US Legislative Immigration Update August 10, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this August 10, 2009 Legislative Weekly…

  • Congress Adjourns for Recess, Busy September Awaits
  • ICE Announces “Major” Reforms to Immigration Detention System
  •  Polling Reveals Americans Support Reducing Immigration

Congress Adjourns for Recess, Busy September Awaits

Last Friday, the Senate adjourned for its month-long August recess, joining the House of Representatives which had adjourned the week before. During the Congressional recess, many Representatives and Senators are holding town hall meetings to discuss matters of importance with their constituents.

(For an idea of immigration questions you can ask you Congressman or Senators at a townhall meeting, see here).

When the House and Senate return to session in September, Congress will take-up several matters of unfinished business. These include completion of each of the 12 annual appropriations bills which must be completed before the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2009). To date, the House has passed all 12 bills, the Senate only 4, but none of these bills have been sent to a House-Senate conference to work out the differences between the two bills. (Appropriations status chart).

Among the appropriations bills that Congress will have to complete is the funding bill (H.R. 2892) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2010 (which begins on October 1, 2009 and ends on September 30, 2010). Before passing this bill on July 9, 2009, the Senate adopted several key amendments. These include:

(1) Sessions E-Verify Amendment #1371. Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) amendment will make the E-Verify program permanent (it is scheduled to expire on September 30, 2009) and requires all employers who contract with the federal government to use E-Verify on their new hires, as well as existing employees assigned to affected federal contracts. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009).

(2) DeMint Border Fence Amendment #1399. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered an amendment to require the DHS to complete almost 700 miles of double-layered reinforced fencing along the southwest border. (Senator DeMint Press Release, July 8, 2009). In many areas along the border, DHS has constructed fencing that would prevent vehicular border crossings but has only completed construction of 32 miles of the double-layer fencing which is the best way to deter pedestrian border crossings. (GAO Report, January 29, 2009).

(3) Vitter “No-Match” Amendment #1375. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment to prohibit DHS from rescinding a rule that would notify employers when they have employees whose name and Social Security number (SSN) does not match and to require employers to take corrective action. According to DHS, “most” workers with unmatched SSNs are illegal aliens. (Senator Vitter Press Release, July 9, 2009).

(4) Grassley E-Verify Amendment #1415. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered another E-Verify amendment. The Grassley amendment would give employers the option to use the E-Verify program to check whether current employees are work authorized. Currently, E-Verify can only be used to check the status of new hires. (Senator Grassley Press Release, July 9, 2009).

The fate of these critical enforcement measures will likely be determined when Congress returns in September. To find out what you can do to support these amendments, click here.

Additional legislation awaiting Congress’ return includes the PASS ID bill (S.1261) which the Senate may consider this fall. This legislation would repeal and weaken many security standards set forth by the REAL ID Act of 2005. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates for August 3, 2009, and June 22, 2009 and FAIR’s PASS ID Legislative Analysis, July 1, 2009). This legislation passed the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by a voice vote on July 29, 2009 and will next be considered by the full Senate. In the House, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced companion legislation to weaken driver’s license standards on July 31, 2009. (H.R. 3471).

 

ICE Announces “Major” Reforms to Immigration Detention System

On Thursday, August 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton announced that his agency is taking steps to reform its immigration detention system. The announcement came as multiple pro-amnesty, special interest groups have publicly denounced the facilities and standards ICE uses to detain illegal aliens, and as these same groups have advocated for “alternatives to detention” for illegal aliens awaiting deportation. (National Council of La Raza Press Release, August 3, 2009; ACLU Press Release, August 6, 2009). According to Morton, the primary goal of ICE’s plan for “comprehensive detention reform” is to assemble a detention system that does not rely on penal institutions, which are largely designed to hold criminal defendants or convicts. Additionally, Morton said that the reforms will “improve medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence and ICE’s critical oversight of the immigration detention system.” (ICE Press Release, August 6, 2009; The Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2009).

According to ICE, the agency has access to over 32,000 detention beds at any given time, which are spread out over about 350 different facilities designed primarily for penal – not civil – detention. ICE claims that most of these 350 facilities are not run by federal employees and are typically either jails operated by local authorities or detention centers operated by private contractors. ICE claimed that the reforms it announced last week will move the agency “away from our present, decentralized, jail-oriented approach to a system wholly designed for and based on ICE’s civil detention authorities,” and added that the post-reform system will “no longer rely primarily on excess capacity in penal institutions.” (ICE Fact Sheet, August 6, 2009).

With the announcement, ICE highlighted several steps that it is taking, effective immediately, as it attempts to reform the immigration detention system. These include:

  • Establishment of an “Office of Detention Policy and Planning” (ODPP). The new office – which will be led by a former aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – will “design and plan a civil detention system tailored to address ICE’s needs.” ODPP will be tasked with evaluating the detention system “with seven areas of focus,” including researching possible “alternatives to detention management.” According to ICE, one of ODPP’s goals will be to “develop a national strategy for the effective use of alternatives to detention including community supervision.”
  • Establishment of an “Office of Detention Oversight” (ODO). ODO will be tasked with inspecting detention facilities “more frequently,” reviewing complaints about facilities, and addressing detainee grievances.
  • Appointment of 23 “detention managers” to work in 23 facilities that collectively house more than 40 percent of ICE’s detainees. According to ICE, the appointment of the managers “is a substantial move to increase direct federal oversight.” The managers will work in ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO).
  • Assembly of two advisory groups to provide feedback to ICE on (1) general policies and practices with respect to the immigration detention system and (2) detainee health care. ICE states that the advisory groups will consist of “local and national organizations interested in ICE’s detention system.”
  • Discontinuing usage of the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas as a family detention center. Instead of detaining families, the Texas facility will instead be used solely to house female detainees. The Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania will now be used to detain families. (ICE Press Release; ICE Fact Sheet).

Assistant Secretary Morton commented on ICE’s announcement: “We need a system that is open, transparent and accountable.” Morton also argued that the new reforms would not detract from ICE’s enforcement efforts: “This is not about whether or not we detain people, this is about how we detain them.” (The Washington Post, August 6, 2009). Additionally, ICE stated that “although the review is ongoing and additional reforms lie ahead, the steps Assistant Secretary Morton is taking today will address the vast majority of complaints about ICE’s immigration detention system while allowing ICE to maintain a significant, robust detention capacity to carry out serious immigration enforcement.” (ICE Press Release).

Polling Reveals Americans Support Reducing Immigration

Amid continued talks of a coming amnesty proposal for the 111th Congress, a recent Gallup Poll found that Americans across the board are less favorable towards immigration than they were just one year ago. (Gallup, August 6, 2009)

According to the poll, half of the Americans polled (50%) say America’s immigration levels should be decreased. That number is up from 39% last year. By contrast, 14% of Americans say immigration should be increased, which is down from 18% last year. The Gallup Poll findings reveal that Americans, regardless of party affiliation, are taking a “tougher stance” towards immigration than they did a year ago. While Republicans are traditionally associated with a more restrictive immigration policy, the Gallup Poll found that Democrats are also increasingly supportive of a more restrictive immigration policy. According to the poll, 44% of Democrats polled favor a reducing immigration levels while only 15% support increasing immigration levels.

American’s views on immigration are no doubt a reflection of the current tough economic times. There are now more than 14.5 million Americans without a job and actively looking for work. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2009). At the same time, it is estimated that 8.3 million illegal aliens are part of America’s workforce despite their employment being in violation of U.S. law. Although the illegal alien population has been able to be subsidized by the American taxpayer for a number of years, the traditional 5% range of unemployment has now been edging closer to 10%, a number rarely seen since World War II. This number is even greater in various demographics such as 12.2% for Hispanics, 14.7% for African Americans, and 24% for teenagers. (See: FAIR’s Study on Amnesty and Joblessness, June, 2009)

As state and local governments continue to experience strained budgets, the American people have become increasingly conscious of the cost of illegal immigration. According to FAIR’s own recent cost studies, illegal immigration is negatively impact state budgets. For example, in Florida, the cost to state taxpayers in 2008 was $3.8 billion per year, up from $1.7 billion in 2005. At the same time, Floridians are experiencing 8.6% unemployment and a projected $6 billion budget shortfall which will undoubtedly lead to spending cuts. (Florida Cost Study, April 2009). A similar situation in Pennsylvania has coincided with a proposed three year temporary increase of one-half percent in the state’s personal income tax. (Pennsylvania Cost Study, July 2009). Also, while illegal immigrants take jobs that unemployed American citizens would gladly do, foreign remittances sent abroad by the illegal alien population drain state’s economies, further preventing job creation. (See also, Virginia Cost Study, June 2009, Nevada Cost Study, February 2009 and North Carolina Cost Study, January 2009).

While all Americans across the country feel the impact of the recent financial crisis, many are also concerned with the expanding carbon footprint America is leaving behind. A recent study by FAIR on Energy Use, CO2 Emission and Immigration, exposes the huge role population increase has had on increased energy consumption. Between 1975 and 2007, consumption in the residential sector increased by 44.7 percent, almost entirely as a result of population growth. During that same period a mass amnesty program and subsequent mini-amnesties have led to massive population growth, not to mention the estimated 13 million illegal population currently residing in the U.S.

Perhaps it is the harsh jobless picture, growing concern over government spending and deficits, or concern for our environment that has changed the minds of the American people. In any event, Americans clearly support stricter limits on immigration. Despite this fact, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) continues to disregard the views of the American people. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, Senator Schumer intends to push an amnesty bill by Labor Day that will, if past “comprehensive immigration reform” proposals are any indication dramatically increase future immigration levels. This bill would make it harder for Americans who are out of work to find a job, place additional strains on state and local budgets and pose significant burdens on the environment and further strain America’s increasingly scarce natural resources. According to Schumer, “No big logs have been placed in the way…so we’re going to keep at it.” (Congressional Quarterly, August 5, 2009) .

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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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