Homeland Security announced Monday that it will soon require more people to undergo in-person interviews before they can gain a firmer legal footing in the U.S., carrying out yet another part of President Trump’s extreme vetting executive order.
While the so-called travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries has garnered most of the attention, it was just a temporary measure designed to give the government the space to stiffen its regular checks so it could be more adept at denying potential terrorists entry.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced one of those new policies Monday, saying it wants more people to have to face in-person interviews before they’re giving permanent status in the country.
The first two categories to require interviews, beginning Oct. 1, are people already in the U.S. on business visas who want to apply for permanent residency, and refugees or aslyees hoping to sponsor family members to join them here.
“This is the base for building extreme vetting,” said Matthew J. O’Brien, a former USCIS employee who is now director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
He said interviews are a key way to screen people for fraud or national security risks.
“You can only vet people if you have information, and one of the best ways to get information is to talk to people and then compare that info to objective info you get from other places,” he said. “if you don’t have these interviews you’re missing a fundamental step in the vetting process.”
Mr. O’Brien said the two categories USCIS has started with for mandatory interviews both presented fraud and security risks. In the case of relatives, he said refugees will try to sneak in extended relatives or members of their clan who wouldn’t normally qualify under the letter of the law.
Interviews will add another hurdle to the process — a move that’s likely to meet resistance from activists and immigration lawyers.
The administration said it was compelled to turn to interviews as it looks for ways to carry out Executive Order 13780, which cracked down on fraud and security risks within the immigration system.
Mr. Trump ordered his agencies to develop a “uniform baseline for screening,” and specifically said in-person interviews should be part of it.
“This change reflects the Administration’s commitment to upholding and strengthening the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” acting USCIS Director James W. McCament said in a statement announcing the new policy. “USCIS and our federal partners are working collaboratively to develop more robust screening and vetting procedures for individuals seeking immigration benefits to reside in the United States.”
Mr. Trump’s executive order also called for a database to make checking documents easier, and more questions on application forms designed to test fraud or malicious intent toward the U.S.
Mr. O’Brien said in-person interviews used to be standard decades ago but were dropped as backlogs grew, and the government decided fraud and security issues weren’t as compelling.
Now, with Mr. Trump in office, weeding out fraud and security risks have become a major goal for the new administration.
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