disaster striking. FEMA has worked with vulnerable states to identify where they will most need support. We have improved our logistics and can better get the supplies and resources to a disaster site more quickly than in the past. We have plans in place to coordinate our activities with our partners at every level of government as well as with the private sector. Simply put: we are all better prepared.

FEMA has also improved our ability to deliver assistance through simple and effective delivery mechanisms, while also minimizing possible waste, fraud and abuse. We have expanded our capability to register those in need for aid and have mobile registration centers that can be on hand to help those without access to phones or computers.

As the official Hurricane Season for 2008 opens, I hope all Americans will join me in building a culture of preparedness. Whether your home is at risk from a hurricane, tornado, flood, fire or earthquake, every community faces its own risks. Being properly prepared can make a big difference.

I took the time to prepare my home this weekend. Now it’s your turn.

David Paulison
FEMA Administrator

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June 2, 2008

Debunking Three More E-Verify Myths

E-Verify logo.Third in a series on E-Verify.

I’ve explained how E-Verify works. It is an effective way to restrict illegal employment. For some, that’s the best reason to attack E-Verify. Today, I’m going to respond to three more myths that critics rely on.

1. Some claim that E-Verify is burdensome for employers. In fact, it’s a bit less burdensome than ordering books for the first time from Amazon.com. An employer enters data about a new hire into 5 to 8 fields – name, social security number, date of birth, and other data that an employer already records on the Form I-9. Then, for noncitizens using DHS documents, the employer compares the employee’s ID photo to the photo displayed on the screen. That’s it.

Anyone who has seen it done once can do it, and the process takes a few minutes. Understanding the rules that go with the process requires a bit of online training, but that takes at most an hour or two. Plus, E-Verify makes it unlikely that a company will get a Social Security Administration notice at the end of the year indicating that some of its new hires have Social Security Numbers that don’t match their names. So time spent now on verification will save hassles later.

You don’t have to rely on me, though, for assurance that E-Verify is easy to use.
As one commenter to this blog series wrote, “the E-Verify System is a great thing! Every employer should be using it. We use it here at work and it’s EASY, QUICK and COST EFFECTIVE. Absolutely no hassle at all! There is no good reason why any legitimate company employing legitimate people would not want to participate in this program.” In fact, an independent evaluation performed by Westat found that 96 percent of E-Verify employers agreed that the system does not overburden their staff, see page 65 of the report (PDF).

2. Another set of critics claims that E-Verify is discriminatory. They conjure up evil employers who disfavor certain ethnic groups when they apply government hiring rules. But if you’re worried about discrimination in administering ID requirements, E-Verify is the solution not the problem. Employers don’t have discretion to discriminate when they use E-Verify. The computers behind E-Verify don’t pay attention to ethnicity; they just ask whether the applicant’s records are in order. That takes the discretion, and thus the opportunity for discrimination, out of the process.

The other form of discrimination often mentioned in this context is the notion that people who need time to correct problems with their records will be fired, or that employers will only selectively apply E-Verify to some employees. The short answer is that E-Verify prohibits both. Employers must allow workers more than a week to contact Social Security or DHS to cure any problems with the workers’ records. (Once a new hire makes contact with the relevant agency, 95 percent of the time the problem is resolved within 2 days.) Employers who act against a worker earlier can be fined by the Department of Justice for a civil rights violation. The same is true for those who apply E-Verify selectively.

3. The final myth is that E-Verify does nothing about identity theft, so the system is easy to beat. Not true. The criticism might hold water if E-Verify did nothing but check for mismatched names and SSNs. But E-Verify does more than that. We are already implementing measures that make identity theft far more difficult. The system rejects the SSNs of workers who have died. And we are increasingly able to display the photo that should be on identity cards presented by workers. This “photo tool” has already identified hundreds of cases of document and identity fraud and prevented identity thieves from gaining unlawful employment. In the long run, E-Verify should allow employers to verify the photos on all identity documents that are accepted for employment.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments. For more information on E-Verify, visit the E-Verify web page.

Stewart Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy

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