U.S. Legislative Immigration Update December 22, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this December 22nd, 2009 Legislative Weekly 

  • Radical Amnesty Bill Introduced in House
  • Federal Government Slashes SCAAP Funding In Omnibus Appropriations Bill
  • Senate Continues to Ignore Immigration During Health Care Debate
  • New Asylum Detention Policy Jeopardizes National Securit
  • DHS Caves, Delays REAL ID Compliance Deadline
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     Radical Amnesty Bill Introduced in House

    On Tuesday, December 15, open borders advocate Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced H.R. 4321, the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009,” (CIR ASAP). H.R. 4321 would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, dramatically increase legal immigration, and create loopholes in existing penalties in exchange for promises of “enforcement” in the future. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates from October 19, 2009 and December 14, 2009). At introduction, CIR ASAP had over 90 original co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. (See Cosponsor listing).

    CIR ASAP contains several amnesty programs, including AgJOBS (Title IV, Subtitle B); the DREAM Act (sprinkled throughout the bill); and a broad amnesty program through which millions of illegal aliens could obtain “earned legalization” (Title IV, Subtitle A). These provisions are in many ways similar to those in the Bush-Kennedy Amnesty Bill of 2007, except that several significant requirements have been weakened. For example, for an illegal alien to receive amnesty under H.R.4321, he or she does not even have to establish employment, only that he or she is an active member of the community.

    In addition to granting amnesty, CIR ASAP would dramatically increase legal immigration by:

    • Recapturing purportedly “unused” family and employment-based green cards from 1992 to 2008 (§301(a)-(b)). According to State Department data, this provision alone could bring in as many as 550,000 immigrants-all of whom would compete with American workers for jobs. (U.S. State Department, Unused Family and Employment Preferences Numbers Available for Recapture, Fiscal Years 1992-2007).
    • Expanding the definition of “immediate relatives” to include children and spouses of lawful permanent residents. (§302). This would allow an unlimited number of these children and spouses to immediately qualify for a visa.
    • Increasing the annual per country limits on family and employment-based visas from seven percent to ten percent. (§303). Under current law, each foreign country has a seven percent share of the total cap of visas allocated each year.

    In exchange for the multiple amnesties and massive increases in legal immigration proposed in the bill, H.R. 4321 contains measures ostensibly aimed at strengthening immigration “enforcement.” Upon closer examination, however, CIR ASAP would actually undermine the enforcement of our immigration laws. For example, the bill would:

    • Repeal the highly successful 287(g) program, which allows federal officials to train state and local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. (§184).
    • Establish a new, untested electronic employee verification system. (§201). This would completely reverse years of progress made with respect to E-Verify.
    • Temporarily suspend Operation Streamline pending a re-evaluation of the program’s future viability. (§125(a)). Operation Streamline is a highly successful, zero-tolerance program that targets illegal aliens for immediate prosecution upon apprehension at or near the border. After Operation Streamline was put into effect in December 2006, the Yuma, Arizona sector saw nearly 1200 prosecutions in the first 9 months. Border apprehensions decreased by 70 percent. (CBP Press Release, July 24, 2007).
    • Prohibit the Armed Forces and the National Guard from assisting in securing the border unless: (1) the President declares a national emergency, or (2) the use of the Armed Forces/National Guard is required for specific counter-terrorism duties. (§131(a) & (b)).
    • Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify and inventory the current personnel, human resources, assets, equipment, supplies, or other physical resources dedicated to border security and enforcement prior to any increase in these categories. (§114(a); §116(a)).

    At a press conference announcing the introduction of his bill, Rep. Gutierrez indicated that his bill was to set the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s standard for immigration reform legislation. However, he also acknowledged that the Senate will most likely be the first chamber to act on amnesty legislation. While a bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is planning to introduce a bill in early 2010, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated he will kick off the amnesty debate sometime in February or March. (Congressional Quarterly, December 15, 2009).

    FAIR will be releasing a more detailed summary of the Gutierrez amnesty bill shortly. Stay tuned for our in-depth analysis.

    Federal Government Slashes SCAAP Funding In Omnibus Appropriations Bill

    Last week, Congress passed the FY 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3288), which President Obama signed into law last Wednesday.  This massive legislation provides appropriations for the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and other agencies.  The bill increases annual spending by 10 to 12 percent.  (The New York Times, December 13, 2009).  The omnibus spending bill is a staggering 1,085 pages, and the grand total of spending is $446.8 billion. (Id.).    

    Despite the overall increase in spending, the appropriations bill cuts spending for the important State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). This program provides federal money to the states to help them pay for the incarceration of criminal aliens. This cut was tucked away in the conference report accompanying the bill, which specifies how the appropriated funds are to be spent, in a section titled “State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance.”  The report delineates $330,000,000 for SCAAP, a 17.5 percent reduction from the $400,000,000 Congress authorized for SCAAP in 2009 (See H.R. 1105). 

    State leaders were clearly displeased with this move. Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) outspokenly criticized the 17.5% spending cut, stating “The federal government continues to compromise the safety and security of our country, and is adding insult to injury by leaving the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens who have infiltrated a border Washington has failed to secure on the backs of our state and local communities.”   (The Westside Story, December 11, 2009). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also criticized the cut during an appearance on CNN’s Sunday morning show, State of the Union (CNN transcript, December 20, 2009).

    Congress’s move to cut SCAAP funding comes just one week after Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano declared that DHS is taking “unprecedented action” to enforce immigration laws.  (FAIR’s Legislative Update, December 14, 2009).  Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 9 and used the opportunity to argue that the Obama administration has been tough with respect to immigration enforcement.  

    Mounting evidence, however, demonstrates that the Obama Administration’s actions in enforcing our immigration laws do not match its rhetoric. Recently released data from DHS’ Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows that during the last year administrative arrests pursuant to worksite enforcement fell 68 percent, criminal arrests fell 60 percent, criminal indictments fell 58 percent, and criminal convictions fell 63 percent.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, December 14, 2009; For more on these ICE statistics, see FAIR’s Legislative Update, November 23, 2009; See also House Judiciary Committee – Minority Press Release, November 18, 2009). 

    By signing into law this dramatic cut in SCAAP’s funding, the Obama administration has once again demonstrated its commitment to dismantling what effective immigration enforcement measures remain.  (The Westside Story, December 11, 2009). For a comprehensive assessment detailing the numerous steps the administration has taken to undermine immigration enforcement, see FAIR’s Paving the Road to Amnesty Report.

    Senate Continues to Ignore Immigration During Health Care Debate

    Although floor debate has continued for weeks, the Senate still refuses to address immigration issues in the health care bill (H.R.3590). Last week, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Senator John Ensign (R-NV) introduced amendments that would significantly improve the immigration policy reflected in that bill. (FAIR’s Legislative Update, December 14, 2009).  As FAIR has reported, the Senate health care reform bill (H.R. 3590) is problematic for several reasons:

    • The bill fails to effectively verify eligibility of applicants so as to prevent illegal aliens from accessing the taxpayer-subsidized “exchange” marketplace; and
    • The Senate bill circumvents existing law which requires that legal immigrants wait five years before accessing federal health care benefits. This change alone would cost American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and encourage the immigration of individuals who would immediately begin to drain the system.

    The Sessions Amendment (Amdt. No. 3111) would do two things:

    • It would require the use of a meaningful and effective verification system to ensure that illegal aliens will not be able to access taxpayer-funded tax subsidies created by the bill; and
    • It would maintain the 5-year waiting period in current law so that immigrants must pay into the system before they are able to receive taxpayer-funded health benefits. 

    The Ensign Amendment (Amdt. No. 3016) would ensure that American citizens would have the same choices for their health care as the bill gives legal immigrants.  This amendment was intended to address language in the bill that requires low-income American citizens – those with income below 100% of federal poverty (FPL) – to stay enrolled in Medicaid instead of giving them choices for their health insurance.  At the same time, the Senate bill gives similarly-situated legal aliens the taxpayer-subsidized tax credit with which they can buy whatever health insurance they want.  As the Senate continues to debate the health care bill, there has been no attempt to close the loopholes detailed above.  In fact, though they are working through nights and weekends, the Senate body has yet to acknowledge the significant immigration policy issues within the bill or make any effort to find a solution. 

    New Asylum Detention Policy Jeopardizes National Security

    On Wednesday, December 16, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it will stop detaining aliens seeking asylum. (ICE Press Release, December 16, 2009; The New York Times, December 16, 2009). Announced by ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, the new policy is “part of ICE’s ongoing immigration detention reform efforts.” (For more on the detention reforms, see FAIR’s Legislative Update, October 13, 2009).  Under the new policy, aliens who show up at the U.S. border without proper documentation but claim asylum will immediately be eligible for parole into the U.S. if they have a credible fear of persecution or torture and are not considered a danger or flight risk.

    Under current ICE policy, aliens who come to United States without documentation and request asylum are detained until immigration officials have determined whether the alien’s asylum claim is legitimate. Indeed, federal statute provides that if an asylum officer determined at the time of the interview that an alien had a credible fear, “the alien shall be detained for further consideration of the application of asylum.” Asylum seekers then had to request parole in writing. (INA § 235(b))

    This process sought to promote national security by giving federal officials time to screen asylum applications before releasing applicants into the general public. Federal officials began to take detention of asylum applicants more seriously after discovering that immigration officers cleared Ramzi Yousef into the country after he entered the United States at JFK airport on September 1, 1992, without travel documents and applied for asylum. He then began organizing the first attack on the World Trade Center and fled the country after the blast. (Miami Herald, December 18, 2009).

    According to ICE officials, a paroled asylum seeker’s stay in the United States “will be considered temporary until a final decision is made on their asylum claim.” Of course, as Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies has pointed out, the fact that these aliens have been excused from detention greatly reduces the likelihood that they will actually show up at any type of judicial proceeding where a final determination on their asylum claim would be made: “The overwhelming amount of people who apply for asylum don’t get it and that’s why they don’t show up. Lack of detention destroys the credibility and meaningfulness of immigration courts.” (The New York Times).

    Other true immigration reformers have expressed concern with respect to the new policy’s impact on national security. According to FAIR Director of Special Projects Jack Martin, the policy is “irresponsible because it rewards illegal entry” and “dangerous because there is no check on the identity of the traveler.” Martin concluded that the revisions would serve as “a green light to Al Qaeda.” FAIR President Dan Stein added that the changes would effectuate a policy identical to the one that “led to the 1993 [World] Trade Center bombing.” (The Stein Report, December 17, 2009).

    ICE’s new detention policy on asylum seekers will be effective January 4, 2010.

    DHS Caves, Delays REAL ID Compliance Deadline

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that it is extending the December 31, 2009 “REAL ID material compliance deadline” in order to give states additional time to meet certain security standards with respect to the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification documents. (DHS Press Release, December 18, 2009; The Washington Post, December 19, 2009). Without the extension, residents of states that were not materially compliant with REAL ID by December 31 would have been required to go through secondary screening at airports beginning January 1, which could have created confusion and disruptions for tens of thousands of airline passengers.

    In announcing the delay, DHS Press Secretary Matt Chandler pointed out that the deadline for full compliance – May 10, 2011 – would still remain in effect. However, Chandler made DHS’ true intentions clear when he stated that “the states have made tremendous progress in driver’s license security but simply cannot fulfill the requirements of REAL ID.” Chandler then touted DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s support of PASS ID, legislation that would repeal many of the key national security and immigration enforcement provisions established by REAL ID, essentially re-establishing many of the security and immigration loopholes that allowed the 9/11 hijackers to carry out their attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (See FAIR’s PASS ID Legislative Analysis, Legislative Marked Copy, and Comparison Chart).

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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.