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US Legislative Immigration Update June 15, 2009

June 16, 2009
by FAIRUS.org

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this June 15th Legislative Weekly…

  • House Committee Rejects Long-Term E-Verify Extension, Other Immigration Amendments
  • U.S.-Mexico Border Fence Faces Yet Another Hurdle
  • DHS Suspends Provision Designed to Prevent Marriage Fraud
  • Governor Schwarzenegger “Happy” Illegal Aliens Receive Taxpayer-Funded Benefits

House Committee Rejects Long-Term E-Verify Extension, Other Immigration Amendments

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a two-year extension of E-Verify as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations spending bill.  The Committee also rejected several important immigration amendments on a party line basis.
 
First, the Appropriations Committee considered the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. This bill funds several important Department of Justice programs, including the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), a program that provides partial reimbursement to states for costs incurred incarcerating illegal aliens.  Unfortunately, Congressional leadership proposed cutting SCAAP funding by $100 million for the coming year.
 
To restore the widely supported program to last year’s level, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) offered an amendment to shift $100 million from the Census Bureau to SCAAP, explaining that the Census Bureau had received $1 billion of unrequested funding from the stimulus bill.  Representatives Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV) and Mike Honda (D-CA) urged their colleagues to vote against the Calvert Amendment, and it was ultimately defeated on a party line vote, 21-30. (House Appropriations Committee Markup Transcript, June 9, 2009).

The House Appropriations Committee also considered the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security and rejected two important immigration enforcement amendments:

” Representative Calvert attempted to attach an amendment to the bill that would have permanently authorized E-Verify – the electronically operated system that allows employers to quickly and easily check the work authorization status of their new hires. Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-NC) and Full Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) spoke in opposition to the amendment, with Price pointing out that the bill included a short, two-year E-Verify reauthorization. Following the remarks by Price and Obey, the amendment was defeated by a 21-36 vote.

” Immediately following the rejection of the Calvert Amendment, Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) offered an amendment that would have required companies who contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use E-Verify.  Rep. Price again spoke against this amendment as well, and it was ultimately defeated on a 23-35 vote.

Finally, the Appropriations Committee considered the Legislative Branch spending bill.  Congressman Kingston attempted to attach a similar E-Verify amendment to this bill, requiring contractors who do business with the U.S. Congress to use E-Verify. This time, Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) opposed the amendment. The Appropriations Committee rejected the Kingston language by a voice vote. (House Appropriations Committee Markup Transcript, June 12, 2009).

By the end of the week the Appropriations Committee voted to pass all three FY2010 spending bills. These measures are scheduled for consideration before the full House of Representatives later this month. (Tentative House Appropriations Committee Markup Schedule for FY2010 Bills, June 9, 2009).

U.S.-Mexico Border Fence Faces Yet Another Hurdle

In May, a federal judge suspended the government’s possession of several pieces of farmland needed to complete a 13-mile long segment of the U.S.-Mexico border fence east of Brownsville, Texas. (Associated Press, June 10, 2009).  According to the AP, the 13-mile stretch is the “biggest unfinished segment” of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
 
The Secure Fence Act originally called for nearly 700 miles of double-layered fencing.  The law directed the federal government to complete “at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing” along a total of about 670 miles of the U.S-Mexico border before the end of 2008. (Secure Fence Act of 2006).  But Congress later watered down that requirement allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to instead use its discretion to erect vehicle barriers in lieu of actual fencing and gutted the 2 layer reinforced fencing requirement. (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, December 26, 2007).
 
DHS has encountered a myriad of legal problems in attempting to complete the fence. Landowners have raised questions as to what property the federal government must take to complete the fence, as well as to how they will access land stranded between the fence and the U.S.-Mexico border. Until recently, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen had assumed that the fence would include gates to allow access to landowners’ property on the other side. Lawyers representing concerned landowners, however, have recently suggested that the government could someday remove the gates. Hanen responded by issuing the suspension of the government’s ownership of the land, and asking government lawyers to provide a plan detailing how landowners will be able to access the property on the other side of the fence. (Id.).

DHS Suspends Provision Designed to Prevent Marriage Fraud

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last Tuesday, June 9 that it was delaying for two years the enforcement of a rule designed to prevent marriage fraud.  (DHS Press Release, June 9, 2009).  Under current law, a citizen may petition for a green card on behalf of his or her alien spouse.  In cases where the citizen and the alien have been married for less than two years, the alien is issued a “conditional” green card for a period of two years.  If the citizen-spouse dies before the couple has been married for two years, the alien, and the alien’s minor children are subject to removal.  According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the “conditional” status is designed to make sure that an immigrant can “prove that [they] did not get married [fraudulently] to evade the immigration laws of the United States.”  (USCIS website).  According to another source, “The only way Congress could figure out how to detect potentially fraudulent marriages was to put a two year limit on green cards issued to spouses in marriages that were less than two years old.”  (Heather Poole, PC).
 
The new DHS policy seeks to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting the alien spouse (and minor children), even though they no longer have a living sponsor who is an American citizen or familial ties to the U.S.  Estimates suggest that the impact of the new directive will be relatively small; however, these estimates do not take into account the additional impact of so-called “chain-migration” as a result of the widowed alien eventually being permitted to petition for his or her relatives to come to the United States.  (The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2009).

Last week’s announcement raises questions as to whether Congress will pursue legislation to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit surviving spouses to remain indefinitely in the U.S. after the citizen spouse dies in order to seek a green card. (DHS Press Release, June 9, 2009). Legislation such as this was considered in the previous Congress. (See House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Markup and H.R. 6034 Legislative Text).  Immigration attorney and Bender’s Immigration Bulletin editor Dan Kowalski told The Wall Street Journal that the new directive “hedges [President] Obama’s bets: If comprehensive [immigration] reform advances, this will help pave the way.  If not, at least he can say he tried.” (The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2009).

Governor Schwarzenegger “Happy” Illegal Aliens Receive Taxpayer-Funded Benefits

Last week, in an interview with the Sacramento Bee, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected the idea that taxpayer funded benefits for illegal aliens played a significant role in the state’s budget deficit. (Sacramento Bee Video).  The governor claimed that illegal aliens were being used as a “scapegoat” for the state’s more fundamental problems and went so far as to praise the benefits that illegal immigrants bring to the state. (San Francisco Chronicle). 

Many states around the country are facing tough economic times, but California’s budget picture is particularly grim.  California is currently facing an estimated $24 billion budget deficit, one of the largest the state has ever seen.  (Sacramento Bee, June 12, 2009).  As the state government grapples with trying to balance its budget, taxpayers have pointed to reducing services to illegal aliens as a possible subject of reform and source for budget savings. 

In a study on the impact of illegal immigration on the state of California done by FAIR in 2004, the estimated population of 2.8 million illegal immigrants then living in California cost the state’s taxpayers an estimated $10.54 billion a year, nearly half of the current budget deficit.  (FAIR’s Cost Study of Illegal Immigration to California, 2004).  This amount has only increased as the illegal immigrant population is now estimated to be 3.2 million, a 10% increase above the 2004 estimate.  (See FAIR Media Press Release).  California taxpayers pay for a variety of services for illegal aliens including social services such as education, medical care, and incarceration of criminal aliens. 

During his interview with the Sacramento Bee, Governor Schwarzenegger claimed that taxpayers had to foot the bill of these services due to federal mandates.  The governor was, at best, only partially correct in his claim.  California has made the decision to provide benefits to illegal aliens above and beyond what is required by federal mandates.  These policy choices have contributed greatly to California’s widening budget deficit and have also made California an enticing destination for illegal immigrants.

For example, according to the RAND Corporation and the Pew Foundation respectively, somewhere between 59% and 68% of the 3.2 million illegal aliens in California lack health insurance.  (Pew, RAND).  This has placed a huge strain on the health care system in California.  (See “California Health Care Guide“).  In addition, according to one analysis, California is spending billions of dollars on health care for illegal aliens including $775 million on Medi-Cal, $536 million for emergency services, and $59 million for prenatal care (not including $108 million for new-born deliveries as the newborns are citizens). (LA Times).

In addition, California taxpayers are also subsidizing the cost of college for illegal aliens who are allowed to pay the in-state tuition at California’s public universities, while United States citizens from other states are forced to pay the higher out-of-state tuition rate.  This form of discrimination violates federal law and is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI).  (Martinez vs. Board of Regents).  Legislation has been introduced in Congress (the DREAM Act) that would legalize the practice of discriminating against American citizens by giving tuition breaks to illegal aliens that are not also available to all citizens.  (FAIR legislative analysis of the Dream Act). 

California residents recently defeated a series of measures in a special election that would have increased taxes to balance the budget.  Following this defeat, Governor Schwarzenegger declared that the only other option will be to cut funding for certain services.  Instead of continuing to underestimate the cost illegal immigration has played in his state’s budget crisis, the governor should prioritize the needs of California residents who are citizens by cutting benefits to illegal aliens.

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