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US Legislative Immigration Update June 22, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this June 22nd Legislative Weekly…

  • La Raza Demands Obama’s Health Reform Plan Cover Illegal Aliens
  • Democrats on House Approps Committee Kill Another E-Verify Amendment
  • Pressure Mounting on Obama to Extend TPS Status to All Haitians, Including Illegal Aliens
  • Senators introduce Legislation to Weaken Secure Driver’s License Standards

La Raza Demands Obama’s Health Reform Plan Cover Illegal Aliens

On Monday, June 15, the National Council of La Raza (La Raza), an open borders advocacy group, issued a statement calling upon Congress to ensure that illegal aliens are given health benefits if and when Congress considers health care reform.

La Raza’s statement “strongly urge[d] President Obama and Congress to make every effort to ensure that health care reform reaches all communities” in the United States, and stressed that “one out of every three uninsured persons and roughly 40% of all uninsured children [in the United States] are Latino,” and demanded “health care reform that makes coverage affordable and accessible for everyone – all families and all children.” 

La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguía used the statement to emphasize that “everyone in the U.S. should contribute to a new health system,” and that “Latinos [would] accept their responsibility” to contribute to a new health care system and “will pay their fair share for the health coverage they need.”  While the statement does not reference illegal immigration specifically, or distinguish between legal and illegal aliens, it does express concern that adding new, expensive verification and documentation procedures for immigrants would “severely restrict access to health care coverage.”  (La Raza Press Release, June 15, 2009).

Specific research has shown that many illegal aliens lack health insurance and represent a disproportionate share of the United States’ uninsured population.  The Pew Hispanic Center’s recent report, A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States, found that 59% of illegal aliens in the United States had no form of health insurance in 2007, and that 45% of illegal alien children were also without health coverage in 2007.  It also found that even the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens were insured at the low rate of 25%, and that there was a significant disparity between the volume of uninsured illegal aliens and the volume of uninsured U.S. citizens and other legal residents.  (Pew Hispanic Center Report, April 14, 2009). 

Pew’s information has support in federal statistics: data collected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Census Bureau for the same time frame show that approximately 33.2% of the foreign-born population in the United States (a category which does not differentiate between newly naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, and illegal aliens) were uninsured in 2007, and that almost 10 million foreign-born non-citizens lacked health insurance in 2007.  (DHS Fact Sheet, February 2009). 

(For more information on how illegal immigration is financially impacting the U.S. health care system, see FAIR’s Legislative Updates for April 13, 2009, and April 20, 2009).

Democrats on House Approps Committee Kill Another E-Verify Amendment

Last week, during a House Appropriations Committee mark-up for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations spending bill, Committee Democrats rejected an amendment to require federal contractors to use E-Verify if they received federal contracts funded by the bill. (Appropriations Summary).

The week before, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) had offered a similar amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations spending bill.  His amendment was subsequently rejected by the Appropriations Committee. (FAIR’s Legislative Update, June 15, 2009).  This week, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) offered the amendment to the Agriculture Spending bill.  Calvert’s amendment was rejected entirely on a party-line basis with 23 Republicans supporting and 34 Democrats rejecting the amendment.

The Agriculture spending bill spends almost $23 billion in taxpayer dollars.  Over $4 billion dollars alone will be allocated to the Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service, two important organizations in protecting America’s food and drug supply. In addition, the bill provides billions more for programs like the Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and International Food Aid.  The bill will also provide funding for rural development, conservation projects, and oversight and enforcement. 

With so many American jobs and tax dollars at stake, many Americans are frustrated that Congress refuses to demand that federal contractors use E-Verify. (To learn more about E-Verify, see FAIR’s Fact Sheet.). This vote marks the third time in two weeks that Democratic Leadership has rejected amendments requiring federal contractors to use E-Verify.

Pressure Mounting on Obama to Extend TPS Status to All Haitians, Including Illegal Aliens

The Haitian community and other open borders advocates are engaging in a full-court press to have the Obama Administration extend Temporary Protected Status to all Haitians in the United States, including extending legal status to nearly 30,000 illegal aliens, under the premise that environmental and economic conditions in Haiti mandate such a policy. 

Under § 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) may extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to individuals – including illegal aliens – from specific nations if that nation is experiencing conditions that create serious risks to health or safety, including armed conflicts, disasters, or other extraordinary but temporary circumstances.  TPS, by its nature, was never intended to create a permanent immigration status change, but rather only a temporary one, with DHS making the final decision about when TPS ends.  (USCIS Fact Sheet, April 30, 2009).

The Bush Administration rejected appeals by the Haitian government to extend TPS to Haiti as recently as January 2009.  Since then, several members of Congress have continued to seek a reversal of that decision including Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY).  Engel and Meeks have been working with international organizations to lobby for TPS status for Haitians.  Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) has introduced legislation during the 111th Congress that would formalize TPS for Haitians.  Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have also expressed support for the idea. (Washington Times, March 18, 2009; Dominica News Online, May 26, 2009; South Florida Caribbean News, June 19, 2009).

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano had initially rejected the idea of extending TPS to Haitians, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently commented that the Administration is contemplating the idea.  (Associated Press, May 28, 2009). Lobbying groups have seized upon the Obama Administration’s indecision, and have made themselves seen and heard in Washington in an effort to force the change in policy.  (Id.).  These groups include the Haitian Coalition for TPS, the Haitian Citizen United Task Force, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  These groups have reached out to the White House and federal officials to press for the policy shift, arguing that the United States has a humanitarian obligation to do so.  (Dominica News Online, May 26, 2009; South Florida Caribbean News, June 19, 2009).

Advocates for extension of TPS to Haitians point to recent economic and weather-related devastation in the small Caribbean nation as justification for the change in policy.  (Palm Beach Post, May 21, 2009; Miami Herald, May 26, 2009).  AFSC recently declared in a statement that “TPS is the most immediate form of humanitarian assistance the United States government can provide” in light of the current “devastating and overwhelming conditions in Haiti.”  This same AFSC statement stated that it was not unusual for the United States to extend TPS to foreign nationals of countries experiencing “significant hardship and suffering.”  (Id.).

Critics of TPS say that the U.S. government has a poor track record of terminating the temporary status, even long after the original justification for TPS existed and despite conditions having improved in the TPS country.  For instance, TPS was first extended to Salvadoran nationals in March 2001, but since then TPS status has been extended seven times and still remains in effect. Likewise, Honduras was originally designated for TPS status in January 1999 but has since been extended 13 times with TPS still in effect.  Somalia and Sudan were both designated for TPS in the mid-1990s and are still under TPS.  (U.S. House Judiciary Committee Hearing, March 4, 1999; DOJ Virtual Law Library). 

The idea of extending Temporary Protected Status to Haiti raises the concern that such a move would create an unmanageable wave of refugees coming from Haiti to the United States.  In an effort to discourage this possibility, a DHS spokesman said in March: “let me be clear: No one living in Haiti right now should be attempting to come to the United States in hopes that they will be granted TPS.”  (Washington Times, March 18, 2009).  Daniel Erikson, of the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue has said TPS “what Haiti needs most is a long-term nation-building effort, not short-term stop-gap measures [like TPS].”  (Id.).  Erikson also said that: “Granting TPS to Haiti is merely a Band-Aid that cannot heal a deeply wounded country and may raise the risks of a new wave of migration.” (Id.).

Senators introduce Legislation to Weaken Secure Driver’s License Standards

Last week, Senator Daniel Akaka introduced legislation entitled PASS ID (S. 1261), a bill that would gut the REAL ID Act.  Congress passed the REAL ID Act in the wake of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks in order to improve the security of U.S. issued driver’s licenses. (Bill Text).

After the 9/11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission found that lax security standards had enabled the hijackers to obtain “13 driver’s licenses (two of which were duplicates) and 21 USA or state-issued identification cards (usually used for showing residence in the U.S. or a state).”  (9/11 Fact Sheet).

With these findings, the Commission recommended that Congress enact requirements for secure identification, stating: “Secure identification should begin in the United States.  The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses….  At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”  (Commission Report, p. 390).  Congress responded to the Commission’s recommendation by passing the REAL ID Act, a law that takes steps towards a secure form of identification in the United States. 

REAL ID’s provisions include the following: (1) a requirement that individuals present proof of lawful presence when applying for a driver’s license or ID card; (2) a requirement that states “verify” the documents presented by an applicant to prove his or her identity; and (3) a requirement that driver’s licenses expire on the same date as an alien’s immigration status expires.

Since the enactment of REAL ID, however, illegal alien advocates have sought to undo the law in order to allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses.  Akaka’s bill scales back the purposes for which a secure ID will be needed in the U.S., thereby undermining security.  The PASS ID Act also strips the requirement that states “verify” the identification presented, thereby making it easier for illegal aliens, identity thieves and criminals to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses.  Finally, PASS ID also dramatically expands eligibility for persons who may obtain a secure ID.  For example, under the bill, an illegal alien need only file an application for asylum and receive temporary work authorization in order to be eligible for a secure ID.  (Section 242(c)(2)).

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has endorsed the Akaka bill, stating:  “Today’s introduction of Pass ID… in the U.S. Senate brings us closer to greater compliance with federal standards for secure driver’s licenses…. I am committed to supporting this important bill and it is my hope that Congress will pass it into law as quickly as possible.” (DHS Press 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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