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US Legislative Immigration Update March 24, 2009

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March 24, 2009
FAIRUS.org
Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in This March 24th Legislative Weekly...

Calling Enforcement "Un-American", Pelosi Speaks Volumes about the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Immigration Agenda

On Saturday, March 7, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke to a group of legal and illegal aliens, criticizing law enforcement operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as "un-American." (Fox News, March 18, 2009; See Fox News video here). Pelosi made the comments at an event organized by Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) as part of his nationwide tour to promote amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. (See FAIR's Legislative Update, March 2, 2009).

Gutierrez is using his tour to push amnesty, develop a grassroots network, and collect petitions asking President Obama to "stop the immigration raids and [end] deportations...." (Fox News, March 18, 2009). Both Gutierrez' and Pelosi's support for ending the enforcement of immigration laws comes as the unemployment rate for American citizens and legal immigrants continues to climb, with the most recent numbers putting the rate at more than eight percent. (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

While Pelosi's comments sparked outrage from many Americans, her comments are entirely consistent with the steps Congress and the Obama Administration have already taken, many unnoticed by the media, to dismantle some of the most successful immigration enforcement programs. These actions include:

Meanwhile, on the legislative front, the Obama Administration is signaling its willingness to move amnesty legislation forward this fall, a commitment that was reinforced during a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. CQ Today reports that the failed legislation from 2007 is expected to serve as the "blueprint." (CQ Today, March 19, 2009). The biggest issue left unresolved, according to Frank Sharry, head of the amnesty advocacy group "America's Voice", is what kind of guest worker programs will enable more foreign workers to enter the country in future years. (Id).

The exact timing of amnesty legislation still is uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated legislation will be debated on the Senate floor this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has wavered in suggesting a timeline for House debate. (Id).

Polls Reaffirm Americans Support Immigration Enforcement

Three polls released last week by Rasmussen Reports reaffirm what true immigration reformers have known for years: the American public overwhelmingly supports enhanced border security and strengthened interior enforcement of our immigration laws.  The results of these polls further undermine the arguments of amnesty advocates who claim that the American people want "comprehensive" immigration reform.    

The first Rasmussen poll, released March 16th, focused on border security.  According to the poll, 79% of voters support using troops on the U.S.-Mexico border to protect Americans from drug-related violence.  The 79% figure marked a 21% jump in support for the use of the U.S. military along the border in just two months.  Only 10% of U.S. voters oppose putting U.S. troops on the border to fight drug violence, while 11% say they are unsure.  Strong support for placing U.S. troops on the border may stem from the fact that 82% of U.S. voters are concerned that Mexican drug violence will spill over into the United States, including 50% who say that they are very concerned.  The poll also found that more than six in ten Americans say that the Department of Homeland Security should continue to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Rasmussen Reports, March 16, 2009).  The release of the poll came just days after President Obama and other members of his administration expressed reluctance to deploy members of the National Guard to the border.  (See FAIR's Legislative Update, March 16, 2009).

The second Rasmussen poll, released March 17, highlighted strong support for local law enforcement of immigration laws. According to the poll, 73% of voters say that police officers should automatically check to see if someone is in the country legally when the officer pulls that person over for a traffic violation, while only 21% disagree.  Furthermore, 67% of voters say that if law enforcement officers know of places where immigrants gather to find work, they should conduct surprise raids to identify and deport illegal aliens.  (Rasmussen Reports, March 17, 2009).  The poll's findings came less than two weeks after House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) questioned the success of the 287(g) program - which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enter into agreements to train state and local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.  (See FAIR's Legislative Update, March 9, 2009).

A third Rasmussen poll, released March 18, shows that nearly seven in ten voters support strict government sanctions on employers who hire illegal aliens.  Only 22% say that employers should not be punished, while another 10% are not sure.  Nearly half of U.S. voters support sanctions for landlords who rent or sell property to illegal aliens, while 36% are opposed to such penalties. (Rasmussen Reports, March 18, 2009).  These findings came just eight days after the Senate voted to kill an amendment offered by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to the $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill (H.R. 1105) that would have reauthorized the E-Verify program - which prevents employers from hiring illegal aliens in the first place - through September 2014. (See FAIR's Action Alert, March 10, 2009).

Nations Around the World Look to Reduce Immigration Levels and Target Illegal Immmigration

The United States is not the only nation that is focused on immigration reform these days.  Nations around the world have been reducing immigration levels, adopting zero-tolerance approaches toward illegal immigration, increasing enforcement measures, and introducing tougher penalties for supporters of illegal immigration.

The European Union has taken the lead in battling illegal immigration, proposing, for example, an array of stringent civil and criminal sanctions for European employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  (European Parliament Website, February 19, 2009).  The EU's new sanctions coincide with an uptick in national and local enforcement efforts, which are aimed at curtailing the growing problem of immigrant smuggling.  (Adnkronos International, March 18, 2009).  The illegal immigration problem in continental Europe has pushed EU member nations, such as Spain, to pay the travel costs and provide other financial incentives to encourage illegal immigrants within their borders to return to their points of origin.  (Spiegel Online International, March 18, 2009). 

Beyond the EU, Great Britain - which has witnessed its own substantial influx of Indian, Irish, and Polish immigrants in recent years - has instituted a so-called migrant tax, which charges foreign workers and students originating from outside of the European Union fees of £50 (50 British Pounds) in order to offset the economic impact of mass immigration on the nation's domestic social services.  (Telegraph, March 15, 2009; and Spiegel Online International, Chart: "Europe's Migrant Workers").  Australia's Immigration Ministry has also recently announced plans to curtail the number of immigrants it will allow into the country by approximately 14 percent, largely in an attempt to reduce the number of immigrants who would be able to compete with native Australians for employment.  (The Straits Times, March 16, 2009).

These policy developments reflect recent polling data analyzing Europeans' understanding of how illegal immigrant populations have impacted unemployment and their nation's economic health.  A February-March 2009 Financial Times/Harris Interactive online poll that questioned thousands of adults throughout France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States about illegal immigration found that "more than three-quarters of Italians and Britons and a majority in France, Germany, Spain and the United States would support their governments asking [illegal] immigrants to leave," particularly in situations where these illegal immigrants were unemployed and utilizing social services.  Recent public opinion demonstrates increasing anxiety about unemployment at home and its impact on the global economy, and also mirrors previous polling data that demonstrates consistent majorities opposing lax immigration policies that encourage illegal immigration.  (Financial Times, March 16, 2009; and Harris Interactive Polling, December 19, 2007).

Many Big Businesses Begin the Process of Replacing Fired American Workers with Foreign H-1B Workers

In the midst of a global recession and a slumping economy, with an unemployment rate at 8.1%, the American people expect that U.S. companies would fill any job vacancies by hiring American citizens. According to Fox News, that is not what many American companies are planning to do.  Companies like Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM - who have already laid-off thousands of American workers - "will begin applying for the right to hire foreign workers on April 1" by applying for H-1B workers.  (Fox News, March 19, 2009).

On April 1, the U.S. government will begin to accept applications for 65,000 H-1B visas that will become available for American companies to hire foreign workers. According to the eligibility requirements, the worker must have attained the equivalent of at least a bachelor's degree to fill a vacancy in a "specialty" occupation.  Another 60,000 visas will be made available for several exempted occupational categories. In recent years, all 65,000 nonexempt H-1B visas have been claimed within 48 hours of being made available. (USCIS Update, March 20, 2009).

Undoubtedly, these companies will make the argument that H-1B visa recipients are "high-tech workers" who represent the "best and brightest" from around the world.  However, USCIS data show that nearly half of H-1B recipients hold only a bachelor's degree - an achievement to be sure, but one many Americans possess as well. In addition, the same data shows that H-1B visas are frequently issued to import workers who do not possess any high-tech skills. (USCIS Report on H-1B Petitions, Fiscal Year 2006 Annual Report).  Finally, several sources - including a May 2008 study by H-1B expert Dr. Norman Matloff - demonstrate that the companies that hire these foreign workers do not pay the workers premium wages which suggests that the workers are no better qualified than their American counterparts. (Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, May 2008).
 
Another issue that warrants consideration in the H-1B debate is the fact that the program is susceptible to fraud.  In September 2008, USCIS released the findings of a "Benefit, Fraud & Compliance Assessment" of the H-1B program. In studying a sample of 246 H-1B visa petitions, USCIS found 51 cases that contained at least one instance of fraud or "technical violations" - an overall violation rate of 20.7%.  The study also documented several types of H-1B program abuse found in the sample, including petitions containing fake or forged documentation; willful misrepresentation of H-1B status; instances where supposed business locations were nonexistent; and employers who never intended for the beneficiary to fill the actual position offered. In one of these cases, an employer petitioned for an H-1B worker to fill a business development analyst position.  When USCIS reviewed this case, however, "the petitioner stated the H-1B beneficiary would be working in a laundromat doing laundry and maintaining washing machines." (USCIS H-1B Benefit Fraud and Compliance Assessment, September 2008).

Texas Attorney General Boosts Efforts to Repeal Sanctuary City Laws

On Thursday, March 19, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an advisory opinion in which he stated that state legislation aimed at preventing local governments from establishing so-called sanctuary laws or policies would be constitutional and within the bounds of federal law.  Abbott's opinion, which responded to an inquiry made by Texas Representative Frank J. Corte, Jr. (Letter from Texas Rep. Frank J. Corte, Jr., August 6, 2008), found that state and local governments were essentially forbidden under both the U.S. Constitution and federal law from obstructing federal immigration policy.  Abbott emphasized that rules intended to prevent cooperation with federal enforcement efforts - such as sanctuary policies designed to conceal illegal aliens or prevent illegal aliens from having their status reported to federal immigration authorities - stand in the way of federal enforcement efforts and were therefore impermissible.  (Attorney General Opinion, March 19, 2009).

Abbott's decision comes at a crucial time for Texas and other states.  In Texas, there has been increasing frustration with the sanctuary policies of several major cities, including Houston, where Mayor Bill White's sanctuary policies have been implicated in the recent shooting of a Houston police officer by an illegal alien who had three prior drug arrests.  (Houston Chronicle, March 10, 2009; and Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2009).  At the national level, state and local officials are increasingly concerned about the Obama Administration's active efforts to prevent state and local governments from pursuing immigration violators under the federal 287(g) program, which provides a framework for state and local law enforcement to turn over apprehended immigration violators to federal authorities for removal.  The Administration has not only stated that it is reviewing how the 287(g) program is applied, but is also supporting efforts to investigate state and local law enforcement figures, such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in Arizona, who have used the program effectively.  (The New York Times, March 3, 2009; and The Arizona Republic, March 20, 2009).  This opinion comes on the heels of a separate opinion issued last month in which Texas' A.G. determined that legislation suspending the business license of employers that hire illegal aliens would be constitutional.  (Attorney General Opinion GA-6095, February 26, 2009).  
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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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