Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in this May 2, 2011 Legislative Weekly. FAIR tracks pending immigration laws and immigration reform in the United States which can impact homeland security in positive or negative ways and are a valued resource.
- After Last-Minute Negotiations, Indiana Passes Immigration Enforcement Bill
- Obama Hosts Celebrity Amnesty Meeting; Continues to Push DREAM Act
- Utah Takes Center-Stage at Annual DC Immigration Conference
- State Department Expands Warning about Travel to Mexico
Obama Hosts Amnesty Summit at White House
Only days after launching his 2012 re-election bid, President Obama revived the issue of immigration reform with a meeting at the White House last Tuesday. There, the President hosted approximately 70 guests including former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, Rev. Al Sharpton and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. (Ventura County Star, April 19, 2011) Although the White House press release on the meeting stated that the President planned to discuss how to “build a bipartisan consensus in Congress” on immigration reform, the White House neither invited any Members of Congress nor law enforcement representatives. (The White House Office of the Press Secretary, April 19, 2011)
Noticeably absent from the discussions was Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA), current Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. (Ventura County Star, April 19, 2011) Rep. Gallegly called the President’s meeting and selective guest list a “summit on amnesty,” noting that the attendees “were obviously people who were not concerned about stopping illegal immigration.” (Id.)
Also absent from the White House gathering were governors from border states. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said “it was a little bit of a snub” that neither she nor Texas Governor Rick Perry received an invitation from the President. (The Hill, April 20, 2011) Gov. Brewer remarked that since she and Governor Perry are on the front lines working to secure the border, they “should have been afforded that opportunity, to be at the table to help him understand the situation.” (Id.) Arizona’s governor has met with President Obama in the past, during which meeting the President referred to Arizona’s immigration law, S.B. 1070, as “misguided.” (Id.)
One person who did attend the White House meeting, however, was bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, John Wester. (The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2011) Wester was a chief architect of the Utah Compact. (The Utah Compact) The Utah Compact is a basic, five-principle outline which urges compassion towards illegal aliens and argues that immigration should be left to the federal government. (The Utah Compact) The leaders of national pro-amnesty groups have spoken out in favor of The Utah Compact and encouraged its principles as a guideline for legislation in the states. (The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2011) Wester reported that the Utah Compact came up during his meeting with the President on Tuesday, and suggested it might be a template for an American Compact. (The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2011)
The White House immigration summit comes at a time when President Obama has been under increasing pressure to rally his base for the 2012 elections. (The Hill, April 20, 2011) In an interview with MSNBC, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said that President Obama’s failure to act on immigration reform is making it difficult for him to support him for reelection. (MSNBC, April 19, 2011) He encouraged the President to focus on the immigrant community when creating an agenda for comprehensive immigration reform. (Id.) Representative Gutierrez also warned that the President needs to “shore up his support among the Latino community” in the coming months. (Id.)
Sources inside the meeting indicate the President might be willing to do just that. Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council President and a guest at last week’s meeting, said that Obama indicated he would press for a vote on a bill to help certain undocumented immigrants attain legal status if they attend college or serve in the military. (Ventura County Star, April 19, 2011) Despite the December defeat of the DREAM Act, legislation which holds similar provisions, the President seems intent on pursuing an immigration agenda that has been resoundingly rejected by the American people. This latest meeting of the President’s was scheduled just prior to Obama’s fundraising stops in Nevada and California, two heavily Latino-populated states.
According to data U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sent to Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) office, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted “deferred action” to 12,338 illegal aliens residing in the U.S. in Fiscal Year 2010. The number provided most recently to Senator Grassley is a dramatic increase from the figure DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano provided during last month’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing (there she testified the number of deferred action grantees was less than 900). (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 14, 2011) The authority to grant deferred action status is a discretionary power, not found in statutes or subject to review by the courts. (Id.) Three agencies within DHS—USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)—have the authority to grant deferred action status when each decides in its own discretion not to remove an illegal alien from the country. (Id.)
The announcement of the revised number of deferred action grantees comes on the heels of calls by dozens of Democratic Senators and Congressmen for President Obama to use his Executive authority to grant amnesty to the estimated two million individuals who would be eligible for legalization under the “DREAM Act.” (See FAIR Website) Just this month DREAM Act crusaders Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with a group of 20 Democratic Senators, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to grant deferred action to those who qualify under the DREAM Act. “We would support a grant of deferred action to all young people who meet the rigorous requirements necessary to be eligible for cancellation of removal or a stay of removal under the DREAM Act….,” the letter reads. (Sen. Dick Durbin Website, Apr. 13, 2011) The letter goes on to suggest the Administration establish and publicize a process for DREAM Act eligible aliens to apply for deferred action status, stating that although it has been used in the past to keep them country, “there is no formal process for applying for deferred action, and many DREAM Act students are unaware of this option.” (Id.) Senator Grassley criticized the authors’ call for Obama to use deferred action on the Senate floor. “I’m just appalled that members of this body think an executive order to grant amnesty behind our backs is not an assault on the democratic process,” he said. (NY Times, Apr. 20, 2011)
At the same time, Representative Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Immigration Task Force, is leading the charge in the House to keep pressure on Obama to grant deferred action. Earlier this month he embarked on a 20-city tour demanding Obama grant deferred action to not just DREAM Act aliens, but the estimated four million illegal aliens who gave birth to children in the United States. (Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 5, 2011; Fox News Latino, Apr. 21, 2011) These “are not violent criminals, but law-abiding, hard-working people,” he told attendees during one of his town-hall meetings in Rhode Island.
On Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing the fiscal and social costs that criminal aliens bear on the American people. (GAO-11-187, Mar. 2011) According to the report, the federal government spent at least $1.5 to $1.6 billion annually from fiscal years 2005 to 2009 to incarcerate criminal aliens. (Id. at 34) Criminal aliens are aliens who are in the U.S. legally or illegally and have been convicted of a crime.
The GAO’s cost estimate, however, is substantially lower than the actual costs of incarceration to taxpayers because data limitations only allowed GAO to incorporate a portion of the state and local costs. That is, because the GAO found that there was no reliable data on the number and costs of all criminal aliens in state and local jails, the GAO used a number it felt was reliable: state and local incarceration costs reimbursed by the federal government through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). However, it is important to note that SCAAP reimbursements to state and local governments cover only a fraction of the full costs to state and local governments. This is because: 1) SCAAP does not reimburse state and locals for criminal aliens with lawful status (i.e. legal aliens who are convicted of a crime); and 2) SCAAP only reimburses state and locals for criminal illegal aliens meeting certain criteria. (Id.at 1-2) Even then, SCAAP may not pay for the incarceration of all eligible criminal aliens. For example, in California alone in 2008, the total estimated cost of incarcerating SCAAP aliens was over $1 billion, yet SCAAP only reimbursed the state $112 million. (Id. at 41)
The GAO also found that from 2003 to 2009, the cost of SCAAP criminal aliens to state prisons increased by 25 percent (from 73,751 to 91,823) and their burden on local jails increased by 40 percent (from 146,327 to 204,136). (Id. at 10) Significantly, the report revealed that six states—all of which have a substantial illegal alien population—bear nearly 70 percent of the costs of incarcerating criminal aliens. (Id. at 11-12) These states include Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. (Id. at 12)
Other key findings of the report include:
- States were only reimbursed for 23% of the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens. (Id. at 37)
- 50% of the criminal aliens in the GAO’s study population were arrested at least once for homicide, a sex offense, kidnapping, robbery, or assault. (Id. at 19)
- 65% of criminal aliens in the GAO’s study population were arrested at least once for an immigration violation. (Id.)
- As of 2009, Mexico is the country of birth of 70% of SCAAP criminal aliens (again, only a fraction of criminal aliens) in local jails and 66% of SCAAP criminal aliens in state prisons. (Id. at 13-15)
The GAO report was requested by House Immigration Subcommittee Vice-Chairman, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who used the report’s findings to renew his call to complete the border fence. In a statement, Rep. King said that the GAO’s findings “prov[e] that we have to secure our southern border with a fence, a wall, and a fence. That would drastically reduce the ability of criminal aliens to enter the United States, providing needed relief to overburdened state prison systems and to taxpayers.” (Rep. Steven King Press Release, Apr. 21, 2011) He continued, “We also have to do a better job of removing criminal aliens who are apprehended, and of preventing the re-entry into the country of those who are removed.” (Id.)
According to two separate polls released by Rasmussen last week, a majority of Americans continue to believe that the U.S. needs true immigration reform—not another amnesty. In one of the polls, nearly two-thirds of voters—63 percent—said they believe gaining control of the border is more important than granting amnesty to illegal aliens in the United States. Only 30 percent of those polled said they believed that giving illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship should take precedent over border security. In the other poll conducted by Rasmussen, 61 percent of voters said they believe that a child born in the United States to a woman who is here illegally should not automatically become a U.S. citizen. More information regarding both polls may be viewed here.
Last Thursday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed an immigration enforcement bill which originally was modeled on Arizona’s S.B.1070. (SB 590) Unfortunately, before passing the bill, authored by Senator Mike Delph, the House amended the legislation to dilute the power of the bill. One important change the House made to the bill was to eliminate the discretionary authority of policemen to use “reasonable suspicion” as grounds for checking an individual’s immigration status. (WIBC, April 21, 2011)
Big business has been pressuring Indiana legislators to scrap the bill altogether. (Fox 59, April 21, 2011) Corporations such as Eli Lily and Cummins, some of Indiana’s largest employers, argued the bill would create an unwelcoming perception that would hurt the companies’ ability to recruit workers from abroad. (Id.) The manager of an Indiana J.W. Marriott also reported that two groups planning conventions in the state threatened to cancel if the bill passes. (Id.) However, Indiana taxpayers and citizens, who elect the members of the General Assembly to represent them, feel differently than big business. “They’re taking our jobs. They’re weighing down our system,” said Indiana taxpayer Bill Webster of the impact of illegal aliens. (Id.)
The changes in the House came at the urging of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Before the House hearing last week, Daniels spoke out against the law enforcement provisions of the original bill. He urged House Members to instead focus on the provisions which punish employers for hiring illegal aliens by denying them tax deductions. (Courier-Journal, April 13, 2011) The Governor indicated that expressly granting law enforcement the authority to check immigration status would not be an effective strategy. “If [Indiana police] accidentally caught somebody who was breaking the immigration law, the feds were going to turn them loose anyway,” he said. (Indy Star, April 13, 2011)
Now modified by the House amendments, the bill will return to the Indiana Senate. (WIBC, April 21, 2011) FAIR’s sources report that legislative leaders will likely appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.