Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this July 27, 2009 Legislative Weekly…
- House Committee Rejects Closing Health Coverage Loophole for Illegal Aliens
- SAVE Act Reintroduced in House and Senate
- Amnesty Supporters Criticize E-Verify in Senate and House Subcommittee Hearings
- Frontline Law Enforcement Officer Criticizes New 287(g) Agreements
- Phoenix Meeting of Law Enforcement Officials Concludes With Call for Amnesty
House Committee Rejects Closing Health Coverage Loophole for Illegal Aliens
During consideration of the health care reform bill (H.R. 3200), the House Ways & Means Committee rejected an amendment that would have helped ensure illegal aliens would not receive taxpayer-funded health care benefits.
The amendment, offered by Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV), would have required the government to verify that enrollees in the “public plan” and applicants for “affordability credits” are not illegal aliens. Eligibility verification would have been determined by using existing databases – the Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS) and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. (Congressional Quarterly, July 16, 2009; See also FAIR’s Press Release, July 22, 2009). The Heller amendment would have addressed many of the same concerns that FAIR raised last week about whether illegal aliens would be able to receive taxpayer-funded health care benefits. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 20, 2009). Speaking in support of his amendment, Congressman Heller stated: “Requiring citizenship verification for enrollment would ensure only citizens and legal residents receive taxpayer funded healthcare.” (Representative Heller’s Press Release, July 16, 2009).
Opponents suggested that Heller’s amendment was unnecessary because Section 246 of the bill states: “Nothing … shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” (Legislative Text, Section 246). Critics of this language correctly point out that: (1) Section 246 only applies to affordability credits, which are the subsidies to help people pay for enrolling in a private health insurance plan, but will not prevent illegal aliens from enrolling in the government-run, taxpayer financed public option health plan; and (2) with respect to enrollment in private health insurance plans, Section 246 does not contain any meaningful verification procedures to ensure that illegal aliens do not receive subsidies paid for by American taxpayers. Accordingly, although the bill contains a provision limiting eligibility for the affordability credit to those legally present, it is limited in scope and virtually meaningless in effect. Unfortunately, despite the merits of the Heller Amendment, the House Ways and Means Committee rejected it on a party-line vote, with 15 Republicans supporting and 26 Democrats opposing the amendment. (For a list of the members opposing the Heller Amendment, see FAIR’s Action Alert).
This may be exactly what the illegal alien lobby is looking for. In late June, the National Council of La Raza issued a statement demanding that Congress give illegal aliens taxpayer-funded health care under this bill. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, June 22, 2009). This week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) also urged Speaker Pelosi to ensure that illegal aliens are covered by the health care reform bill. (Roll Call, July 24, 2009). According to a CHC member, the organization’s leaders are not asking Speaker Pelosi to “specifically spell something out” in the bill, but instead to seek to ensure that the bill does not actually prohibit illegal aliens from receiving benefits. “We’re pushing to include everyone in the health care bill. Everyone,” the CHC member who asked not to be identified said. “Sometimes if you don’t say something, something happens.” (Id.).
The health care legislation is now expected to move to the House Energy and Commerce Committee before it moves to the full House of Representatives.
SAVE Act Reintroduced in House and Senate
Last week, the “Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act” (SAVE Act) was reintroduced in both the House of Representatives by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) (H.R.3308) and in the Senate by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) (S.1505). The SAVE Act would take a significant step towards true immigration reform by securing America’s borders with fencing and technology, ending unlawful employment by imposing tougher employment verification standards on employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, and enhancing current interior enforcement. (See: Sen. Pryor’s Press Release, July 23, 2009).
In particular, the SAVE Act would enhance security at the nation’s borders by:
- Increasing the number of Border Patrol agents;
- Creating financial incentives to help recruit Border Patrol agents and emphasize the recruitment of former members of the Armed Services and Reserves; and
- Creating a pilot program to increase aerial surveillance, satellite, and equipment sharing between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense.
The SAVE Act would improve worksite enforcement by:
- Expanding the E-Verify program and making it mandatory for all employers;
- Increasing monitoring of compliance by E-Verify users to ensure that employers are utilizing the system properly and in accordance with all laws and regulations;
- Requiring notification of individuals whose Social Security Numbers (SSNs) may have been stolen and are being fraudulently used;
- Providing the public information on how to report SSN theft and misuse and requiring that information on unresolved cases be shared with DHS; and
- Requiring information sharing between DHS, the Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service.
The SAVE Act would also improve interior enforcement by:
- Increasing investigative abilities of ICE by employing more agents and making grants available to certain local law enforcement agencies and
- Expediting the processing and removal of illegal aliens by expanding detention capacity and increasing the number of Immigration Judges.
Despite bipartisan support for Rep. Shuler’s SAVE Act in the last Congress (H.R.4088), Democratic Leadership stalled movement of the legislation by burying the bill in eight House committees. Then-Rep. Thelma Drake (R-VA) introduced a discharge petition in an effort to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote, but was unable to garner enough signatures to accomplish that objective. Prospects are unclear as to whether Democratic Leadership intends to move the SAVE Act in this Congress.
Amnesty Supporters Criticize E-Verify in Senate and House Subcommittee Hearings
Last week, E-Verify – the electronic employee verification system that allows employers to verify the work eligibility of their employees – was the topic at both Senate and House subcommittee hearings.
(See FAIR’s E-Verify Backgrounder). The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Government Management, Organization, and Procurement Subcommittee heard from witnesses about the program.
Despite the great strides that E-Verify has made since its inception in 1996 and its great popularity, some in Congress still question its effectiveness. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, presented harsh criticism of E-Verify, calling the program “half-hearted and flawed.” Sen. Schumer and other members of the subcommittee expressed concern about what they say is an inability of the system to detect document fraud and identity theft.
Senator Schumer did not mention the vast amount of fraud the program can detect when illegal aliens attempt to gain employment by providing invalid Social Security numbers. In fact, although the program reduces an employer’s dependence on screening an identification document, Sen. Schumer incorrectly stated that the current system “require[s] employers to make subjective determinations about an employee’s identity or legal status.”
In order for Congress to move forward with a large-scale amnesty bill, Schumer proposed that his subcommittee look into incorporating “non-forgeable” biometric data into E-Verify. The Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), largely agreed with Sen. Schumer, while Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) expressed apprehension with the proposed biometric system. Sen. Sessions expressed satisfaction with E-Verify and the improvements that the system has made, stating that he is “baffled by people who don’t use it.”
(Senate Immigration Subcommittee Hearing, July 21, 2009).
Long-time amnesty advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) testified at the Senate hearing that mandatory employee verification alone will not fix our broken immigration system because “undocumented workers are already an integral part of our country, economy, communities and families.” Rep. Gutierrez spoke in support of the biometric-based employment verification system proposed by fellow amnesty proponent, Sen. Schumer. (Testimony of Luis Gutierrez, July 21, 2009).
Among the second panel of witnesses, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Deputy Director Michael Aytes noted the steps his agency is taking to strengthen the program, including:
- Increased oversight (including monitoring and compliance);
- The recent addition of passport information to the system; and
- Looking at working with states to incorporate the use of driver’s licenses into an E-Verify accessible database. (Testimony of Michael Aytes, July 21, 2009).
Former Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) Commissioner James Ziglar recommended incorporating biometric components into E-Verify, but warned against “scrapping the present system and all of the hard work that has been done to date”
(Testimony of James Ziglar, July 21, 2009). Ziglar admitted that it would be costly and time consuming to incorporate biometrics into E-Verify, but former USCIS Chief Counsel Lynden Melmed argued that “the cost of not doing it is too significant… it is a question of how to pay for it.” (Senate Immigration Subcommittee Hearing, July 21, 2009).
On the House side, Members of the Government Management, Organization, and Procurement Subcommittee expressed a different set of concerns. With the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) recent announcement that it intends to finally implement a Bush-era regulation to require most federal contractors to use E-Verify (DHS Press Release, July 8, 2009), some subcommittee members expressed concern that USCIS would not be able to handle the surge of new activity. However, the Deputy Associate Director of the National Security and Records Verification Directorate within USCIS, Gerri Ratliff, assured the subcommittee that the system can handle the additional workload.
At the House hearing, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) suggested that the government should charge employers for using E-Verify. (House Government Management, Organization, and Procurement Subcommittee Hearing, July 23, 2009). Such an idea is unwise and overlooks several key points. First, the federal government is responsible for securing our borders and enforcing immigration laws. E-Verify relies on employers’ voluntary use of the program to further a federal government responsibility. It is important that the federal government take responsibility for the cost of enforcement rather than pass that cost on to patriotic employers who are currently using the system. Second, America is suffering from a jobs deficit. E-Verify makes sure available jobs are going to legal American workers and not illegal aliens. By posing a burden on employers, Congress runs the risk that employers would stop using E-Verify. This would enable illegal aliens to obtain available jobs instead of ensuring those jobs go to legal American workers. Third, E-Verify only costs the government about $140 million a year. For the money, E-Verify is one of the most cost-effective programs administered by the federal government. By trying to pass that cost on to employers, Congress could actually end up discouraging the program’s use, which would undermine E-Verify’s effectiveness.
Frontline Law Enforcement Officer Criticizes New 287(g) Agreements
Last week, a law enforcement officer on the front line of protecting his community expressed concern over the Obama Administration’s changes to the highly successful 287(g) program – the program that trains state and local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. (The Charlotte Observer, July 22, 2009).
The comments were made by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Sheriff Chipp Bailey following an announcement by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano that DHS was dramatically changing the rules of the 287(g) program to focus solely on dangerous criminal aliens, taking away much needed flexibility from state and local law enforcement. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009). In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, Sheriff Bailey suggested that the new rules, which would be outlined in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between DHS and the law enforcement agency, were too restrictive. Sheriff Bailey also indicated that: “If there is no room for negotiation, and no way to change it, I won’t sign it.” The Sheriff noted that he was also concerned with new language in the MOA dealing with “possible changes related to training, reimbursements for holding federal inmates and transportation.”
According to The Observer, the Sherriff was “concerned federal officials were pushing an agreement that would be too restrictive for local adjustment,” and that “he’d be surprised if most agencies signed the agreement as it’s written.” This would be a major blow to immigration enforcement efforts and would reduce local communities’ ability to effectively fight crime by removing criminal aliens from the streets. More than 7,000 illegal aliens brought to the Mecklenburg County jail have been placed into removal proceedings since Sheriff Bailey’s office enrolled in 287(g) three years ago. Sheriff Bailey did, however, express optimism that he would be able to reach some compromise with DHS. (The Charlotte Observer, July 22, 2009).
At the time of Napolitano’s announcement, FAIR expressed concerns that the DHS proposal amounted to a top-down, one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best approach to local law enforcement, and that this approach of limiting the scope of 287(g) agreements to only dangerous criminal aliens would effectively halt a local government’s ability to enforce our immigration laws before crimes are committed. (FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009; See also, DHS Press Release, July 10, 2009). This approach was also recently criticized by House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) – the author of the 1996 legislation that created the 287(g) program. Noting that the program was actually intended to allow state and local law enforcement agencies the flexibility to determine which aliens they would prioritize for removal, Rep. Smith stated: “The goal was to really enable those local law enforcement authorities who wanted to enforce the immigration laws in whatever way they thought best, and that might or might not include those who have committed serious crimes. Some people…are under the mistaken impression that somehow that’s required by the legislation, and that’s really a decision made by the government in individual situations.” (House Homeland Security Committee Hearing, March 4, 2009).
Phoenix Meeting of Law Enforcement Officials Concludes With Call for Amnesty
White House and Homeland Security officials joined about 100 police chiefs and administrators from across the U.S. last week at a “National Summit on Local Immigration Policies” hosted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in Phoenix. (Arizona Republic, July 23, 2009). PERF describes itself as a “national membership organization of progressive police executives from the largest city, county and state law enforcement agencies.” (PERF).
The PERF Summit was funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation (PERF Release), which also has provided substantial funding for many of the major organizations advocating amnesty legislation and other policies that undermine the enforcement of our immigration laws. For example, in March of this year, Carnegie announced it was awarding the following grants:
- $2,400,000 to the Center for American Progress toward support for a collaborative that will develop and build consensus around workable immigration policies and to launch a center-wide immigration project;
- $300,000 to Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) toward its immigrant rights advocacy program;
- $500,000 to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund toward its immigrant civic engagement project;
- $50,000 to the Economic Policy Institute for a project on promoting consensus in the labor community around comprehensive immigration reform;
- $750,000 to the Migration Policy Institute toward support of the national center on immigrant integration; and
- $500,000 to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network for general support (Carnegie Newsline, March 2009).
The Carnegie Corporation has also given the National Council of La Raza numerous grants worth millions of dollars over the past two decades. (Carnegie Corporation). Not surprisingly, during the closed-door meetings, the PERF Summit participants agreed that the U.S. needs a “comprehensive” new law containing guest-worker programs, amnesty for illegal aliens, and federal enforcement of the prohibition against hiring illegal aliens. (Arizona Republic, July 23, 2009). They were also highly critical of the 287(g) program, which facilitates the training of state and local law enforcement officers on the enforcement of federal immigration laws. (Id.).
PERF’s position is typical of what amnesty supporters have promised in the past: vigorous enforcement tomorrow in exchange for amnesty today. Of course, that begs the question: why would amnesty proponents support enforcement in the future when they have done everything they can to undermine present enforcement efforts? One of the attendees at the PERF meeting was Dennis Burke, a senior adviser to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who agreed with the position of attendees at the forum and said that “Congress needs to work quickly.” Burke also stated that “Secretary Napolitano has said the situation the country is in is not defensible.” (Id.).
It is worth pointing out that “the situation” that Burke has called indefensible has arisen in no small part due to the decisions that Napolitano has made since becoming Secretary. Many of these decisions have actually undermined enforcement. For example, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a worksite enforcement action in Bellingham, WA, Napolitano expressed outrage and then released the arrested illegal aliens and provided them with work authorization. (See FAIR’s Press Release, April 1, 2009). In addition, Napolitano has also: (1) rescinded the no-match rule, which would have notified employers when employees have used an SSN that did not match their name (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009); (2) delayed requirements that federal contractors use E-Verify (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, June 8, 2009); and (3) proposed gutting the REAL ID law which prevents illegal aliens from obtaining state-issued, secure IDs in favor of PASS ID, which will allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis and Chart on REAL ID versus PASS ID). (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 20, 2009).