U.S. Legislative Immigration Update March 8, 2010

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

  • House Passes Amended Jobs Bill; Senate to Act this Week
  • House Poised to Act on Senate Health Care Bill
  • United Kingdom May Deny Visas to Those Without Proof of Health Insurance
  • New Polls Show Broad-Based Support for Immigration Enforcement
  • Virginia Man Arrested for Helping Smuggle Somalis with Terrorist Ties into the U.S.
  • True Immigration Reformer Rep. Nathan Deal to Retire from U.S. House
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    House Passes Amended Jobs Bill; Senate to Act this Week

    On Thursday, March 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2847, the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) $15 billion jobs bill. (Roll Call Vote #90, March 4, 2010). While the House tweaked the bill by extending a corporate tax break for an additional year (Politico, March 4, 2010), it failed to address the primary issue that FAIR has raised concerning the HIRE Act: the legislation completely omits any mandate that jobs created by the bill go to U.S. workers. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates: March 1, 2010; February 22, 2010).

    The HIRE Act, which passed the Senate on February 24, contains two major tax provisions: (1) an exemption from payroll taxes for employers who hire new employees in 2010 and (2) a $1,000 tax credit for employers who keep those employees for at least 52 weeks. (Id.).  Unfortunately, the bill does not require that these new workers be legal or that employers use E-Verify to confirm their work authorization. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, February 16, 2010). FAIR has urged Congress to address these issues by amending the bill to (1) require employers seeking to receive benefits under the bill to use E-Verify and (2) bar employers who do not hire legal U.S. workers from receiving tax benefits. While both the House and the Senate failed to address these issues before passing the jobs bill, it is important to note that, since the House amended the bill, the Senate must pass the legislation a second time before it can be sent to the White House for the president’s signature. Accordingly, senators will have at least one more opportunity to correct the problems in the bill.

    Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest developments concerning the HIRE Act…

    House Poised to Act on Senate Health Care Bill

    The Senate health care bill, H.R. 3590, which still lacks adequate verification measures to prevent millions of illegal aliens from accessing taxpayer funded health benefits, is back.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis of H.R. 3590 for an in-depth analysis of the bill). President Obama is urging the House to pass the bill with no amendments by next Thursday, March 18th.  (The Hill, March 4, 2010).

    The Senate health care reform bill is problematic for several reasons:

    Last December, the Senate debated H.R.3590 for weeks, but still refused to address immigration issues. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Senator John Ensign (R-NV) introduced amendments that would have significantly improved the immigration-related provisions in the bill, but leadership never allowed a vote on either amendment. (FAIR Legislative Update, December 14, 2009).  In fact, the Senate passed this massive legislation without ever acknowledging the significant immigration policy issues within the bill. Now, President Obama and Congressional leaders are putting intense pressure on members of the House to pass the Senate bill in its original form, including the verification loopholes.                       

    If the House passes the Senate bill as-is, a separate bill would be needed to fix the issues House Democrats have with the bill.  However, such a bill would have to pass the mine-laden Senate where one Senator can prevent a vote. Senate rules require 60 votes to end a filibuster and proceed to a vote, but the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority with the January election of Senator Scott Brown (R-MA).  In an effort to bypass the 60 vote threshold, Senate leaders have indicated they are willing to pass health care legislation using the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority, only 51 votes.   (Politico, March 3, 2010).    

    Reconciliation, which was designed to pass budget and tax measures, is controversial for many reasons, and not all Senate Democrats have expressed willingness to use it.  Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters last week that it is not “the best way to do this for a lot of reasons.”  (ABC News, March 5, 2010).  Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) generally opposed using reconciliation to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill  (The Atlantic, March 5, 2010), but now suggests that the Democrats’ plan to modify the bill through reconciliation is appropriate.  Id.  Meanwhile Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is seeking bipartisan support to block the Democrats from using reconciliation to pass healthcare.  (The Hill, March 5, 2010). 

    Whether or not reconciliation is ultimately used, nothing can be done until the House passes the Senate health care bill with zero modifications.  If the House schedules a vote within the next two weeks as the president has requested, it is unlikely any debate or amendments will be allowed, including ones that address immigration in a way that protects the American taxpayer.  The new law will lack a meaningful and effective verification system, it will give the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the power to waive any existing verification requirements, and it will fail to require that applicants for taxpayer-subsidized insurance verify their identity or eligibility for benefits.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis of H.R. 3590 for more information). 

    Over the last few weeks, lawmakers and the president have engaged in an ongoing public debate about health care.  Unfortunately, they have remained silent on the immigration issues that FAIR and other groups have raised, and there is no indication that these issues will be addressed as the push to pass health care reform proceeds.  In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last week that immigration is not central to the Democrats’ health care reform overhaul, even though it is an important issue to many in her caucus.  (See The Hill, March 2, 2010).  Though better than the bill passed in the House, the Senate bill falls short of true immigration reformers’ expectations and full consideration of these concerns should be allowed before final passage.  (FAIR’s Legislative Update, November 23, 2009). 

    Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest on immigration and health care reform…

    United Kingdom May Refuse Entry to Those Without Health Insurance

    As the United States Congress debates health care reform legislation, our friends across the pond are struggling to deal with crippling debt within their own government-run health care system.  To lower costs, United Kingdom’s Department of Health has released new proposals that would require visitors to hold health insurance before they can enter the country.  (BBC News, February 26, 2010). The proposals are aimed at “health tourists” who come to the UK for treatment but then fail to pay for it. Id.

    There are currently few barriers to access to health care in the UK, as the National Health Service provides that anyone who intends to live permanently in the country is entitled to free treatment.  (Department of Health).  Each hospital has broad discretion in determining an individual’s eligibility, which can be shown with anything from a receipt showing the shipment of goods to proof the person is seeking employment.  Id. Under a separate review of immigration regulations, the UK is also considering refusing entry to foreigners who already owe the government for treatment.  Each year, the government is saddled with 5 million pounds from unpaid bills racked up by foreign nationals.  (BBC News, February 26, 2010). According to the Department of Health, 50% of outstanding bills are not paid within a year of treatment and about 5% of overseas patients have three or more unpaid invoices.  Id.

    If the proposals are approved, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) would provide a list of aliens with health care debts to immigration officials, who would then prevent them from reentering the country without paying their treatment bills.  (BBC News, February 26, 2010).  In addition to refusing entry to those lacking health insurance or with unpaid bills, the proposals also provide that those currently in the UK will be refused any extension to their visa while long term foreign residents applying for British citizenship will be refused until they settle their debt. The proposals would mark a dramatic change to the government’s existing immigration policy, and would explicitly add provisions to the UK’s immigration rules that a record of failing to discharge payment obligations to NHS will impact a person’s ability to enter and stay in the country.  (Telegraph, February 27, 2010).

    The suggested reforms are a concession by NHS that its universal health care has attracted a number of foreign visitors who deliberately abuse the system and leave the government to deal with the debt.  Past incidents include an overseas businessman who received treatment worth 55,000 pounds and a pregnant woman who left an unpaid bill of 5,000 pounds after coming to Britain for the sole purpose of giving birth.  (Telegraph, February 27, 2010).  Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said of the proposals, “The government believes that those who take advantage of our hospitality should respect that hospitality or face consequences.”  (BBC News, February 26, 2010).  Health minister Mike O’Brien added, “We cannot afford to be an international health service, providing free treatment for all.”  Id.

    This news comes the same week that Woolas stirred debate with comments he made about the U.K.’s immigration system. In an interview with the BBC, the Immigration Minister said that his own family and children had “suffered” from the country’s immigration policies. (Telegraph, February 25, 2010).  Woolas acknowledged that the sudden influx of large numbers of aliens had had an effect on communities and unemployment, stating, “if you get a big influx of people coming an area…that is the price you pay.”  Id.  He refused to expand on his comments, but he is not the first Labour minister to concede that immigration has negatively impacted British towns and cities.  Last December, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that immigration had “cost” parts of Britain by impacting jobs and wages. Id.  And Home Secretary for the Conservative Party Chris Grayling recently stated that “There is no question that immigration has put huge pressure on our public services. How can a Minister defend a policy that he admits his own family has suffered from?”  Id.

    The proposals from NHS suggest that the British government is struggling to address a problem that could jeopardize the future viability of its government-run health care system, especially as surveys suggest that up to one in five people regularly travel without any form of insurance at all.  (Telegraph, February 27, 2010).  Shadow immigration minister Damian Green was vocal in his criticism of current policy, stating that “It is clear that the Government’s open-door immigration policy has resulted in significant burdens on our public services, including the NHS.”  Id.

    New Polls Show Broad-Based Support for Immigration Enforcement

    While pro-amnesty advocates increase their pressure on the Obama Administration to pass “comprehensive immigration reform,” recent polls show strong support for immigration enforcement, even among minorities, business executives, union members, and parishioners. In February, Zogby released the results of a survey of roughly 700 Hispanic, 400 African-American, and 400 Asian-American likely voters. The Zogby poll found that, when asked to choose between enforcement that would cause illegal aliens in the country to go home or offering them an amnesty, 52 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of Asian-Americans, and 50 percent of African-Americans support the enforcement option. (CIS Backgrounder, February 2010). A Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) analysis of the poll results concluded that despite the perception that minority voters support amnesty as a monolithic bloc, the reality is that minorities “want enforcement and less immigration.” (Id.).

    Another Zogby poll released in February illustrates the gap between pro-amnesty special interests and the people that these groups purport to represent. Special interest business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition often team with special interest labor groups like the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union to lobby Congress in support of amnesty and in opposition to immigration enforcement. However, the Zogby poll found that 59 percent of executives (e.g., CEOs, CFOs, etc.), 67 percent of small business owners, and 58 percent of union households support enforcement of our immigration laws over granting amnesty to illegal aliens. (CIS Backgrounder, February 2010).  

    In addition, a December Zogby poll of 42,026 likely voters similarly found that most parishioners and congregants would choose a policy of immigration enforcement that would cause illegal aliens to go home over an amnesty program. These results conflict with policies supported by many religious leaders, who have actively lobbied for passage of an amnesty. According to the Zogby poll, 64 percent of Catholics, 64 percent of “Mainline” Protestants, 76 percent of “Born-Again” Protestants, and a 43 percent plurality of Jews chose the enforcement option over amnesty. (CIS Backgrounder, December 2009).

    One of the main reasons such a wide range of Americans favor immigration enforcement over amnesty is that the American people generally see illegal immigration as a strain on the U.S budget. A March 3 national telephone survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports found that “67 percent of U.S. voters say that illegal immigrants are a significant strain on the U.S. budget.” (Rasmussen Reports, March 3, 2010). Of voters polled, two-out-of-three (66 percent) said the availability of government money and services draw illegal immigrants to the United States and 68 percent said gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States. (Id.). Of particular importance, 80 percent of voters said the issue of immigration will be somewhat important in determining how they will vote in the next congressional election; half (50 percent) said it will be very important to them. (Id.).

    Virginia Man Arrested for Helping Smuggle Somalis with Terrorist Ties into the U.S.

    A Virginia man who has admitted contacts with an Islamic terrorist group has been charged with helping 270 Somalis enter the United States illegally.  (The Examiner, February 23, 2010).  Anthony Joseph Tracy allegedly moved to Kenya last April to set up a business that procured fraudulent Cuban travel visas for Somalis. These Somalis would travel from Kenya to Cuba and then illegally enter the United States through Mexico.   (Fox News, February 23, 2010).  The criminal complaint alleges that Tracy provided fraudulent information to his contacts in the Cuban Embassy in order to gain the visas and that he knew that the U.S. was the Somalis’ intended final destination.  The complaint also states Tracy obtained fraudulent visas for as many as ten Somalis a week, charging between $100 and $1,000 for the fake documents.  Id.  Federal agents arrested Tracy last month after returning to the United States.

    Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) is searching for the almost 300 Somalis who illegally entered the U.S. with Tracy’s assistance, but have yet to locate any of the suspected illegal aliens.  Id.  The search has taken on a troubling significance, as federal officials have uncovered what appear to be ties between Tracy and Al-Shabaab, a Somali group that declared an alliance with al-Qaeda earlier this year. According to court documents, Tracy told authorities that while living in Kenya he was contacted by Al-Shabaab. Id.  At least one ICE agent has testified that the agency is “concerned” about the 35 year-old man’s dealings with the terrorist group, despite Tracy’s claim during a polygraph that he “refused to help them” when they approached him and asked for his assistance.  Id.  But an email Tracy wrote suggests otherwise, “i helped alot of somalis and most are good but there are some who are bad and i leave them to ALLAH.”  (The Examiner, February 23, 2010).  Tracy’s emails and information on Facebook indicate that the Somalis have spread across the country and are living in New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Arizona. 

    Tracy, who served time in prison in the 1990s and converted to Islam while incarcerated, is not the first American with suspected ties to al-Shabaab, as the FBI has been investigating for over a year how more than 20 young Somali-Americans from Minnesota were recruited to train and fight alongside the terrorist group in Somalia.  (Fox News, February 23, 2010).  That investigation resulted in 14 men being charged with terrorism-related offenses.  Several months ago, FOX News reported that law enforcement officials were concerned that al-Shabaab fighters could be smuggled into the United States to launch attacks.  Id.  An official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told FOX News, “It’s certainly something that quite plainly is definitely on the radar.  We’re alert to that and doing our part to make sure that we address that threat.”  Id.  FOX News also reported that last February, CBP sent an alert to its offices about al-Shabaab that stated, “It is feared that U.S. citizens and residents are being called to action in Somalia, as well as to support the illegal migration of Somalis to the United States.”  Id.  Tracy, who federal prosecutors describe as a public threat and a flight risk, is currently being held without bail.

    True Immigration Reformer Rep. Nathan Deal to Retire from U.S. House

    On Monday March 1, Congressman Nathan Deal (R-GA) announced that he will soon resign from the U.S. House of Representatives so that he can devote his “full energies” to his campaign for the Georgia governorship. (USA Today, March 1, 2010). While it was initially reported that Deal’s resignation would be effective March 8, Deal has since said that he will postpone his resignation in order to participate in an upcoming vote on health care reform legislation. (Rome News-Tribune, March 4, 2010).

    Over the course of his 18 year career in the House, Rep. Deal has been a strong and consistent voice in the fight for true immigration reform. Rep. Deal has repeatedly authored legislation (e.g., H.R. 1868) that would end the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship to children born to illegal alien parents. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, June 1, 2009). Recently, Deal fought to incorporate common-sense immigration policy into health care reform legislation by: (1) offering an amendment that would have ensured that illegal aliens would not be able to access taxpayer-subsidized health care benefits through Medicaid (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 3, 2009) and (2) pushing the U.S. Senate to adopt stronger citizenship verification requirements even after the House had already passed its health care bill. (See Rep. Deal’s Letter, November 18, 2009). 

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