Written by FAIR
Last Tuesday, a new Congress was convened and the newly elected Senators and Congressmen took their oaths of office. While more change is yet to come in Washington this year, there are some things that don't seem to change at all. One example of this involves "the first ten bills" (S. 1 through S. 10) that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced at the beginning of the new Congress. These bills signal the Democratic majority's agenda for the 111th Congress. Among the Democrat's priorities is S. 9, the "Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009," a bill that is just two pages long but which is a symbolic placeholder for so-called "comprehensive" immigration legislation for the new Congress. The bill's language indicates Senate Democrats' continued support for amnesty by, among other things, "reforming and rationalizing" avenues for immigration. (S. 9, January 6, 2009).
One day after this legislation was introduced, Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference to discuss their priorities. Alluding to S. 9, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, "Democrats will strengthen our economy and national security by enacting and enforcing tough and fair immigration laws." (Congressional Quarterly Transcript, January 7, 2009). Durbin added that immigration reform "is badly needed to safeguard the rights and wages of American workers, while requiring everyone who lives in America to follow our laws and pay their fair share of taxes." (Id.).
Even though Congress has not yet scheduled a time for debate of "comprehensive" reform, supporters participated in a conference call last week Thursday to discuss strategy. Following the call, key leaders were quoted as tying amnesty to economic recovery and efforts to stimulate the economy. For example, John Wilhelm, President of Unite Here's hospitality-industry division said: "Immigration reform is a necessity in order to fix the American economy." (LA Times, January 9, 2009). Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney made similar comments stating that "Immigrants must be brought out of the shadows so they can fully contribute to our nation's future economic and social well-being." (Id.).
New Congress, Administration Look to Expand Health Insurance for Low-Income Immigrants
According to recent reports, the Democratic leadership in the new Congress may make immigrants immediately eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) program when Congress reauthorizes it later this year. (Associated Press, January 8, 2009). SCHIP is primarily designed to provide health insurance to children from families of modest means which earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Current law precludes many legal immigrants from qualifying for SCHIP until they have been in the United States for at least 5 years. Although there is currently no text available for the SCHIP legislation, reports indicate that the legislation may include a provision allowing states to cover immigrants without regard to the current waiting period.
The current 5 year waiting period was put in place when President Bill Clinton signed "The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act" (IIRAIRA) into law in 1996. (Public Law 104-863). A major purpose of that law was to reform public assistance programs, such as welfare, Medicaid and other health insurance programs, by making many legal immigrants ineligible for these programs until the immigrant had been in the United States for 5 years. In an effort to prevent immigrants from becoming dependent on public benefits, IIRAIRA required many individuals who sponsor an immigrant to sign a legally binding Affidavit of Support proving that the sponsor has sufficient financial resources to prevent the immigrant from becoming a public charge. In signing the affidavit, the sponsor swears that he will "deposit a bond, if necessary, to guarantee that such person(s) will not become a public charge during his or her stay in the United States." (I-864 - Affidavit of Support). Despite these reforms, all too often American taxpayers, instead of the immigrant's sponsor, still end up paying for the cost of public benefits for many immigrants, including healthcare for immigrant children. (See Immigration and Welfare).
According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, "In 2004, 22 states and the District of Columbia used state funds to provide coverage to some immigrants ineligible for Medicaid and SCHIP." (Medicaid and SCHIP Eligibility for Immigrants). This data suggests that the sponsorship laws are not being properly enforced by either the federal government or state agencies.
Bush Administration Caves into Pressure and Delays E-Verify Regulation for Federal Contractors
Last week, the Bush Administration announced its intent to postpone a new regulation set to go into effect January 15th that would have required virtually all federal contractors to use E-Verify, the voluntary program run by the Department of Homeland Security that helps employers verify the work authorization of employees. (The Hill, January 9, 2009). Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff first announced the E-Verify regulation August 10, 2008, stating he wanted the government to "lead by example." (Remarks by Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, August 10, 2008). The move was hailed by true immigration reformers as a significant step towards curbing the employment of illegal aliens and reducing the taxpayer subsidy of illegal immigration.
However, as the effective date neared in late December , a coalition of special interest groups filed a lawsuit to block the rule from taking effect as scheduled. The plaintiffs included various organizations that have routinely sought to impede interior enforcement of our immigration laws, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.; the Society for Human Resource Management; the American Council on International Personnel; and the HR Policy Association. (To read more about this lawsuit, read FAIR's Legislative Update).
In the face of this lawsuit, Homeland Security announced it will postpone the effective date of these new regulations to February 20, 2009. A DHS Spokesman said the Department did not think the Chamber of Commerce and others would prevail with their lawsuit, and said "[the] pause merely allows litigants the opportunity to make their case before a judge, and prevents parties opposed to the rule from additional stalling through litigation." (The Hill, January 9, 2009). More than 100,000 employers are already using E-Verify, with an estimated 1,000 new employers signing up each week.
President-Elect Obama, Mexican President Calderon Meet in Washington, DC
Today, Mexican President Calderon arrived in Washington, DC for a meeting with President-Elect Barack Obama at the Mexican Cultural Institute. According to press accounts, the meeting between the two leaders - considered a tradition upon the election of a new U.S. President - is intended to stress the important relationship between the two countries. (New York Times, January 12, 2009).
While the escalating violence among drug traffickers along the U.S.-Mexico border was anticipated to take center stage, the New York Times reports that the two leaders also discussed trade, border security, and immigration. (Id.) In a statement released Sunday, President Calderon said he will press for "better conditions for Mexicans in the United States, based on respect for their rights," and may express concerns over worksite enforcement actions. (Associated Press, January 11, 2009).