US Legislative Immigration Update August 3, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this August 3, 2009 Legislative Weekly…

  • Another House Committee Rejects Closing Health Coverage Loophole for Illegal Aliens
  • Audio Tape Reveals ICE Dismantling 287(g) Enforcement, Instructed Sheriff to Release Illegal Aliens
  • PASS ID Clears Senate Committee on Homeland Security 

Another House Committee Rejects Closing Health Coverage Loophole for Illegal Aliens

Last week, another committee in the House of Representatives had a chance to close one of the many loopholes in the House health care bill that would open up taxpayer-funded health care benefits for illegal aliens. Unfortunately, by a vote of 28 to 29, the Energy and Commerce Committee narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) that would close one of those loopholes. (Amendment Language and Vote Results).

Congressman Deal’s amendment would have continued to require that the government verify whether someone enrolling in Medicaid is not an illegal alien. (See video of Rep. Deal explaining his amendment). Section 1702 of the House bill reads that States “shall accept without further determination the enrollment… of an individual determined… to be a non-traditional Medicaid eligible individual.” Concerns have been raised about whether a “non-traditional Medicaid eligible individual” would include illegal aliens and that the prohibition against verifying eligibility contained in Section 1702 would allow illegal aliens to enroll in Medicaid. (House bill).

On a related note, one of the nation’s largest retailers this week announced support for free health care for illegal aliens. While speaking at a convention of the National Council of La Raza held in Chicago, Dr. John Agwunobi, the senior vice-president who runs the Wal-Mart unit that includes the company’s health clinics, stated: “We believe strongly that everyone should have access to affordable health insurance. Everyone.” (WBEX Radio, July 27, 2009). In late June, the National Council of La Raza issued a statement demanding that Congress give illegal aliens taxpayer-funded health care benefits. Last week, an unidentified member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said: “We’re pushing to include everyone in the health care bill. Everyone.” (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 27, 2009 and June 22, 2009).

For the past two weeks, FAIR’s Legislative Update has reported on certain provisions in the House health care bill that would give away taxpayer-funded health care benefits to illegal aliens. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates, July 27, 2009 and July 20, 2009). Various media outlets have begun to highlight our work on this issue, including FOXNews, which wrote: “In a recent study, FAIR said that nothing in the health care package would prevent illegal immigrants from enrolling in a taxpayer-funded public plan, and that no verification mechanisms exist to prevent them from receiving credits to help with private plans.” (FOXNews, July 30, 2009).

Audio Tape Reveals ICE Dismantling 287(g) Enforcement, Instructed Sheriff to Release Illegal Aliens

Last week, Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio released tape-recorded conversations indicating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials had instructed his department to release thirteen illegal aliens apprehended during a law enforcement operation. Arpaio’s department participates in 287(g) – a federal program that trains state and local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. The taped conversations directly contradict a previous statement from a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson claiming that “the determination to release these [illegal aliens] lies solely within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.” (East Valley Tribune, July 25, 2009; Examiner.com, July 27, 2009).

The situation between ICE and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) stemmed from a crime suppression operation conducted on Thursday, July 23 and Friday, July 24. According to Arpaio, the MCSO had identified thirteen illegal aliens on civil violations as a result of the operation. In light of a recent announcement by DHS that ICE is changing the parameters surrounding the 287(g) program (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates from July 13, 2009 and July 27, 2009), MCSO deputies consulted ICE officials about whether they still had permission – as they had previously – to take illegal aliens who had committed civil (and not criminal) violations into custody. The conflict initially arose from this conversation: DHS claimed that the decision to release the illegal aliens had come from Arpaio’s office, while the MCSO stated that they had been advised by ICE officials to release the aliens. (East Valley Tribune, July 25, 2009; Phoenix Business Journal, July 25, 2009).

Following DHS’ pronouncement that the decision to release the illegal aliens laid “solely within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Arpaio announced that his deputies had taped their conversations with ICE officials. According to the East Valley Tribune, a copy of the recording indicates that an ICE official had in fact advised the “MCSO not to take into custody those [illegal aliens] who don’t have a criminal history.” Arpaio noted that in previous years ICE would have deported the aliens but was refusing to now because of the recent changes to 287(g). However, Arpaio also pointed out that DHS had granted 287(g) participants 90 days to comply with the new directives. The Tribune noted that Arpaio felt that DHS’ decision to accelerate the implementation of the 287(g) changes had been made for “political reasons.” (Id.).

In spite of the release of the tape-recorded evidence proving otherwise, DHS continues to deny that ICE officials instructed the MCSO to release the illegal aliens. DHS spokesperson Matthew Chandler responded to the release of the tape-recording: “The Sheriff’s Office was given specific instructions on how to institute immigration proceedings against any individuals suspected of being in this country illegally, however they declined to do so. These actions are disappointing and detract from immigration law enforcement efforts not only in Arizona, but throughout the rest of the country as well.” (Id.).

PASS ID Clears Senate Committee on Homeland Security

Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved an amended version of PASS ID (S.1261) by voice vote. The amendments reflect mostly cosmetic changes to a bill that would repeal and weaken many of the security standards established by the REAL ID Act of 2005. (See FAIR’s PASS ID Legislative Analysis, July 1, 2009 and FAIR’s REAL ID vs. PASS ID chart). In addition, with the passage of this bill, the date of nationwide compliance would be pushed back to 2016 at the earliest, putting Americans at risk. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 20, 2009).

The committee did attempt to correct one gaping security loophole of the PASS ID bill. Under current law, REAL ID requires a secure ID to board a commercial airplane. As introduced, PASS ID stated that “no person shall be denied boarding a commercial aircraft solely on the basis of failure to present [secure] identification….” (Section 242(a)(1)(B)). Accordingly, PASS ID in its earlier form would have eliminated an important security measure and allowed people without secure IDs to board airplanes. At an earlier hearing on PASS ID, Sen. Collins expressed concern over this provision. (FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 20, 2009).

At the mark-up, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) offered an amendment regarding the commercial air travel issue. (See FAIR’s Changes Pass ID Would Make to REAL ID). Sen. Voinovich’s amendment “would give TSA the discretion to prevent a person from boarding for failure to show a PASS ID.” (NextGov, July 29, 2009). While Voinovich’s amendment represents an improvement over the language contained in PASS ID, it still is weaker than the provisions of REAL ID. As such, the Voinovich amendment essentially returns Transportation Security Administration procedures to pre-9/11 standards that could be exploited by terrorists.

In response to the Voinovich amendment, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) revealed his motivation behind sponsoring PASS ID – to protect his state’s tourism industry. According to Akaka, “…especially for a state like Hawaii which relies so heavily on air travel and tourism…we must ensure that we do not discourage people from traveling.” (Senate Homeland Security Committee Hearing, July 29, 2009). While tourism is an important part of many state’s economies, it should not be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Although many senators have claimed that REAL ID was “unfunded” and “unworkable,” it is clear by votes against REAL ID grants in 2007 – Akaka and Lieberman included – that their objections were merely a smoke screen for an ulterior motive. (Roll Call Vote # 279, July 26, 2007)

It is unclear whether PASS ID will make its way onto the Senate floor for a full Senate vote. Similar legislation has yet to be introduced in the House of Representatives.

 

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.