Adventures in Bureaucracy
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Even adults can learn foreign languages, although as Americans, I don't know why we'd want to. At least, that's the conventional wisdom, as it seems I'm always reading about how Americans (and British) never bother to learn other languages.

Which must therefore mean that most of these people in the Washington area are not real Americans, because there are a huge number of language classes offered around here. French at the Alliance Francaise. German at the Goethe Institute. Italian at the Casa Italiana. Portuguese at the Brazilian American Cultural Institute. Even Russian at the Russian Cultural Centre. And more languages that you can shake a stick at at the USDA Graduate School and Fairfax County. There are probably more, but it doesn't look like the area is starved of locals with no interest in the world beyond the Beltway.
Oops. As a thousand internet commenters rush to their keyboards, this bit of fluff should make, well, a splash.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
A short filler piece on the BBC site has me wondering whether the people who are supposed to be covering the news do any research at all beforehand:

"In the new Vatican of Pope Benedict XVI, Latin is in and Polish, the language of John Paul II, is out. Latin may be considered a dead language today, but for many centuries it was the language of the Catholic Church."

Did I miss something during the John Paul II years? Did the whole Church switch to Polish? I thought that Latin was the language of the Church, and still is. The part where they said "Habemus Papam" instead of the Polish equivalent may have given it away.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Yes, there's more coming on immigration, but not today. For now, here's a short item to contemplate: the British consulates in Lagos and Abuja have suspended visa processing for first-time visitors aged 18 to 30 until further notice. Emergency cases will still be accepted. What are the odds that the number of deathly ill family members in England has spiked since that policy came out?

And it may be a short-term fix for an overwhelming number of applicants (23,000 a month seems pretty high), but are more young Nigerians attempting entry by posing as Ghanians, or even Americans? Migration is like a balloon - push on one part, and another part swells.
Thought for the day:

"It is said the Jews invented guilt, but I think the Catholics perfected it."

Obviously said by someone who has met my grandmother and her sister.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
The discussion on immigration goes on at Daily Demarche, and the proposals for improving the system are providing more resources and reorganizing. Of course, these are also the solutions to every other problem faced by the federal government, though the creation of the Department of Homeland Security demonstrates there's a lot more to reorganization than just coming up with a new org chart.

But I do agree that the current structure needs some serious adjustment, and there's a lot of talk about doing just that. Most of what I've heard deals with merging CBP and ICE. ICE is the criminal law enforcement arm, while CBP works more with administrative law. CBP is on the border, and ICE handles interior issues. That was the thinking anyway. Both bureaux are ultimately more concerned with identifying the bad guys and dealing with them than CIS, and the distinction between their areas of jurisdiction is much less clear in real life than it may have seemed on paper. If someone is trying to bring heroin into the country, CBP can stop him and send him home, but ICE would want to take him to court and send him to prison before that happens. Merging the two entities makes a lot of sense.

The idea of developing regional commands is an intriguing one, but I don't think it would work very well in practice. Let me try to put this in State Department terms. Rather than the current structure, you could have one command for each continent. That would change the scope of the infighting in all the Washington components, and allow faster responses to changing needs for personnel and resources within the command. Coup in Lome? Send in an extra econ officer from one of the South African posts to help coordinate the response. Disease in Luanda? Fly one of the Public Diplomacy people down from Cairo. Shortage of visa officers in Addis? Well, can't you spare someone from the RSO's office in Lagos to help out with production until the work load levels off?

That should take care of everything, right?

There's a lot to be said for specialization. When rotation season comes around, there are all sorts of people who know the rules and regulations and can apply those interview skills at any visa window, anywhere in the world. If you're in Addis and you're short of people, is it more important for you to pull someone in with regional experience, or someone with visa interview experience? It's tempting to organize on geographical lines, but I think function is a more important and more effective organizing principle.

The immigration components within Homeland Security were not organized on functional lines, at least for the two enforcement branches. CBP was created to house everyone at the border. The formerly separate Immigration Inspectors, Customs Inspectors and Agriculture Inspectors at the airport have been merged into one CBP Officer. "One face at the border", I think that's what they called the initiative. Instead of having three separate inspections, the reasoning went, you could make a better use of personnel by having one person trained in all three areas. This "superinspector" could thus fill any personnel needs at any port of entry. The problem, from what I've picked up talking to some of the port of entry veterans, is that by getting pulled from passport control to baggage checks to cargo inspections, the new people aren't spending enough time in any one area to pick up the skills to master that particular facet of the job. What's that cliche about jack of all trades? Then there's Border Patrol, which handles the spaces between the ports, and the skills for that position are totally different.

From a functional perspective, ICE is even more problematic. They've got the criminal investigators from INS and Customs, and apparently none of them are happy with the merger. The former Immigration agents think they're treated as substandard by the former Customs managers, while the former Customs agents think that they're wasting their training by having to go after illegal aliens. Some might say where everyone is miserable, things must be on the right track, but ICE's budget has been a total mess since Day One, and that doesn't exactly help morale either. Then factor in that the Federal Air Marshalls got put into ICE, even though it's hard to see how their job fits in with the other two. (It is, however, very easy to understand why they wanted out of TSA - that seems to be the agency all the rest of DHS looks down on.)

Merging ICE and CBP would help solve some of the jurisdictional issues that have come up, and would probably make it easier to go after immigration-related crimes, but in the end, I think that positions will still need to be specialized, and formally recognized as such, with some personnel concretrating on customs and cargo issues, and other on immigration issues. The laws in both fields are complex, but imm law particularly so. Effective investigators or border officers need time and experience to learn the rules and how to apply them to real-life situations. Once they have these skills, they can be used anywhere in the agency where there is a need.

And that's part one. I think I'm just getting warmed up.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Daily Demarche is talking immigration again, and I'm like a moth to a flame. I'll try to avoid any long, rambling and ultimately pointless "when I was at the airport" stories. Well, at least for the first couple paragraphs, then all bets are off.

The problem here is expressed in terms of economics: the demand for entry to the United States has overwhelmed the resources in place to handle it. And as every good government worker knows, the answer is more resources. I can't argue with that - I'm a government worker too! I think this mindset comes with experience. We've seen what kind of programs have an effect, and we want to do more of what works. That generally means more people and more equipment, and that means more money. Unfortunately, everyone wants more money, and contrary to what some budget proposals would have you believe, the federal budget IS in fact a limited amount, so the money goes toward to main priorities of the day. Immigration enforcement was never very high on the overall list of federal priorities, until after September 11, when the security aspects vaulted the more dysfunctional aspects of the system right to the top of the list. The focus is rightly on the terrorist threat, but other areas still don't seem to be a priority. The problem is that terrorists take advantage of systemic vulnerabilities, so any opening to the country that can be used by Ramon the Mexican gardener or Yuri the Ukrainian construction worker can be exploited by al Qaeda.

One area that got a lot of scrutiny was the visa issuance process. Part of this had to do with prevailing attitudes with the State Department towards visa issues in 1990's, when the priority was customer service. I have spoken to several veterans of the visa window about the 9-11 terrorists, and many of them said that under the operating procedures of the time they probably would have approved the visa applications as well. After the terrorist attacks, everything in the government came under review. A reorganization for INS was pretty much a done deal, and there was talk about either moving visa issuance into the adjudications section of what would become Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), or possibly splitting off the naturalization components and giving them to State, since the next step would be passport issuance. In the end naturalization stayed with CIS, and visa issuance stayed with State. More or less, as apparently there is some sort of DHS involvement there as well.

Do we have the optimal structure to enforce immigration laws? We went from a system where two entities - State and INS - shouldered the load to one with State, CIS, CBP and ICE, the latter three of which are in the DHS Border and Transportation Security directorate. There is talk of merging CBP and ICE into one enforcement bureau, since ICE has had major budget problems since its inception, but that's still up in the air. Canada seems to be following our lead and consolidating their immigration, customs, and other frontier inspections into one. For many other countries, visa issuance, border inspections and naturalization are all performed by a single agency, which makes internal communications easier.

The visa issuance process is important, but it's only one part of the immigration system. Think of America as one of those wild teen parties from any John Hughes movie. Sure, you're supposed to have an invitation to get in, but somehow Anthony Michael Hall always shows up anyway. But I think that's a topic for tomorrow, as that analogy tells me it's time for bed.
Habemus Papam. From what I can tell, the new Pope is a pious and devoted man, one who has answered the call of duty to take what is perhaps the world's most difficult position, even though he had apparently been pushing for retirement. He will be in my prayers.

The reactions in the news were predictable, and in some cases laughable. Listening to some of the wailing and carrying on, you'd think that people expected the new Pope to begin his pontificate by ordaining some women and throwing condoms and Mardi Gras beads from the balcony. But no, instead we got - gasp! - a conservative. My favorite reaction: "When the conversations veered toward various social issues -- gays, abortion etc -- there seemed to be a strong undercurrent of shock that the former Cardinal Ratzinger is -- wait for it! -- Catholic!"

Pope Benedict XVI has been referred to as "God's Rottweiler", and I think that's going to be one of those things that started out as a slur and instead becomes enthusiastically adopted by his supporters. His main offence seems to a stubborn insistence that the Catholic Church has standards that are anchored in an eternal and unchanging truth, and then defending those standards.

It's interesting to hear the standard tropes coming out again, about how all us American Catholics think the Church should loosen up on the role of women, homosexuality, contraception, abortion and celibacy, and how disappointed some are that the new Pope will probably not make any concessions to "modernity" on these issues. If only the Church would lighten up, we'd get people flocking back to the Church. Funny then how it's the more conservative sects that seem to be growing most quickly in the United States. As for lightening up, look at the results in the Episcopal Church - not exactly a case study in people flocking back to the pews.

Over the past few weeks we have heard - endlessly - that Pope John Paul II ultimately defeated communism, and this got considerable space in a lot of the sites on the list to the right. But he also warned against unrestrained consumerism and individualism. I think he was on to something. Sometimes I think we in the West are so besotted by the things we have, the things we can buy, and the things we can do, we don't like to be reminded that there is more to the world than our own creations. Maybe there is more to life than just the pursuit of happiness - and indeed maybe there is more to life than just the life we have here and now.

Today is also the anniversary of a horrendous crime, the Oklahoma City bombing. It was ten years ago, but I still can't see this picture without my eyes welling up and getting a lump in my throat. Is that the result of an ideology that believes nothing is absolute, that anything can be accepted in pursuit of its own goal?

Don't get me wrong - I don't think that Tim McVeigh is representative of the West, but I do think there is a sense that things have gone wrong somehow. We've got all the material and technological trappings of success we could ever have dreamed of, but yet for many there still seems to be something missing. And that's precisely the something that Pope John Paul II found, and that Pope Benedict XVI must carry forth.

Ora et labora - pray and work. That's the motto of St. Benedict, and I'm sure it's something Pope Benedict XVI has taken to heart with his acceptance of the Papacy.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Why is it that Condoleeza Rice gets all the press when my own departmental Secretary Chertoff hardly seems to make the papers at all? I bet people would pay more attention if he wore some black leather boots...
The discussion of refugee policy continues at Daily Demarche, and Dr. Demarche raises some good points. It's fair - and frankly long overdue - to ask what we as a country want from our refugee programs now that the Cold War is over, and how we can best achieve whatever national goals we set for ourselves. Actually, I think we agree that making use of the potential of refugees would help the United States in achieving its larger goals, but disagree on how best to do it.

But first, a few words of background. My experience with the refugee program comes from working as an immigration inspector at a largish port of entry in the 1990's. I've since moved on, but for several years I was one of the people who actually saw refugees when they first got off the plane. Processing was done by INS offices overseas, so the inspections were generally a quick review to make sure all the paperwork was there, but this informs my view of the topic. I've since moved on, thank God, and am now elsewhere in the massive bureaucracy that is Homeland Security.

Perhaps our basic disagreement hinges on the nature of the refugee program. Dr. Demarche correctly differentiates refugees from immigrants, but I think this ignores the history and procedure that have governed the refugee program for years. The fact is that the U.S. refugee program is essentially a resettlement program. The people we accept as refugees today are on track to get permanent residence in a year, and once they get that green card they become immigrants who never have to leave. I think a lot of the legislation on what a refugee is and what we should do with them grew out of the post-World War II period, when there were millions of people displaced by war and shifting borders, and to solve the problem we'd take in the displaced and give them a new home. Then the Cold War came along and locked the new borders into place. The people that came over the Iron Curtain weren't likely to go back - think Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 - so they too needed new homes. The whole dynamic changed with the fall of the East Bloc, but I don't think there has been a review of the refugee program and whether we now want something different from it.

On the whole, though, I think the idea of permanent resettlement for refugees has worked out well, for broader U.S. policy goals as well as the refugees themselves. Our long term goals have been to promote peace, stability and democracy in the refugee source countries, and this seems to have worked in some cases. I think a number of Central and East Europeans have gone back home to take an active role in establishing democratic institutions or setting up businesses to develop economies in their home countries once the opportunity presented itself. Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states, Poland - all have people who lived and studied in the United States playing prominent roles in the governments now (although to be fair, I don't know how many came here as actual refugees, as opposed to other forms of immigration). Others who have spent years in the United States are returning to places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia and some countries in West Africa to help the rebuilding there as well. All of them are taking risks in ventures that could fail in the long run, but they could also succeed - and this would help win new allies or new economic partners for the United States. It's much easier for a one-time refugee to take such risks if he knows that he can always go back to the United States if things go wrong in his country of origin.

I've seen this play out with one of my language professors in college. He had come over from central Europe, and in 1989 he was elated by the changes sweeping through his home country - and terrified that he'd be sent back into the unknown and uncertain political situation that followed communism. He wanted to go back home to see the family he hadn't seen in years and to look for business opportunities, but he wouldn't leave the United States until his residence status here was secure. As a country, we want people like my professor to go back to their home countries and tell their countrymen that all the anti-American propaganda they've heard was a gross exaggeration, but I think refugees are much less likely to do that if they think the rug will be pulled out from under them by a government eager to repatriate.

I agree that there is an enormous pool of talent in the refugees we have let into the country, but I don't think the best way to develop and make use of it is "prepping them to return home someday". If anything, refugees should be given additional help in developing basic skills to assimilate more easily into American culture. In the present system, English classes and other help with all things American is given by the volunteer agencies who sponsor the refugees. I don't know whether there's any sort of standardization to what kind of assistance refugees get, but here it seems that a lot of the tension between newcomers and local people involves nationalities that have had a more difficult time assimilating. Think here of Somalis or Hmong, refugees who often stay within their own communities and are viewed as welfare-dependent.

We do want people to promote the idea of America overseas. We do want the best and brightest to take skills they developed in the United States to renew their homelands. But the best way to get people who really believe in the American dream is allowing them to participate in it without limitations. And in this way we do get people who step forward to help, though the pool is largely self-selecting. I think this actually enhances their credibility as spokesmen, since they can be viewed as the products of our way of life rather than people trained to parrot propaganda. We have had some notable successes from the refugee program, people who have represented America to the world. The two biggest examples are Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, both Secretaries of State, and that ain't bad. But look in the ranks of the Foreign Service corps, in Homeland Security, in the military, in other government agencies, and I'm sure you'll find other people who either were once refugees themselves or are the children of refugees. All of them represent the potential of the United States and the possibilities of our ideals by example.

And so I find myself in the unusual position of saying that part of our immigration system actually works pretty well for the country as a whole. It's reasonable to think about what the country gets from accepting refugees, but the main purpose is to help people in the here and now - but by doing that, we can develop people to help achieve other, broader goals in the future.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Daily Demarche is talking about refugees and refugee policy. Overall I think U.S. refugee policy is working, and we're pretty generous to boot. I once spoke with an immigration person from a friendly country who complained about the way the U.S. handled things at refugee camps. Some countries would go in and try to cherry-pick the UNCHR-approved cases, but the U.S. would come along and take them all, along with a lot of the more marginal ones. There are some advantages to having higher quota numbers.

The question at the end of the post is one that bears some consideration: "Why are we not doing our best by these unfortunates and prepping them to return home someday, educated in the ways of America, democracy and freedom?" I left a comment, but the short answer is that we take refugees not in the hope of some future pay-off for the country, but because there are people in need of a safe haven now.
Between the pollen count and the tax returns, my head feels like it's going to explode. Sure, I could make life easier by getting someone to do the taxes for me, but after telling all those people that they could save $1000 in lawyers' fees by filing the immigration paperwork themselves, I refuse on principle to pay someone for something I should be able to do myself. I just hope the neighbors don't mind all the cursing.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Springtime in Washington, and what a beautiful weekend it was. Church today was not packed, but more crowded than usual for the ten o'clock Latin Mass. Monsignor Magee was back today, so the homily went into detail on Catholic doctrine. And what was that about "Saint John Paul the Great"?

Then it was on to see the cherry blossoms. Weekend + gorgeous weather + peak blooming period = huge crowds. And deservedly so, as the place was spectacular. Let me also take this opportunity to apologize to all those people into whose frames I accidentally wandered.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
My church has been all over the news this weekend, because my church is the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington. The street in front of it was lined with television cameras, news vans and reporters this morning, so just going into the place was like running the gauntlet... and I've definitely been in Washington too long, because I was slightly miffed when none of the reporters asked for any of my pearls of wisdom going in or coming out. Luckily I've got this site to subject my two regular readers and any unwary net surfers to those.

Cardinal McCarrick celebrated the Mass, and it was almost as crowded as Easter Sunday. He welcomed some visiting dignitaries - Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was there (I only saw her hair from the back, so if the Cardinal hadn't said anything, I never would have known she was there), and so was Senator Edward Kennedy, along with some of his family. There was something poignant in that, with the Senator sitting just a few feet from the plaque commemorating the funeral of his brother in 1963. There's nothing I can say about the Pope that hasn't been said already (and more eloquently) by so many others, but bringing these two people from opposite ends of the political spectrum together to offer their respects must say something about the strength of the Pope's convictions and about the power of faith.

Requiescat in pace.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Just as I crack open "Guns, Germs, and Steel"...
Friday, April 01, 2005
You'd think that saying children shouldn't be having sex wouldn't be a controversial statement.

You would be wrong.

Tell your twelve-year-old the NEA says it's OK to get one's freak on.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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