U.S. Legislative Immigration Update February 9, 2010

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this February 9th, 2010 Legislative Weekly

  • Obama Proposes Cuts to Important Immigration Enforcement Programs
  • Senators Push for Immigration Measures in Jobs Bill
  • Fourteen Texas Busing Companies Implicated in Illegal Alien Smuggling Scheme
  • Obama’s Aunt Remains in the U.S. Illegally

Obama Proposes Cuts to Important Immigration Enforcement Programs

On February 1, President Obama released the details of his Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Budget Request, which seeks to cut funding for important immigration enforcement programs. (See The President’s Budget Message, February 1, 2010). Specifically, the president’s budget would slash funding for the Secure Border Initiative; cut funding for US-VISIT; and cut 180 agents from the Border Patrol.  The president’s proposed budget also proposes to merely maintain funding for the critically underfunded State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). 

The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) “is a comprehensive, multi-year plan to help secure America’s borders” through fencing, infrastructure, and technology. (CBP Factsheet). SBI is a critical element of the larger DHS-CBP effort to increase border security, which includes construction of the border fence.  Last year, Congress approved $800 million to fund SBI through FY2010. President Obama is requesting only $574 million for this program in his FY2011 budget, a $226 million cut. (FY2011 Budget Request Appendix: DHS).

US-VISIT, or United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, is an entry-exit tracking program that collects information, including biometric identifiers, on foreign nationals attempting when they enter the United States. This information is then used to, among other things, determine whether foreign nationals should be denied entry and whether exiting aliens have overstayed or otherwise violated the terms of their admission. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in November 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have a unified schedule to completely implement a comprehensive exit function for US-VISIT, and it is difficult to determine when and how US-VISIT will be completed.  (GAO Report, November 2009).  Despite this failure to complete implementation, President Obama has proposed a $39 million cut to US-VISIT, from $374 million in FY2010 to $335 million in FY2011.  (FY2011 Budget Request Appendix: DHS).

In addition, President Obama’s budget provides for a reduction of 180 Border Patrol agents. According to Acting DHS Chief Financial Officer Peggy Sherry, the administration does “not believe the 180 personnel reduction will in any way reduce the overall operating effectiveness of the Border Patrol because over the past five years, the Border Patrol has doubled in size.” Sherry continued: “A lot of the agent workforce, the substantial portion of it, has only a couple of years experience. As they become more seasoned and more mature in their jobs, their effectiveness will increase.” (See DHS Conference Call Transcript). 

The administration has also requested only $330 million for SCAAP – a federal program administered through the Department of Justice that helps states pay for the incarceration of criminal aliens. (FY2011 Budget Request: DOJ). Congress recently cut the annual funding level for SCAAP from $400 million in FY2009 to $330 million in FY2010. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, December 22, 2009). This cut drew significant criticism from border state Governors Rick Perry (R-TX) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), yet through his request, President Obama suggests that he wants to make it permanent. (Id.). 

Although President Obama’s budget is a significant barometer reflecting his policies and priorities, it represents simply a funding request to Congress. Congress has the true power to appropriate money and can choose to wholesale adopt, modify, or reject the President’s budget request. As Congress and the administration negotiate the complicated budgeting and appropriations process over the coming months, stay tuned to FAIR for in-depth analyses of important immigration-related funding decisions.

Senators Push for Immigration Measures in Jobs Bill

In anticipation of jobs legislation Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to bring to the floor this week (see, e.g., CBS, February 5, 2010), true immigration reformers in the Senate are seeking to add measures that would improve immigration enforcement while simultaneously helping the American worker.  Last week, Senators Sessions (R-AL), Grassley (R-IA), Coburn, (R-OK), Vitter (R-LA), Chambliss (R-GA), Isakson (R-GA), Bunning (R-KY), and Inhofe (R-OK), sent a letter to Reid asking that he add these measures to any jobs legislation aimed at reducing unemployment in the United States.  (See text of letter, February 4, 2010).  

This push to improve immigration enforcement came at the same time the Labor Department released new data showing there are currently 14.8 million Americans who are officially unemployed.  (Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 5, 2010).  Meanwhile, there are between 7 and 8 million illegal aliens in the U.S. labor market, many of whom have only recently entered the country and are competing with Americans for jobs.

Despite these numbers, statistics show that the federal government failed to enforce our immigration laws in 2009. Between fiscal years 2008 and 2009, administrative arrests of illegal aliens dropped 68 percent;  criminal arrests of illegal aliens dropped 60 percent; indictments of illegal aliens dropped 58 percent; and convictions of illegal aliens dropped 63 percent. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, November 23, 2009).  

To help the American worker, these Senators hope to introduce amendments that:

  • Permanently reauthorize E-Verify;
  • Allow employers to use E-Verify to verify the work authorization of current employees;
  • Reinstate the No-Match Rule, which directs employers to take specific actions upon learning that their employees’ names and social security numbers do not match; 
  • Increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens; and 
  • Prohibit employers from deducting wages paid to illegal alien workers.

The jobs bill is expected to be on the Senate floor as early as Monday. Stay tuned to FAIR for more details as this debate continues.

Fourteen Texas Busing Companies Implicated in Illegal Alien Smuggling Scheme

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 22 individuals charged with conspiracy to transport illegal immigrants as a result of a three-month investigation into fourteen Houston-area transportation businesses. (The Washington Post, February 5, 2010). According to federal officials, the individuals “allegedly accepted cash from alien smugglers to move undocumented aliens in vans and SUVs from Houston to other cities around the United States.” (ICE Press Release, February 3, 2010). ICE also arrested 81 suspected illegal aliens during the operation, who were then placed in deportation proceedings. (Id.).

DHS Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton noted that the busing companies were not legitimate businesses, but were instead working exclusively with enterprises seeking to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States. Once the aliens had been smuggled into the United States, the busing companies paid commissions to smugglers to bring the aliens to them. The companies then charged the aliens up to $650 for a one-way ticket from Houston to cities throughout the country. (The Houston Chronicle, February 3, 2010). 

The offense of human smuggling includes not only bringing illegal aliens into the country, but also the unlawful transporting and harboring of aliens already in the country illegally.  (INA 274(a)(1), (2)). Assistant Secretary Morton commented on the arrests: “Human smugglers are ruthless criminals who prey upon and profit from people seeking a new life in our country. This crime undermines our borders and reaches every state in the interior, leaving a trail of exploitation. ICE is committed to preventing human smuggling by using every available resource to investigate, dismantle, and present for prosecution businesses involved in the unlawful activity.” (ICE Press Release, February 3, 2010). 

Obama’s Aunt Remains in the U.S. Illegally

Last week, a federal judge continued the asylum hearing for President Barack Obama’s aunt, Kenya native Zeituni Onyango. Ms. Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s father, has been in the United States on an overstayed visa since 2000.  (The Washington Post, February 4, 2010).   Immigration officials ordered Onyango deported in 2004 after her first asylum request was rejected, but she ignored the order and is currently living in taxpayer-subsidized public housing in Boston.  Id.  At the immigration hearing last Thursday for her second bid for asylum, there was no immediate decision from Judge Leonard Shapiro.  (The Washington Post, February 4, 2010).  Shapiro scheduled a follow-up hearing for May 25, though he may issue a ruling before then.  (WBZ Boston, February 4, 2010). 

Onyango bases her second claim for asylum on claims that she suffers from an autoimmune disorder. Her lawyer says she has medical reasons to stay in the U.S., along with what he characterized as “political turmoil” in Kenya that prevents her from returning.  (American Visa Bureau, February 5, 2010; (Boston Herald, February 4, 2010).  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made clear that Obama is not paying his aunt’s legal fees and has not spoken to her since learning of her immigration status days before he was elected president in November 2008.  (Boston Herald, February 5, 2010).  Gibbs commented, “We would continue to say that everybody in this country should and must follow the law.  We have not been involved at all in (her) hearing.”  Id.

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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