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U.S. Legislative Immigration Update January 11, 2010

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this December 22nd, 2009 Legislative Weekly

  • Hispanic Caucus Considering Health Care Flip-Flop
  • New Jersey Lawmakers Push to Grant Tuition Breaks for Illegal Aliens
  • Liberal Think Tank Claims Amnesty Would Benefit Economy
  • As Introduction of Senate Amnesty Bill Looms, McCain and Graham Face Repercussions at Home

Hispanic Caucus Considering Health Care Flip-Flop

As Congressional leaders return to Washington to negotiate a final health care bill, immigration-related differences between the House and Senate versions may be forcing the pro-amnesty Congressional Hispanic Caucus to reconsider its support for health care reform.

This was the news on Capitol Hill last week as House and Senate leaders agreed to bypass the formal conference committee and instead pass the health care bill back and forth between the Senate and House. Under this scenario, the House would take up the Senate bill and either adopt it wholesale or amend it and send it back to the Senate. This process would continue with the bill “ping ponging” back and forth between the House and the Senate until the two chambers pass an identical bill. (TPMDC, January 4, 2010).

This process, however, is immediately putting the CHC under pressure regarding the bill’s immigration provisions. In November, when the House originally considered health care legislation (H.R.3962), the CHC insisted that illegal aliens have access to the health care exchange created in the bill. On November 5, 2009 – just two days before the House passed its bill – CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) announced that her 20-member caucus would vote against the final House bill if it included the Senate language barring illegal aliens from participating in the exchange. After a meeting with President Obama, Velazquez told Roll Call that the CHC had “made it very clear that we support the language that is in the House. We expect that the current language will not change.” (Roll Call, November 5, 2009). Ultimately, the language did not change, and the bill passed by the slimmest of margins: 220 -215. (Roll Call Vote #887, November 7, 2009).

Despite the CHC’s position, the Obama Administration said it would not support illegal alien participation in the health care exchange and the Senate followed suit, passing legislation prohibiting such access (H.R. 3590). (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, November 23, 2009). The negotiations in the Senate were so tense and the compromise so tenuous that Senators warned any changes would risk their support. Desperate to deliver on President Obama’s domestic policy priority, Congressional leaders are pressuring House members to accept the Senate compromise.

Thus, the CHC must now decide whether to concede to the Senate language. Last week, Capitol Hill blogs indicated that the CHC was considering capitulating on its position in exchange for a promise from the Obama Administration that the White House would begin pushing amnesty legislation in early 2010. (TPMDC, January 4, 2010). However, on January 5, The Atlantic reported that the CHC had not reached such an agreement. In fact, a spokesperson from the CHC stated that the caucus’ position “remains the same: it opposes provisions in the Senate health care bill that would negatively impact immigrants.” (The Atlantic, January 5, 2010).

Votes on health care legislation are expected to occur sometime over the course of the next three weeks. Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest developments.

New Jersey Lawmakers Push to Grant Tuition Breaks for Illegal Aliens

Lawmakers in New Jersey are poised to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens following a recent flurry of activity from pro-amnesty groups. The special interest groups have launched an eleventh-hour attempt to grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens before Governor Corzine leaves office this month. The outgoing governor supports the long-stalled legislation and has said it is one he would “put high on the agenda.” (The Star-Ledger, December 10, 2009). Corzine lost his re-election bid to Gov.-elect Christie, who opposes the idea and has stated that only lawful taxpayers deserve a tuition break because they help subsidize in-state tuitions. Id. The bill, which advocates have been pushing for eight years, passed state Senate and Assembly committees last week. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 8, 2010). However, a vote on the controversial legislation scheduled for last week was postponed by state Senators, which could indicate the bill lacks the votes needed to pass. (Gannett State Bureau, January 7, 2010). Both the Senate and the Assembly will take up the bill Monday, which is the last day of the legislative session. Id.

On the federal level, amnesty advocates in the House are also pushing similar legislation. On December 15, 2009, Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.), along with over 90 other amnesty supporters in the House of Representatives, introduced a radical amnesty bill, H.R. 4321, the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009,” (CIR ASAP). This legislation contains a sweeping amnesty program that would legalize millions of illegal aliens in the United States. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, December 22, 2009). The DREAM Act (also known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), is sprinkled throughout the bill. The DREAM Act was re-introduced in Congress in March 2009, and grants amnesty to a broad range of individuals who meet certain minimal educational requirements and permits states to give taxpayer subsidized in-state tuition to illegal aliens. (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis of the DREAM Act, March 2009; To learn more about activity on the DREAM Act this year, read FAIR’s Legislative Updates from March 30, 2009, April 13, 2009, and April 27, 2009).

Critics of the DREAM Act point out that there are a limited number of college admissions spots available for incoming freshman each year, and that for every illegal alien who enters college, an American citizen is displaced from enrolling in college. (See, e.g. CNN Newsroom video). Eleven states currently give discounted tuition to foreign students who are in the country illegally, and amnesty advocates are working hard to push lawmakers in other states to pass similar measures despite the current economic crisis and the unpopularity of granting tax-subsidized benefits to illegal aliens.

FAIR has just released a detailed summary of CIR ASAP. See our in-depth analysis of the bill for more information.

Liberal Think Tank Claims Amnesty Would Benefit Economy

Last week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) – a well-known liberal think tank headed by John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton – released a report claiming that amnesty would boost the U.S. economy. The report, entitled “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform” is the latest attempt by amnesty supporters to persuade Americans to support legalizing millions of illegal aliens currently in the U.S. Authored by a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA, Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, the report argues that granting amnesty to the more than 11 million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States would actually benefit the economy. (Center for American Progress, January 2010).

The report claims that amnesty would generate add $1.5 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over ten years. (Page 11). Although the assertion that the GDP would grow following the passage of an amnesty may be true, the report fails to take into account the added fiscal burden that an amnesty would place on the U.S. welfare system. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, most illegal aliens work in low-skill, low-wage jobs. (Pew Hispanic Center, April 14, 2009). While amnesty may result in a marginal increase in the wages of these illegal aliens, it will not provide them with a higher level of education, greater job skills, or higher earning potential. Amnesty will, however, allow low-wage earning illegal aliens to access the more than 70 separate programs comprising the U.S. welfare system. Experts have estimated that this increased fiscal burden would cost American taxpayers approximately $700 billion per year. (The Heritage Foundation, November 23, 2009).

In addition, any increase in GDP only measures that country’s total economic output and not income distribution. The main economic beneficiaries of an amnesty program would be the illegal aliens themselves and corporations addicted to cheap labor. American taxpayers would pay for such a system, as they are now, by subsidizing the education, welfare, and judicial systems that absorb these low-skill, low-educated, and low-wage workers.

Moreover, Hinojosa-Ojeda’s suggestion that amnesty, coupled with massive increases in legal immigration, would raise the wages of native-born Americans has been refuted by numerous studies. (Page 15). Harvard Professor George Borjas, one of the nation’s leading immigration economists, has estimated that immigration reduces wages for low-skilled, native-born Americans by 7.4 percent. (Borjas Paper, November 2003). In addition, research compiled by Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies has shown that “immigration reduce[s] wages for American workers by 10 percent in some occupations.” (Center for Immigration Studies, November 2009). The arguments of both experts support the proposition that comprehensive amnesty legislation would increase the labor supply through massive increases in both legal and illegal immigration, which would only further drive down the wages of native-born Americans.

Finally, the CAP study fails to take into account that enacting an amnesty program would do nothing to end illegal immigration. It would only create a new cycle by which employers lure illegal workers, who come to the U.S., take jobs and depress wages. (For more, see FAIR’s Report on Amnesty and Joblessness).

As Introduction of Senate Amnesty Bill Looms, McCain and Graham Face Repercussions at Home

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are expected to introduce an immigration bill in the U.S. Senate early this year. (Politico, December 15, 2009). Pro-amnesty advocates are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the issue by February, and just last week a Schumer spokesman stated, “We’ve said we can have something that can be ready to go whenever the president chooses, as soon as early this year.” (Id.; Talking Points Memo, January 5, 2010).

Unlike the attempts in 2006 and 2007 to pass amnesty legislation, this year Democrats have been largely unsuccessful in getting prominent support from Republicans. In fact, the House amnesty bill, CIR ASAP, was introduced in December 2009 by 93 Democrats and 0 Republicans. Senator Graham, however, is attempting to change that, working behind the scenes with Schumer to draft a bill and trying to win support from other Republicans. (Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2009).

Graham’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in his home state of South Carolina. Last Monday, the Republican Party of Lexington County voted to censure the senator because of his position on immigration and spending. (The State, January 6, 2010). The resolution carries no official penalty, but it is the third time a county Republican Party in South Carolina has voted to censure Graham. Id. The Greenville GOP censured him two years ago for his support of immigration reform. Id. The sponsor of the most recent censure stated that “The grass-roots Republican people of South Carolina don’t like the way he is representing the state.” Id. However, Graham has dismissed this vote as the “misplaced priorities” of narrow interests within the larger Republican Party, rather than a rebuke of him.

In contrast, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has stayed away from Schumer and Graham’s amnesty negotiations so far, stating that he would not support an immigration bill that did not have a guest worker program. Nevertheless, his long-standing support for amnesty is causing complications in his campaign for re-election this fall. His challengers in the Republican primary include Chris Simcox, one of the founders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Simcox has been highly critical of McCain and recently stated, “Illegal immigration certainly will still be a key issue, because now, more than ever, people are going to see the costs to the taxpayers. It’s about security, it’s about rule of law, it’s about cost, and it’s about jobs, jobs, jobs.” (The Arizona Republic, January 6, 2010). Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) is also considering running, and has frequently condemned McCain as an amnesty supporter.

Whether McCain will eventually commit to support amnesty legislation is uncertain, but it is clear that Arizonans are watching

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