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US Immigration Legislative Update September 15, 2008

September 15, 2008
FAIR has released its Legislative Immigration Update that covers the following:
  • FAIR Holds Annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire Radio Row Event
  • House Committee Considers Military Amnesty Bill
  • House Votes to Terminate Cross-Border Trucking Pilot Program
  • House Panel Scrutinizes Virtual Fence
  • Victims' Families Spotlighted in Unofficial House Hearing
  • California May Grant Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses

FAIR Holds Annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire Radio Row Event

Last week, hundreds of immigration reform activists, dozens of talk radio show hosts, and many Members of Congress participated in the FAIR Congressional Task Force's Annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire Event. On September 10th and 11th, over 40 talk show hosts, led by San Diego's Roger Hedgecock, broadcasted live from the Phoenix Park Hotel where they interviewed Members of Congress, immigration experts, state legislators, and others. CNN's Lou Dobbs also broadcasted his television show live from Radio Row. While the talk show hosts broadcasted live to thousands of listeners around the country, activists from all over the nation met with their Representatives and Senators on the Hill to discuss immigration reform priorities and lobby for passage of important immigration law enforcement measures.

Hold Their Feet to the Fire officially kicked off with a press conference on the West Lawn of the Capitol last Wednesday. Speakers included FAIR President Dan Stein, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock, and family members of Jamiel Shaw, a teenager who was murdered by an illegal alien gang member who had just been released from jail. Wednesday evening, following broadcast of the Lou Dobb's show, FAIR presented three "We the People" Awards at a reception for Hold Their Feet to the Fire participants. The People's Voice Award went to Lou Dobbs for his continued efforts in leading the immigration reform movement through both his talk radio show and his television show. The People's Leadership Award was given to Dr. Rodney Hunt, founder of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (MFIRE), for MFIRE's efforts in securing passage of the Taxpayer and Employment Protection Act of 2008 in Mississippi. Finally, the People's Representative Award was given to Oklahoma State Representative Randy Terrill for his leadership in introducing the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007, which was signed into law May 8, 2007 and was one of the first laws of its kind in the nation.

House Committee Considers Military Amnesty Bill

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee was forced to recess when Democrats and Republicans were unable to come to an agreement on legislation aimed at granting amnesty to certain individuals who have served in the U.S. armed forces and their family members. House Judiciary Members had planned to markup four immigration-related bills during the meeting, but recessed after failing to compromise on the first bill - H.R. 6020. (CongressNow, September 10, 2008)

The bill's sponsor, Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), told members of the committee that her legislation would help alleviate problems caused by a "broken" and "unforgiving" immigration system. (Congressional Quarterly, September 10, 2008) Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) strongly opposed the bill, arguing that it would grant "amnesty to almost anyone who has ever served in the United States military - whether in peacetime or wartime and no matter how briefly or long ago he or she served." (CongressNow, September 10, 2008) Rep. Smith further noted that the amnesty benefits put forth in the legislation could also go to criminal aliens or illegal alien family members of people in the military. (Id.) He added, "When we look at an American soldier or veteran we almost always see someone who has made a sacrifice to uphold the American constitution and the rule of law. This bill cheapens that image." (Congressional Quarterly, September 10, 2008)

Rep. Smith expressed specific opposition to two provisions in the bill. One of these measures would grant immigration judges the ability to waive certain grounds for deportation and inadmissibility for family members of U.S. soldiers. Expressing concern that this section of the legislation could lead to convicted criminals obtaining citizenship, Smith proposed an amendment that would have struck the provision from the bill. The amendment failed 13-17. (Id.)

The second provision Rep. Smith opposed is a section of the bill he argued could lead to an increase in fraudulent marriages. Currently, any alien who applies for a green card based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen must undergo a two year conditional period prior to becoming a permanent resident. H.R. 6020 would exempt spouses of military servicemembers from this statute, making them immediately eligible for lawful permanent resident status. Smith offered an amendment to strike this language from the legislation, but it was defeated 13-15. (Id.)

Immigration Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve King (R-IA) proposed an amendment that would prohibit immigration judges from allowing the deportation and inadmissibility waivers to apply to crimes that threaten national security. (Id.) Lofgren reacted with openness towards King's amendment, and the Committee recessed to allow Democrats and Republicans to work together to produce a list of crimes to exclude from the waivers. After spending over an hour in recess, the Committee could no longer produce a quorum and had to postpone consideration of the bills. (CongressNow, September 10, 2008)

The meeting is scheduled to resume on Wednesday, September 17th, at a time to be announced. (Congressional Quarterly, September 12, 2008) When the Committee reconvenes, it is expected to finish consideration of H.R. 6020 and three other immigration-related bills: H.R. 5882, H.R. 5924, and H.R. 5950. (Id.) H.R. 5882 would "recapture" more than 550,000 visas that the State Department did not issue in fiscal years 1992 through 2007; H.R. 5924 would lift the cap on employment-based visas for physical therapists and nurses until 2011 (Gallery Watch, August 1, 2008); and H.R. 5950 would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "to establish procedures for the delivery of medical and mental health care to all immigration detainees...in DHS custody." (Congressional Research Service Summary, May 1, 2008)

House Votes to Terminate Cross-Border Trucking Pilot Program

Following reports early last week that the Bush Administration intends to continue the controversial cross-border Mexican trucking program for an additional two years, the House voted overwhelmingly to terminate the pilot program. H.R. 6630, which passed the House by a vote of 395-18, marks the latest in a series of clashes between the Bush Administration and Congress over extension of the pilot program. (Roll Call 575)

The cross-border trucking program was established by a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which requires that the United States allow trucks from Mexico and Canada full access to all American highways. (NAFTA, Provision 1202 & 1203) H.R. 6630 requires the Secretary of Transportation to immediately terminate the pilot program. (Section 1(a)) In addition to ending the pilot program, the bill would also prohibit the Secretary from ever granting special permission to Mexican truckers to enter the United States without the consent of Congress. (Section 1(b))

During the floor debate, Members expressed bipartisan support for ending the program, arguing that Congress has already tried to halt it many times, that the program endangers American drivers and displaces workers, and the trucking companies are not sufficiently regulated. Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), a cosponsor of the bill, said, "H.R. 6630 will help ensure the safety of our Nation's highways, and especially--and this is so important to me and most Members on both sides--it will help protect our American trucking companies, our small businesses, and our truck drivers." (Congressional Record, pg. H7915) Another cosponsor, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), said, "I represent the entire California-Mexico border. It is my district. I know what happens with these trucks at the border. We haven't dealt with issues of licensing of drivers, we haven't dealt with insurance or safety of the trucks, not even mentioning the jobs that are lost to American truckers." (Id.)

Both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Mexican Embassy denounced the House vote, claiming the program facilitates economic interests for both countries. FMCSA administrator John Hill said the decision by the House was "irresponsible" as it denies "American drivers the opportunity to compete in Mexico and American shippers a more efficient and timely way of getting their goods south." (The Union Tribune, September 10, 2008) Expressing similar sentiments, the Mexican Embassy noted that the vote was "a troubling excuse for protectionism whose costs are borne by producers and consumers on both sides of the border." (Id.)

H.R. 6630 was referred to the Senate for consideration, where it was placed in the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

House Panel Scrutinizes Virtual Fence

On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on "Mismanagement, Missteps, and Missed Benchmarks: Why the Virtual Fence Has Not Become a Reality." The hearing was meant to address difficulties that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has encountered in deploying a technology-based virtual fence mandated by the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet). (Committee on Homeland Security Hearing, September 10, 2008) The hearing was held just weeks after the Arizona Daily Star reported that work on the virtual fence had stopped with no date set for resumption. The stoppage occurred when the Department of the Interior refused to grant DHS permission to use the land for constructing the surveillance towers that form the basis of the virtual fences. (Arizona Daily Star, August 27, 2008)

Approximately two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - which oversees CBP - awarded the SBInet contract to Boeing. Since that time, DHS and Boeing have partnered in efforts to deploy the virtual fence, which some hope will completely supplant efforts to build a physical border fence. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) opened the hearing by noting that DHS had "awarded $933.3 million in task orders for deployment of SBInet technology and infrastructure to its contractor, Boeing." (Statement of Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, September 10, 2008) Thompson went on to criticize DHS and Boeing in his opening statement, saying that "the partnership...has produced more missed deadlines and excuses than results" and that they had "grossly underestimated the task of standing up SBInet." (Id.)

Committee Ranking Member Peter King (R-NY) shifted the blame from DHS and Boeing to the Committee, pointing out that "the Committee has yet to move on even one bill to harden our borders even though more than forty border security bills have been introduced." (Committee on Homeland Security Hearing, September 10, 2008) King added, "While [CBP is] going to be sitting here today listening to abuse about what hasn't been done, I think a lot of people should be pointing fingers at themselves as to what hasn't been done from this end." (Id.)

CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham testified at the hearing and offered strong defense of his agency's efforts to deploy SBInet. Basham told the Committee that CBP has taken steps outside of the deployment of SBInet to secure the border, stating that "when the full story is told, we have taken more actions to secure our nation in the last seven years than in the preceding half century." (Id.) The Commissioner also noted that problems with SBInet technology have slowed the project's implementation. "We did not and we will not rush to deploy something that is not ready just to meet our deadlines or anyone else's," said Basham, adding that the agency's priority is to "get it right before we deploy it." (Id.) Basham concluded, "While I can't come before you today and claim that SBI has not proceeded without problems, I can tell you it is not a failure." (Id.)

Richard Stana - Director of the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) Homeland Security and Justice division - presented a report highlighting the findings of a GAO study on SBInet. Stana told the Committee that "the SBI program continues to face delays in project implementation and cost increases." (Statement of Richard M. Stana, September 10, 2008) Expressing concern over problems with the project's implementation, Stana added, "Border Patrol agents continue to rely upon existing limited technological capabilities as SBInet technology deployment delays persist, and this may hinder the Border Patrol's efforts to secure the border. (Id.) Due to time constraints, Thompson was forced to postpone the final portion of the hearing. (Committee on Homeland Security Hearing, September 10, 2008) It will resume on Thursday, September 18th at 10:00 AM. (Congressional Quarterly, September 12, 2008)

Victims' Families Spotlighted in Unofficial House Hearing

Last week, as the nation marked the 7th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Republican Members of the House Judiciary Committee held an unofficial hearing highlighting the violence of illegal alien gang members, the perils of sanctuary cities, and the tragedy of many families who have lost loved ones to violent illegal aliens. Witnesses at the hearing included Staff Sergeant Anita Shaw, whose son was murdered by an illegal alien gang member who had just been released from jail, but not turned over to immigration authorities, and Patti Butler, whose teenage daughter was raped and murdered by an illegal alien that had recently been released on parole for a felony conviction. Other victims represented included fallen policemen and family members killed by illegal alien drunk drivers.

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) said, "Unlike U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, illegal immigrants who commit crimes never had the right to be in this country in the first place." He continued, "If our immigration enforcement agencies had the resources and the tools and the backing necessary to control illegal immigration, the illegal immigrants wouldn't have been in the United States to commit the crimes." Smith concluded, "It's fitting that we hear from these witnesses today - on the seventh anniversary of the day on which 19 foreign nationals, who had abused U.S. immigration laws, murdered over three thousand innocent Americans. Remembering that tragedy makes our witnesses' testimony even more important and relevant."

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) noted that the hearing was unofficial because Committee leadership refused to hold it. Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said of the hearing: "If they want to go through fake proceedings, I guess that's up to them. The public is going to know it's just a bunch of baloney."

California May Grant Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses

The California state legislature has passed a bill that would allow illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses. Sponsored by Senator Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), the California REAL ID Act of 2007 (S.B. 60) passed the state assembly on Friday, August 29th and is currently being considered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (KMPH, August 31, 2008; S.B. 60)

According to Senator Cedillo's website, S.B. 60 attempts to conform California law with the Federal REAL ID act of 2005. REAL ID requires the states to "retool their system[s] of issuing driver's license[s] to ensure uniformity among all states and greater security regarding both the license itself and the identity of the person to whom it is issued." (Senator Gilbert Cedillo's Fact Sheet on S.B. 60) S.B. 60 attempts to satisfy this mandate by creating two separate categories of driver's licenses. The first category enables California to meet the minimum document design, security, and issuance requirements set forth in REAL ID so that the driver has a federally recognized license. These licenses would meet minimum requirements under REAL ID, including ensuring that the document: is manufactured in a secure facility; has security features designed to prevent counterfeiting; and contains certain basic information. To apply for licenses in this category, Californians would need to meet the minimum identity requirements laid out in REAL ID, including verification of legal presence. (Id.; S.B. 60)

The second driver's license category created by the bill, however, is more controversial. (KMPH, August 31, 2008) S.B. 60 creates a "'driving only license' that is not recognized by the federal government for identification purposes." (Senator Gilbert Cedillo's Fact Sheet on S.B. 60; S.B. 60) This license may not be used by any federal agency for federal identification or for any other official purpose. Licenses in this category would be available to individuals who cannot meet the minimum identity requirements that would allow them to obtain a license in the first category. (Id.) If the bill is signed into law, state legislators estimate that 2.2 million illegal aliens residing in California would apply for these special licenses. (KMPH, August 31, 2008)

Schwarzenegger has vetoed legislation similar to S.B. 60 in the past. On October 7, 2005, the Governor stopped another Cedillo-sponsored bill that was "similar" to S.B. 60. (Senator Gilbert Cedillo's History of the Driver's License Bill) Schwarzenegger also vetoed a comparable Cedillo bill on September 28, 2006. (Id.)

California stopped issuing driver's licenses to individuals who could not prove legal residency in 1993. A document on Cedillo's website maintains that "persons who can not show proof of legal residency currently drive on [California] roadways without being tested, licensed, or insured." (Senator Gilbert Cedillo's Fact Sheet on S.B. 60) Cedillo's legislation would give the approximately 2.2 million illegal aliens residing in California 18 months after the bill's passage to apply for the 'driving only license.' (S.B. 60) Speaking on S.B. 60, Senator Cedillo told KMPH, "This isn't about immigrants, it's about highway safety." (KMPH, August 31, 2008) However, the bill also contains a provision that prohibits police from arresting or detaining individuals for driving without a license. (S.B. 60, Sec.6(a))
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 The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest. FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest—more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.

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