U.S. Legislative Immigration Update March 15, 2010

Right Side News brings you the latest legislative updates impacting our borders and immigration policies from the Federation for Immigration Reform:

  • Obama Struggles with Tangled Web of Amnesty, Health Care, and Political Pressure
  • Amnesty Forces Prepare for D.C. Rally
  • Leader of Massive Student Visa Fraud Ring Arrested
  • DHS Designates Greece as Member of Visa Waiver Program

     

Obama Struggles with Tangled Web of Amnesty, Health Care, and Political Pressure

As President Obama continues to press Congress to pass health care reform, amnesty proponents are losing patience with the lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform.  To help stifle the cries of neglect from increasingly vocal amnesty advocates, President Obama summoned Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to the White House last week to discuss their efforts to draft a bipartisan immigration reform bill.  (Roll Call, March 10, 2010).  The talks generated little concrete substance, but all parties agreed that with Senator Graham the only Republican on board, more bipartisan support would be needed to pass amnesty legislation.

Although there was consensus on this goal, the parties appeared to have differing views on who holds responsibility to attract such support.  Obama is calling on Graham and special interest groups to rally support from Republicans before he can move forward, while Graham says it is time for Obama to step up his efforts.  (Politico, March 10, 2010).  In fact, on ABC’s “This Week,” Graham said the notion that the president’s commitment to immigration reform was “unwavering” didn’t pass the “smell test” and suggested the president was merely posturing for short-term political gain. He continued: “A hastily called meeting Thursday because of a rally next weekend is not unwavering….This idea that this administration has been unwavering on immigration reform is just political spin and the people at the rally ought to know that.” 

Amnesty forces have grown increasingly restless since Obama failed to keep his campaign promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office and only made a passing mention of it the state of the union speech.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, February 1, 2010).  Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said last week, “That’s when the grass-roots groups went from frustrated to angry.  We thought he would bring change.”  (Roll Call, March 10, 2010).  Sharry expressed frustration with the lack of any “discernible movement in his first year.”  Id.  The White House maintains that “The president’s commitment to fixing our broken immigration system remains unwavering.”  Id.  Perhaps to prove that commitment, Obama also met with amnesty advocates at the White House last week.  (The New York Times, March 11, 2010). 

Obama refused to give a timeline for movement on amnesty legislation, but pro-amnesty groups are warning there could be political consequences in November if there is no tangible progress.  “American voters across the nation are frustrated with inaction,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration campaigns for the National Council of La Raza.  (NPR, March 11, 2010).  “We’re waiting for him to show us results,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “We believe that his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is real, but we also want results, and that’s what we’re going to be expecting in the next couple of weeks.”  Id.  

The White House meetings with amnesty advocates and Graham and Schumer were designed to display a commitment to immigration reform, but it is clear many obstacles remain.  Last week, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus threatened to vote against the health care bill unless changes were made to the bill’s immigration provisions.  (The Hill, March 11, 2010).  Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who serves as chairman of the CHC’s Immigration Task Force, said the members are still concerned that the health care bill excludes illegal aliens from receiving benefits.  (The Hill, March 11, 2010).  During an interview on MSNBC, Gutierrez said “[The provisions] are enough to say I can’t support this bill.”  Id.  Yet, on CNN’s Sunday morning talk show, State of the Union, White House advisor David Axelrod stated that immigration would not be addressed in the health care reform bill and seemed confident that the House would have enough votes to pass health care reform. (See CNN Transcript, March 14, 2010)

Further complicating matters, Senator Graham has made it clear that if Democrats use reconciliation to pass health care without Republican support, it could destroy any hope of action on immigration in Congress this year.  (Politico, March 12, 2010).  There was no reaction from the White House to this statement, and it appears the president and Congress have already started the process of budget reconciliation to pass health care reform. Thus, in an ironic twist, the resolution of the health care reform could significantly affect the outcome of “comprehensive” immigration reform in Congress.

Amnesty Forces Prepare for D.C. Rally

On Sunday, March 21, amnesty supporters from across the country will convene in Washington, D.C. to demand that the U.S. Congress pass legislation granting amnesty to the approximately 11 million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States. Billed the “March for America,” the event is being spearheaded by “Reform Immigration for America,” a coalition of “individuals and grassroots organizations” that support amnesty. (March for America Home Page; About – Reform Immigration for America).

According to the Reform Immigration for America website, the marchers will “demand immigration reform and economic justice for all Americans.” The coalition claims that its “vision of reform includes immigrants and native-born U.S. citizens working shoulder to shoulder to achieve better wages, working conditions, and labor protections, and of an American that’s back to work, with a fair balance between main street and wall street.” (March for America – What March?). Reform Immigration for America lists a number of notorious amnesty proponents as sponsors of the march, including big labor special interest groups, such as the AFL-CIO and the SEIU; liberal think thanks, such as the Center for American Progress; and ethnic interest groups, such as the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). (March for America – Whose March?).

The march comes as pro-amnesty organizations are harshly criticizing President Obama for failing to deliver on his campaign promise of signing amnesty legislation into law during his first year in office. On Monday, March 8, the heads of several pro-amnesty coalitions held a press conference to express their frustration. LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes said that the members of his organization feel “angry” and “betrayed.” In addition, amnesty proponents stated that they would rebuke Congressional Democrats at the polls in the 2010 midterm elections if they fail to pass an amnesty bill. As Emma Lozano of Centro Sin Fronteras said: “No legalization. No reelection.” Responding to the criticism, White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro stated that the president’s “commitment to fixing our broken immigration system remains unwavering.” (The Washington Post, March 9, 2010).

In response to the march, FAIR is encouraging supporters of true immigration reform to make their voices heard by:

  • Adding your name to a list that will be presented to each Member of Congress with a message that we need to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders by signing up for FAIR’s Virtual March;
  • Visiting their elected officials’ local offices on Friday, March 19; and
  • Calling their elected officials on Monday, March 22.

Stay tuned to FAIR for more on how you can make your voice heard in support of true immigration reform!

Leader of Massive Student Visa Fraud Ring Arrested

A California man charged with leading a massive student visa fraud operation was arrested last week.  (Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2010).  Eamonn Daniel Higgins, a 46 year-old U.S. citizen, spent the past seven years in college, but he wasn’t a registered student and never earned a degree.  Id.  Instead, federal officials claim he attended 10 different schools as part of a scheme to defraud the government by helping hundreds of Middle Eastern nationals obtain student visas.  According to the criminal complaint, Higgins was also paid to sit in class, take exams, and write papers to help them hold onto those visas.  Prosecutors allege that he charged up to $1,500 for course assignments and English proficiency exams, and even took a full course load for some foreign nationals.  Id. 

Police first started investigating Higgins last summer after finding a wallet with several fake California driver’s licenses, all with a photo of Higgins’ nephew.  The criminal complaint filed in the case says that the names were listed in federal databases as being foreigners on student visas attending various schools in California.  Police later seized 60 fraudulent California driver’s licenses from Higgins’ home. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents said that Higgins, who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for defrauding his country, even hired staff to keep up with the demand for his services.

ICE agents have already arrested 16 of Higgins’s clients and are searching for about 20 others. Authorities believe that he illegally helped at least 120 individuals from the Middle East, including nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, and Qatar, maintain their student visa status.  Id.  Debra Parker, the Los Angeles acting special agent in charge of investigations for ICE, said that “We have seen visa fraud schemes before but we have never seen anything quite like this.  This is something really sophisticated.”  Id.  Authorities have not said whether any of the students have terrorist ties.  That is a frightening possibility, especially in light of the ease in which Higgins was able to conduct this conspiracy over the course of seven years.  Special Agent Parker said, “It definitely highlights some of the vulnerability, the way these people were able to go and compromise the integrity of the immigration system.”  Id. 

After officials discovered that one of the 9/11 hijackers was in the U.S. on a student visa, the State Department vowed to reform and monitor the student visa program.  Colleges and universities began using a specialized tracking system for foreign students, but this case exposes a loophole through the use of fake IDs.  (The Salt Lake Tribune, March 9, 2010).  One school administrator admitted that it is very difficult to detect impostors who take tests for students when they show identification.  “If he has a fake driver’s license with his photo and a signature, even with a name that looks foreign, he is going to get in because it’s him.  It’s his face on the fake ID.”  (Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2010).  But in one case, authorities say that a blond woman working for Higgins was allowed to take an exam using a fake ID that paired her picture with an Arabic man’s name.  (The Salt Lake Tribune, March 9, 2010). 

One issue raised by this investigation is how much responsibility colleges will have to bear in confirming the identities of foreign students.  As of December 2009, there were approximately 741,000 foreign students in the U.S. on active visas.  (Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2010).  Foreign nationals who want to study in the U.S. must first be accepted to a college or university, apply for a student visa, and pass an English proficiency exam.  They face deportation if they fail to keep their visas valid by attending school full-time.  Former undersecretary for policy with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Stewart Baker observed, “DHS will have to make some tough decisions about how much more responsibility for performing identity checks they want to place on universities, which have been pretty resistant to that kind of burden.”  (The Associated Press, March 10, 2010).  One of the community colleges involved in this case admittedly doesn’t check student IDs for routine exams, but claimed to be stunned that some of their foreign students had engaged in visa fraud.  Golden West College spokesman said, “They just have the documentation that they’re supposed to have and if it’s fraudulent, we don’t check.” 

News of this case comes on the heels of the exposure of another massive student visa fraud scheme.  Two Miami women who owned and directed a Florida school were recently charged with tricking immigration officials into granting more than 200 student visas to foreign nationals who were not really students. (The Miami Herald, March 5, 2010).  Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) said that “Obviously this process that we set up is not working and we have to find a better way.  They have to be here for the right reasons, going to school, otherwise they should be deported.  (The Associated Press, March 10, 2010).  Bilirakis is the ranking member of the House homeland security oversight and investigations subcommittee and is sponsoring a bill that would require in-person interviews of foreign students every 30 days during the school year and every 60 days during nonacademic periods.  

DHS Designates Greece as Member of Visa Waiver Program

On March 9, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano raised serious national security concerns when she announced that her department had designated Greece as a member of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows nationals of 36 participating countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. (DHS Press Release, March 9, 2010).

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised concerns about the VWP and national security. In September 2008, the GAO reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “has not fully developed tools to assess and mitigate risks in the Visa Waiver Program.” (GAO Report, September 15, 2008). Jess T. Ford, GAO’s Director of International Affairs and Trade, warned a Senate subcommittee that the VWP “poses inherent security, law enforcement, and illegal immigration risks to the United States.” (Statement of Jess T. Ford, September 24, 2008). In addition, the Director of National Intelligence has testified that al Qaeda is seeking to exploit the VWP by recruiting Europeans because, under the VWP, most Europeans do not require a visa to enter the United States. (Id.).

The decision to designate Greece as a member of the VWP comes as security experts are increasingly alarmed about attempts by terrorist organizations to recruit individuals with Western passports. For example, a well-known al Qaeda recruiter has said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Nigerian man who, on Christmas Day, allegedly used a U.S.-visa to board a Detroit-bound plane in which he attempted to detonate an explosive device – “is one of [his] students.” (The Washington Post, February 6, 2010). More recently, the case of Colleen R. LaRose – the American-born woman, dubbed “Jihad Jane,” who has been charged with recruiting people to wage violent jihad – has raised questions about al Qaeda’s ability to recruit U.S. citizens with passports, which would allow these individuals to travel in and out of the United States with ease. (The Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 2010).

The announcement that Greece may now participate in the Visa Waiver Program drew sharp criticism from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Smith argued that the VWP “facilitates illegal immigration” (Press Release, March 9, 2010) because DHS has failed to fully implement US-VISIT – the entry-exit tracking program that collects information, including biometric identifiers, on foreign nationals attempting to enter the United States. This information is then used to, among other things, determine whether foreign nationals should be denied entry and whether exiting aliens have overstayed or otherwise violated the terms of their admission. According to a November 2009 GAO report, however, DHS has failed to completely implement a comprehensive exit function for US-VISIT. (GAO Report, November 2009).

These facts led Rep. Smith to describe the Obama administration’s decision to expand the VWP as “another blow to our national security.” Smith argued that, “[w]ithout the exit portion of US-VISIT, there is no way to tell whether people who entered the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program actually left the country.” Smith also pointed out that “September 11 conspirator Zacarious Moussaoui, ‘Shoebomber’ Richard Reid, and 1993 World Trade Center conspirator Ahmed Ajaj all entered or attempted to enter the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program.” (Press Release, March 9, 2010).

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