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US Legislative Immigration Update February 17, 2009


February 17, 2009
Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform In This February 17th Legislative Weekly...  
  • Congressional Leadership Strips E-Verify from Stimulus Bill
  • H-1B Amendment Survives Conference Committee
  • As Border Violence Escalates, Phoenix Ranks Second in the World in Kidnappings
  • Conflicting Reports on Border Fence
Congressional Leadership Strips E-Verify from Stimulus Bill

Congressional Leaders have stripped the E-Verify provisions from the stimulus.  Last Friday, the House passed the final version vote of the nearly $1.1 trillion spending bill (H.R.1) by a vote of  246 to 183 and the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 60 to 38.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law later today.  (Tuesday, February 17, 2009).

Congress stripped the critical E-Verify programs from the bill, which is now scheduled to expire on March 6th, after bowing to pressure from the open-borders lobby and big business interests.  (Computerworld, February 13, 2009).  On the day the final version of the bill passed the Senate, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) made a speech on the Senate floor in which he referenced Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) E-Verify amendment. (Learn more about Senator Sessions' amendment).  Sen. Dodd voiced his support for E-Verify and then reassured Senator Sessions that Senate Democrats intended to take up a Continuing Resolution in the next few weeks which would not only fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2009) but also include just a seven month E-Verify extension.

As a result of this Congressional action, true immigration reformers are now questioning whether the Congressional Leadership has decided to hold the reauthorization of E-Verify hostage to leverage the program as a bargaining chip to try to pass "comprehensive immigration reform."  (Right Side News, February 13, 2009).

H-1B Amendment Survives Conference Committee

An H-1B-related amendment offered by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) to the economic stimulus package has survived the reconciliation process between the House and Senate and will be part of the final bill signed by President Obama.  Entitled the "Employ American Workers Act," the Sanders-Grassley Amendment sought to limit entities who receive funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) - established by last year's $700 billion financial services sector bailout legislation - from displacing U.S. citizen workers. (CongressDaily, February 13, 2009). 

The original text of the amendment as it was printed in the Congressional Record on February 4th would have barred any recipient of TARP funding from hiring any H-1B workers. (Congressional Record, S1590).  As modified, however, a caveat was added to the Grassley-Sanders Amendment which watered down the amendment substantially.  (Congressional Record, S1669 & S1803).  The modified amendment was eventually adopted by voice vote. As modified, this language "isn't as tough as the one Senator Grassley originally proposed... [but instead the] modified amendment... makes TARP recipients jump through extra hoops before they can hire those foreign workers."  (BusinessWeek, February 13, 2009).

As Border Violence Escalates, Phoenix Ranks Second in the World in Kidnappings

ABC News reported last week that "Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City."  The report revealed that more than 370 kidnappings have occurred in Phoenix in the last year alone. Many of these kidnappings are connected to Mexico's drug cartels whose criminal activities have spilled over the U.S.-Mexico border.  ABC News found in its investigation "horrific cases of chopped-off hands, legs and heads when a victim's family doesn't pay up fast enough."  (ABC News, February 11, 2009; See also Yahoo News Video, February 11, 2009).

The ABC News investigation came on the heels of reports of gun battles near the U.S.-Mexico border between Mexican soldiers and drug cartel hitmen that killed 21 people.  News reports indicate that drug cartel members kidnapped nine people - including some police officers - and shot six of them at a ranch in northern Mexico early last Tuesday morning.  Mexican soldiers raided the ranch and killed several of the hitmen and later killed more cartel members after chasing them by helicopter.  More than 5,700 people were killed in Mexico last year as a result of drug-related violence.  Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Thomas Schweich commented on the recent violence, saying, "We really underestimate the risk in the United States from drug cartel violence spilling over the border and the risk that Mexico becomes a route for anti-U.S. extremists."  (Yahoo News, February 10, 2009).

Conflicting Reports on Border Fence

As violence along the Mexican border escalates, it remains unclear how much longer Americans must wait for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to complete construction of the fence along the Southern border.  While DHS reported in mid-January that construction of the 700-mile fence was nearly 90 percent completed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the non-partisan watchdog agency for Congress, reported that construction of only 32 miles of new double-layer fencing had been completed.  (GAO Report, January 29, 2009). The discrepancy stems from the differences in how DHS and GAO determine what constitutes completed fencing.  The Secure Fence Act of 2006 originally required DHS to build 700 miles of double-layer fencing along the border.  In 2007, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) later amended the law to allow DHS to use discretion to choose other forms of less secure fencing including single-layer fencing or vehicle barriers. (CNSNews, December 18, 2008 and CNSNews, February 12, 2009).

While it is unclear when this border security effort will be completed, it remains clear that the situation on the border remains tenuous at best and violent at worst.  According to a GAO report, "Much of the United States' 6,000 miles of international borders with Canada and Mexico remains vulnerable to illegal entry of aliens, criminals, and cargo."  (GAO).  Additionally, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told senators during her confirmation hearing that the border fence is a necessary component of an overall border security plan as "it helps prevent those who are crossing illegally from blending immediately into a town population." (Star Tribune, January 27, 2009).

Despite the nation's vulnerability along the Southern border, some Democrats in Congress sent a letter to the president last week asking him to delay further construction of the border fence.  In the letter, the Representatives explain "the border fence is an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross border relationships."  (Rep. Ortiz News Release).
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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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