US Legislative Immigration Update October 13, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this October 13, 2009 Legislative Weekly…

  • Congress Kills Permanent Extension of E-Verify
  • DHS Weakens Immigration Detention System
  • Senate Rejects Immigration Amendments to Bill that Funds the Census Bureau and DOJ
  • ICE Forces Sheriff Joe to Sign Weakened 287(g) Agreement
  • Senators Question Napolitano on Possible Reduction of Border Patrol Agents
  • FAIR Pulls Back the Curtain on the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

Congress Kills Permanent Extension of E-Verify

On Tuesday, October 7, the House and Senate conferees for the Homeland Security appropriations bill finalized the details of the conference report.  According to a document prepared jointly by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, the conferees turned back the opportunity to permanently extend the E-Verify program and instead included only a three-year extension of the program.  (See here, October 7, 2009). 

True immigration reformers know E-Verify is the voluntary program that allows employers to verify the work status of new hires to ensure they are legally authorized to work in the U.S. and are not illegal aliens.  Accordingly, E-Verify helps ensure that America has a legal workforce and to reduce the “jobs magnet” that helps bring illegal aliens to America.

When the House passed its version of the DHS spending bill, it contained a two-year extension of E-Verify and included $112 million in funding for the program.  (See House Report 111-157).  The Senate initially sought a three-year extension of E-Verify and a funding level of $118.5 million.  During Senate floor debate over the bill, however, the Senate rejected, by a vote of 44 to 53 an effort to kill an amendment offered by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would have permanently extended the E-Verify program and would have codified the federal contractor rule that requires contractors who are paid with taxpayer funds to also use E-Verify.  (See Amdt. 1371 and Roll Call Vote 219, note that a “yea” vote was a vote to kill the Sessions Amendment and a “nay” vote is a vote against killing the amendment).  After the effort to kill the Sessions amendment failed, the Senate adopted the amendment and it was included in the Senate passed version of the DHS spending bill.

House and Senate appropriators had a perfect opportunity before them to permanently extend E-Verify.  Instead, they turned their back on this opportunity and, in doing so, turned their back on the American people who strongly support immigration enforcement and efforts to protect American jobs.  In addition, the conferees also rejected three other immigration related amendments that were part of the Senate passed bills, including: (1) the DeMint amendment to improve the construction of the border fence by requiring fencing that will help eliminate illegal pedestrian border crossings instead of the fencing currently under construction that deters only vehicular crossings; (2) the Grassley amendment to clarify that employers can use E-Verify not only for new hires but also existing employees, this would help free up jobs currently held by illegal aliens in favor of Americans who are out of work; and (3) the Vitter amendment that would have prevented efforts by the Obama Administration to gut the “no-match” rule put in place in 2008 to notify employers when their employees are using a Social Security number that does not match their name.  (See FAIR’s Action Alert on the amendments).

FAIR immediately responded to the conferees decision to reject common-sense amendments.  (See FAIR’s Press Release, October 8, 2009 and SteinReport posting).  Stay tuned for the timing on any Congressional action on the DHS appropriations spending bill.

DHS Weakens Immigration Detention System

On Tuesday, October 6, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton announced a series of new initiatives aimed at reforming the system the federal government utilizes to detain deportable aliens. (DHS Press Release, October 6, 2009). Several of these initiatives have raised troubling issues in the eyes of true immigration reformers and may actually undermine the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

According to a DHS press release, the new initiatives are meant to “address the seven major components outlined in a comprehensive review conducted by Dora Schriro, the former ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning Director, over the past several months, focusing on greater federal oversight, specific attention to detainee care, and uniformity at detention facilities.” (Id.; See also Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations, October 6, 2009). Morton and Napolitano announced several reforms set to be implemented immediately, including the following:

  • The centralization of “all” of the contracts ICE has with local prisons, jails, and private contractors for the use of their facilities as detention centers. The ostensible goal of this centralization is “[t]o better manage all detainee populations” (Press Release), but this approach may have the opposite effect. By severing the ties ICE had previously maintained with contractors through its field offices, DHS may eliminate the ability of ICE officers in the field to address alien detention issues as they arise. Instead, frontline personnel will be forced to rely on decisions made in Washington.
  • The commencement of “market research about utilizing converted hotels, nursing homes and other residential facilities as immigration detention facilities for non-criminal, non-violent populations.” ICE also lists the need to “detain aliens in settings commensurate with the risk of flight and danger they present” as one of its “Core Principles to Guide Long-Term Efforts.” (DHS Fact Sheet, October 6, 2009). These statements clearly effectuate a new policy that will further undermine the Obama Administration’s enforcement of immigration law against all illegal aliens. This statement reflects only the most recent in a string of announcements – including announcements concerning ICE’s Secure Communities, 287(g), and Fugitive Operations programs – indicating that the Obama Administration intends to abandon enforcement in all but the most serious criminal cases. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates from May 26, 2009; July 13, 2009; and August 24, 2009).
  • The expansion of programs available to detained aliens, “including legal support services.” (Press Release). Given that the overwhelming majority – if not all – of the aliens ICE detains have already been deemed deportable, the Obama Administration’s decision to expand taxpayer-subsidized legal support services to detainees is puzzling.

Secretary Napolitano commented on the new reforms: “These new initiatives will improve accountability and safety in our detention facilities as we continue to engage in smart and effective enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.” Assistant Secretary Morton added: “These new reforms will establish consistent standards across the country, prioritizing risk, strengthening oversight and increasing efficiency in our immigration detention system.” (Id.). However, the “comprehensive review” upon which the reforms were based indicates that the new initiatives may have been aimed at placating open borders, amnesty advocating special interest groups. The report lists well-known amnesty supporting groups such as the Center for American Progress, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Immigration Forum as “[s]takeholders” in the review. (Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations).

Senate Rejects Immigration Amendments to Bill that Funds the Census Bureau and DOJ

Last week, the Senate rejected two amendments related to immigration during debate over the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010, which funds agencies like the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, and the Department of Justice which administers the Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) program that is a grant program to state and local law enforcement agencies.  (CongressDaily, October 8, 2009).

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment that would have denied sanctuary cities the ability to receive COPS grants if they violate federal law by enacting a sanctuary city policy, a policy that harbors illegal aliens.  (Amdt 2630).  In explaining his amendment, Senator Vitter explained that current law already requires local governments to “cooperate with Federal immigration officials with regard to immigration enforcement” but that some “jurisdictions, so-called sanctuary cities… have made the affirmative public statement and decision that they are not going to do that.”  Senator Vitter continued stating that “sanctuary cities – it is beyond – debate are violating current Federal law” and explained that those cities that do ignore the law, and thereby make it harder for the federal government to enforce our nation’s immigration laws should “have to live by some consequences.  Specifically, [by losing out on] COPS funding….”  (Congressional Record, October 7, 2009, S10207).

Senator Bob Menendez (R-NJ), a well-known amnesty advocate in the Senate, spoke out against the Vitter amendment and defended sanctuary city policies, saying it was “dangerous to threaten policing funds to cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and smaller towns across America….”  (Congressional Record).  The Senate voted to table, or kill, the Vitter amendment by a vote of 38 to 61.  (See Roll Call Vote 316).

ICE Forces Sheriff Joe to Sign Weakened 287(g) Agreement

Last week, multiple media reports revealed that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has forced Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to sign a weakened 287(g) agreement. (Examiner.com, October 7, 2009; CNN, October 8, 2009; The New York Times, October 6, 2009; and East Valley Tribune, October 6, 2009). 287(g) is the federal program that allows ICE to train state and local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. The weakened 287(g) agreement that Sheriff Joe was forced to sign reflects changes to the program that the Obama Administration originally announced in July. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009).

On July 10, 2009, the Obama Administration announced its intention to disregard the legislative intent of 287(g) by requiring law enforcement agencies participating in the program to sign “standardized” Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs). These new MOAs force program participants to only use their 287(g) authority to enforce immigration laws against “criminal aliens.” This directly conflicts with Congress’ original intent for 287(g), which indicated that the program should be used as the state and local law enforcement agencies best saw fit. (Id.). Under the new 287(g) MOA that Arpaio has been forced to sign, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) will no longer be able to use its 287(g) authority to enforce immigration law against illegal aliens charged with traffic infractions and other “minor” violations. (East Valley Tribune). Instead, the MCSO will only retain the ability to enforce immigration law against illegal aliens booked into the local jail. (The New York Times).

At a press conference last week, Sheriff Arpaio stated his belief that DHS had revised the agreement to prevent him from carrying out his “‘crime suppression operations,’ which are saturation patrols in designated areas where deputies would find illegal immigrants by stopping them for traffic infractions and minor violations.” However, Sheriff Arpaio noted that he will to be able to continue to conduct these operations under Arizona state human smuggling laws, as well as another federal law that allows local police to arrest illegal aliens. “Now I’m not under their control,” Sheriff Arpaio stated, referring to DHS. “Nothing changes; that’s the irony of all of this.” Arpaio also indicated that ICE had conducted an audit of the MCSO’s participation in 287(g), and that the audit had found “the working relationship between the sheriff’s office and ICE was good, and there were no deficiencies found after a review of case files.” (East Valley Tribune).

Recently, amnesty proponents who advocate against the enforcement of our immigration laws have stepped up their attacks on the 287(g) program. On August 25, more than 500 pro-amnesty groups signed a letter asking President Obama “to immediately terminate the 287(g) program.” (National Immigration Law Center, August 25, 2009). Just over a month later, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, chairman of the CHC’s “Immigration Task Force,” sent a similar letter to President Obama, asking him to terminate 287(g) and to “cease to establish further such agreements.” (Cyber Newscast Service, September 28, 2009).

Senators Question Napolitano on Possible Reduction of Border Patrol Agents

On Tuesday, October 6, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA); Orrin Hatch (R-UT); John Cornyn (R-TX); Jon Kyl (R-AZ); Tom Coburn (R-OK); Jeff Sessions (R-AL); John McCain (R-AZ); and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) sent a letter to Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, questioning her about media reports indicating that her department was considering decreasing the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. The senators asked Napolitano to confirm that DHS will either maintain or increase Border Patrol manpower along the southwest border in FY2010. (Senator Grassley Press Release, October 6, 2009).

As FAIR reported last week, DHS’ annual performance report for Fiscal Years 2008 through 2010 indicated that DHS is planning “to move several hundred [Border Patrol] Agents from the Southwest Border to the Northern Border to meet the FY2010 staffing requirements, with only a small increase in new agents for the Southwest Border in the same year.” (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, October 5, 2009; DHS Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Years 2008 – 2010). However, a September 28 DHS press release stated that the department “has no plans to reduce the current Border Patrol strength of ‘more than 17,000 along the southern border.'” Given that there are currently 17,415 Border Patrol agents assigned to the southern border, however, Senators Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn, Kyl, Coburn, Sessions, McCain, and Hutchison sought confirmation in their letter “that the current strength of 17,415 agents will be maintained or increased in fiscal year 2010.” (Senator Grassley Press Release).

According to the senators’ letter, a recent Government Accountability Office report (see GAO Report, September 2009) “acknowledges that both our southern and northern borders are still porous and easily breached.” The senators added: “Such reports do not inspire confidence that the Obama administration or your Department can do an effective job managing our international borders with fewer agents on the front line. With drug trafficking, human smuggling, and cartel violence at an all-time high, we believe that we should be doing more – not less – to secure our southern border with Mexico.” (Senator Grassley Press Release).

FAIR Pulls Back the Curtain on the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

The Media Department at the Federation for American Immigration Reform has just published a “Guide to Understanding the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Immigration Debate.”  (See Guide).  The guide was designed to help journalists better understand the unscrupulous methods used by the SPLC to discredit organizations, like FAIR, and to attack the American people who support enforcing the immigration laws already on the books and oppose efforts to pass a mass-amnesty for illegal aliens.  (See FAIR’s Press Release, October 2, 2009).

As FAIR’s Press Release highlighted, the key conclusions of the report were:

  • The SPLC has no self-avowed immigration policy expertise yet they exploit the current national debate to increase fundraising. Their inflammatory charges against FAIR and others are politically driven, factually distorted, and wildly exaggerated for the purpose of making their mission more urgent in order to raise vast sums of money.
  • Third party analysis by The Nation, Harpers, and even the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, all came to the same conclusion; the SPLC is a self-propagating fundraising machine with little regard for the truth.
  • SPLC offers no objective criteria for their “hate group” designations nor is there any basis in fact to their claim that hate crimes are rising due to the immigration debate.
  • When writing about the immigration issue, journalists have an obligation to test the accuracy of the SPLC’s information, question their motives, seek out responses to their allegations, and clearly distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.

On Thursday, October 8, 2009, FAIR’s Media Director, Bob Dane, participated in an interview with Accuracy in Media.  (to listen, click here, beginning at 38:30 in the broadcast).