US Legislative Immigration Update August 24, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this August 24, 2009 Legislative Weekly…

  • Obama Denies Existence of Health Care Loophole for Illegal Aliens
  • One House Member Creatively Justifies Vote Against Closing Illegal Alien Health Care Loophole
  • White House Holds Private Meeting with More than 100 Special Interest Amnesty Advocates
  • ICE Axes Arrests Quotas for “Fugitive Operations” Program

Last Thursday, President Obama appeared on the Michael Smerconish radio show and stated that none of the health care bills in Washington D.C. would give illegal aliens taxpayer-funded health care. (Politics Daily, August 20, 2009). The truth is that the House health reform bill (H.R. 3200) will allow illegal aliens to access taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates, July 20, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 3, 2009 and August 17, 2009).

When pressed by a caller to Smerconish’s radio show, President Obama suggested that organizations that correctly explain the illegal alien coverage loophole are spreading misinformation. President Obama stated: “This has been an example of just pure misinformation out there. None of the bills that have been voted on in Congress, and none of the proposals coming out of the White House propose giving coverage to illegal immigrants – none of them.” (Politics Daily, emphasis added). Clearly, he chose these words very carefully so that they suggest one thing, but mean another.

The President suggests none of the bills, including the House bill, affirmatively grant coverage to illegal aliens. This would leave people with the perception that illegal aliens have no way of receiving coverage under the House bill at all. That perception is wrong. FAIR was the first organization to explain how illegal aliens will obtain coverage, not by an affirmative grant, but by a loophole contained in the House bill. That loophole arises because the bill fails to include eligibility verification screening that would effectively preclude coverage for illegal aliens. As FAIR has consistently pointed out, illegal aliens will be allowed to exploit this loophole in order to obtain taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits. From the American taxpayer’s perspective, this is a distinction without a difference.

In essence, the bill creates nothing more than an “honors system” to prevent taxpayer-provided coverage for illegal aliens. The only thing in the House bill that will prevent an illegal alien from receiving benefits is to have the illegal alien decide to forego applying for those benefits. At the Ways & Means Committee markup of the House bill, Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) tried to include an eligibility verification process, using existing government databases, to screen applicants’ eligibility for the public plan and the affordability credit. His amendment was defeated at the committee on a party-line vote. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 27, 2009).

President Obama has also mistakenly commented that no one has suggested that illegal aliens should receive taxpayer-funded health benefits. The President stated: “nobody has discussed it. So everybody who is listening out there, when you start hearing that somehow this is all designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants, that is simply not true and has never been the case.” (Politics Daily). The President’s statement in this regard is incorrect. In fact, as FAIR has detailed over the past several months, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in the House of Representatives, the National Council of La Raza and even some big business interests, such as Wal-Mart, have suggested, and in some cases demanded, taxpayer-funded coverage for illegal aliens. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates, July 27, 2009 (related to the CHC), June 22, 2009 (related to La Raza), and August 3, 2009 (related to Wal-Mart)).

One House Member Creatively Justifies Vote Against Closing Illegal Alien Health Care Loophole

The President is not the only person in Washington, D.C. to have made misrepresentations about the House health care bill and the illegal alien coverage loophole. Recently, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who voted against Rep. Heller’s verification amendment at the Ways & Means Committee, defended his vote by saying that the amendment wasn’t necessary because the bill prevents illegal aliens from accessing benefits, just as current law prevents illegal aliens from receiving Medicaid and other benefits. (Star-Telegram, August 8, 2009). Rather than defend his vote, however, Congressman Doggett’s explanation bolsters FAIR’s point that the Heller amendment was necessary to ensure verification. Verification of Medicaid eligibility does not happen automatically. In fact, the reason the verification takes place under Medicaid is because federal law specifically requires it! (See Section 121 of Public Law 99-603). The House health bill does not specifically require verification. That is why the Heller amendment was so necessary – it would put in place the same requirements that currently exist for Medicaid.

Rep. Doggett has also stated he opposed the Heller amendment because it would require an insurance company to use the SAVE system to verify eligibility. Doggett said the amendment would have “for the first time allowed insurance companies to access sensitive personal information to shop for customers and for other commercial purposes, while avoiding any responsibility to protect individual privacy….” (Star-Telegram). This characterization is false. According to U.S. Citizenship and Information Services (USCIS), which administers the SAVE system, agencies that administer benefits and use SAVE to verify immigrant eligibility, such as a State welfare agency, must enter either an alien identification number or an I-94 number into a database.

In return, SAVE provides the state agency with the name, date of birth, date of entry into the U.S., and limited information including whether the applicant is work authorized in the United States. According to USCIS, “the citizenship or immigration status allows the agency to determine benefit eligibility of the applicant.” (USCIS, Privacy Impact Assessment, page 18). SAVE does not return any information, as Rep. Doggett suggests, that would allow insurance companies to “shop for customers.”

In fact, a fairly typical enrollment form for a private health insurance plan currently requires far more personal data from an enrollee than the SAVE system would reveal. This form requires an applicant to disclose their Social Security number (SSN); address; phone numbers; names, date of birth, and SSN of their spouse and dependent children; whether they are eligible for certain governmental services; whether they have certain pre-existing health conditions; any other insurance coverage (including the name, policy number and contact information for other insurers); and whether an individual had previous coverage.

Given that Rep. Heller’s amendment would have required the use of the SAVE system as part of the enrollment process, the Heller amendment would not give any insurance company access to information it would not already have otherwise obtained during the health insurance plan enrollment process. Accordingly, Rep. Doggett’s explanation as to why he opposed the Heller amendment is completely without merit.

White House Holds Private Meeting with More than 100 Special Interest Amnesty Advocates

Just nine days after publicly reiterating his promise to grant amnesty to the more than 12 million illegal aliens living in the United States (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 17, 2009), President Obama – along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – held a closed-door meeting with more than 100 amnesty advocates at the White House. According to statements from some of the attendees, Obama used the meeting to indicate that he would “push for [amnesty] even as the health-care debate continues to unfold.” (Politico, August 20, 2009).

The private meeting was officially led by Secretary Napolitano, but the president “dropped in” to address the gathering. According to amnesty advocate Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, Obama’s comments reassured her that the administration is making amnesty a priority: “The takeaway from today is they’re rolling up their sleeves and leaning heavy into the issue. He’s doing this and health care. He didn’t give an inkling that he’s going to back away from immigration reform. I think he’s ready to do the heavy lifting.” (Id.).

At the meeting, the amnesty advocates used their time with Napolitano and Obama to decry the administration’s perceived emphasis on immigration enforcement. United Farm Workers Union President Arturo Rodriguez indicated that the amnesty advocates pressed Napolitano on “communicating the importance of immigration as much as you are communicating the importance of enforcement.” Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum indicated that he pushed Napolitano to take steps to further abandon meaningful immigration enforcement: “There are lots of things the secretary can do in terms of administrative changes and a lot of leadership she can exert.” (Id.).

One specific topic of discussion at the meeting was 287(g) — the federal program that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to train state and local law enforcement officers in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. According to meeting attendees, both Napolitano and Obama addressed 287(g), saying that local, frontline law enforcement officers must be held “accountable” for their actions under the program. (Id.). The Obama Administration has already taken steps to undermine the 287(g) program by: (1) launching a Justice Department investigation into the Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office participation in the program (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, March 17, 2009) and (2) altering the process that state and local law enforcement agencies must follow in order to enroll (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009).

Overall, Noorani said he was “pleased” with the meeting. Asked if he felt the amnesty lobby and the administration were now on the same page, Noorani replied somewhat optimistically: “At the time of the Inauguration, we were in the same book. At this point we’re in the same chapter, but it’s a long book – and we read at different speeds.” (Politico, August 20, 2009). Both President Obama and Secretary Napolitano issued much less committal statements, neither of which offered any sort of timeline for the consideration or passage of amnesty legislation. (Click here to view President Obama’s statement, and here to view Secretary Napolitano’s statement.)

Advocates of true immigration reform and the enforcement of immigration laws – along with the media – were completely excluded from the White House meeting. FAIR Media Director Ira Mehlman commented on the meeting’s one-sidedness and lack of transparency: “Whatever happened to President Obama’s promise of greater transparency in government? There seems to be an awful lot of meetings with one side on this issue where they discuss what they already agree upon amongst themselves, but they don’t really want much input from people who have a differing point of view.” (OneNewsNow, August 20, 2009).

ICE Axes Arrests Quotas for “Fugitive Operations” Program

On Monday, August 17, the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, announced that his agents will no longer be required to meet arrest quotas in “Fugitive Operations” – a program that focuses on tracking down illegal aliens who have ignored deportation orders. In addition to getting rid of the arrest quotas, Morton also indicated that ICE Fugitive Operations officers will now focus on enforcing immigration law against “criminal” fugitive aliens, as opposed to all illegal aliens who have ignored a deportation order. (The Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2009).

ICE’s National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) was established under President Bush in 2003 “to dramatically expand the agency’s efforts to locate, arrest, and remove fugitives from the United States.” According to ICE, the program was extremely successful under the Bush Administration: “[NFOP] is responsible for reducing the fugitive alien population in the United States. ICE’s databases show the targeted enforcement strategy is paying off. The nation’s fugitive alien population continues to decline. At the end of FY 2008, there were approximately 560,000 fugitive alien cases – a decrease of nearly 37,000 since the beginning of the fiscal year.” (ICE Fact Sheet).

In 2004, ICE instituted a quota policy in which each of the agency’s Fugitive Operations teams was required to arrest at least 125 fugitive aliens per year. This quota was increased in 2006 to 1,000 fugitive alien arrests per team, per year. (The Associated Press, August 18, 2009). The quota increase, coupled with a concentrated effort to increase the number of Fugitive Operations teams operating nationwide (from eight in 2003 to 104 today), has directly contributed to the program’s success. According to ICE’s own statistics, the agency’s Fugitive Operations teams arrested over 34,000 fugitive aliens in 2008, more than doubling the number of arrests made in 2006 – the year the quota increase was instituted. (ICE Fact Sheet).

Morton announced that he had ended NFOP arrest quotas at a meeting with reporters in Los Angeles. Media reports stemming from the meeting did not indicate whether Morton addressed the statistics indicating that the quotas had helped increase the number of arrests made under the program. (See The Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2009; The San Francisco Chronicle, August 18, 2009; The Associated Press, August 18, 2009; and The Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2009). Morton also made another troubling announcement, commenting that “the fugitive operations program needs to focus first and foremost on people who have knowingly flouted an immigration removal order and within that category, obviously, we will focus first on criminals.” [Emphasis Added.] (Id.). This statement reflects only the most recent in a string of announcements – including announcements concerning ICE’s Secure Communities program (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, May 26, 2009) and the 287(g) program (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009) – indicating that the Obama Administration intends to abandon immigration enforcement in all but the most serious criminal cases.