US Legislative Immigration Update September 14, 2009

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this September 14, 2009 Legislative Weekly…

  • Reminder: FAIR’s Annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire Event – September 15 and 16
  • President’s Speech before Congress Generates Heated Controversy, Commitments on Enforcement
  • New Report Highlights Costs of Illegal Immigration in Health Care Reform
  • New Orleans Mayor Reaffirms City’s Sanctuary Policy  

Reminder: FAIR’s Annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire Event – September 15 and 16

Just a reminder that FAIR will be holding its annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire event in Washington, D.C. this coming September 15 and 16. The event will bring true immigration reform activists from across the country together in the nation’s capital along with more than 45 of America’s finest radio talk show hosts to make a push for real reform.

For activists who are unable to join us in Washington, D.C., click here for details on how you can participate in Hold Their Feet to the Fire from home.

 

President’s Speech before Congress Generates Heated Controversy, Commitments on Enforcement

Last Wednesday, President Obama stated in his joint-address to Congress that his health reform plan would not cover illegal aliens. President Obama had also previously stated that he does not support covering illegal aliens under a new health care plan. (CBSNews, July 21, 2009).

But to date, the White House has yet to release a sufficiently detailed proposal that would allow the public to judge whether the “President’s plan” lives up to the commitment he has made to the American people. Instead, the public is left only to study the language of the House health care bill (H.R. 3200), which does contain loopholes that will clearly allow illegal aliens to access taxpayer-funded health care benefits. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 24, 2009).

Speaking before the joint session of Congress, President Obama said: “Now, there are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false.” (Health Care Address, September 9, 2009). In response to the President’s comment, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) made his much-reported rebuttal. FAIR has never claimed that H.R. 3200 expressly grants taxpayer-subsidized health care to illegal aliens. What we have said repeatedly, however, is that this legislation contains two enormous loopholes that will allow illegal aliens to access taxpayer-funded benefits created by the bill. (See FAIR’s House Health Care Bill Analysis). The first such loophole will allow illegal aliens to enroll in the “public option” health plan, and the second loophole exists because there is nothing in the bill that will effectively prevent illegal aliens from receiving affordability credits (taxpayer-provided subsidies to buy health insurance). The Congressional Research Service (CRS) drew the same conclusion with respect to these loopholes in its analysis of H.R. 3200, as well. (Id.; See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 31, 2009; CRS Report, August 25, 2009).

In the days following Rep. Wilson’s outburst, key Senators on the Finance Committee announced that they were revisiting the issue with respect to the bill they were negotiating. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) stated late last week: “What we are trying to prevent is anyone who is here illegally from getting any federal benefit.” (CBS-News 4, September 12, 2009). According to at least one media report, an unnamed Republican Finance Committee aide has indicated that, despite the revisiting of this issue, illegal aliens would still be able to buy insurance through the health care exchange. (Id.).

While the specific language being considered in the Senate has not been made public, the best way to ensure the bill does not provide benefits to illegal aliens would be to include the recommendations made by FAIR: namely, to amend the bill to include: (1) clear language that makes illegal aliens ineligible for enrollment in publicly funded or subsidized insurance programs and (2) a requirement that applicants for these programs have their immigration status verified through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. (See FAIR’s Press Release, August 26, 2009).

These recommendations are embraced by an overwhelming majority of Americans: last week, Rasmussen Reports released polling results showing that “[e]ighty-three percent (83%) of voters nationwide say that people should be required to prove they are a citizen of the United States before receiving government health care subsidies.” (Rasmussen Reports, September 7, 2009). In addition, it appears that the Senate health care reform bill will include “a proof of citizenship requirement to participate in the new health exchange.” (Time, September 11, 2009). It is unclear, however, as to whether the Senate version will include a similar requirement for the affordability credits.

According to media reports, there is another immigration related issue that remains outstanding which relates to how legal immigrants would be treated under the bill. (CBS-News4). Under current law, which was established by the historic Welfare Reform act signed into law by President Bill Clinton, most legal immigrants must be lawful permanent residents for at least five years before they can access federal public benefits. Section 242(d) of the House bill waives this waiting period, allowing legal aliens to receive benefits under the House bill as soon as they enter the United States. In the Senate, the Finance Committee’s Ranking Member, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), wants to retain the provisions of current law for a five-year waiting period but, according to media reports, Sen. Conrad said Friday that this issue had not yet been resolved.

New Report Highlights Costs of Illegal Immigration in Health Care Reform

On Tuesday, September 8, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released an analysis estimating that 6.6 million illegal aliens could receive the taxpayer-subsidized affordability credits created by the House health care reform bill (H.R. 3200). According to CIS, if all income-eligible illegal aliens were to receive the new credits, the estimated cost to the federal government would be nearly $31 billion each year. (CIS Memorandum, September 2009).

As both FAIR and CIS have noted, H.R. 3200 creates affordability credits, which are taxpayer-subsidized premiums that individuals would be able to use to help them afford the cost of private insurance. The bill contains language that is meant to bar illegal aliens from receiving the credits, but the legislation is completely devoid of any provision that would require verification of eligibility for the credits. Therefore, the bill does not explicitly guarantee that the bar on illegal aliens receiving the affordability credits will actually be enforced. (See FAIR’s House Health Care Bill Analysis). In its new report, CIS notes that, two years ago, there were approximately 6.6 million illegal aliens without health insurance who had incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is the income ceiling for eligibility for the affordability credits. If all of these illegal aliens were to apply for and receive affordability credits – which, absent immigration status verification, could very well happen – the estimated cost to American taxpayers would total nearly $31 billion. (CIS Memorandum).

CIS notes in its report that it is possible that many income-eligible illegal aliens would not apply for the affordability credits created under H.R. 3200, so the actual costs to the federal government would likely be less than $31 billion. However, if these illegal aliens were to be granted amnesty, they would become eligible for the affordability credits, and the costs to the American taxpayers would almost certainly increase. CIS also points out – as FAIR has pointed out, as well (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 3, 2009) – that illegal aliens could benefit from the expansion of Medicaid under H.R. 3200. Currently, the legislation does not require identity verification for individuals who claim that they were born in the United States. Accordingly, H.R. 3200 could allow illegal aliens to access the expanded Medicaid benefits. (CIS Memorandum).

Democrats on two House committees have rejected amendments meant to close these verification loopholes. On July 16, 2009, an amendment offered by Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) that would have required the government to verify that enrollees in the public plan and applicants for affordability credits are not illegal aliens was defeated in the House Ways & Means Committee on a party-line vote. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 27, 2009). Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) offered an amendment during the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s consideration of H.R. 3200 which would have continued to require that the government verify whether someone enrolling in Medicaid is not an illegal alien. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 3, 2009). Deal’s amendment was defeated on a 28 to 29 vote, with five of the committee’s Democratic members joining all 23 Republican members in voting for the amendment. (Vote Results).

New Orleans Mayor Reaffirms City’s Sanctuary Policy

On Wednesday, September 9, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley announced that city police officers will not ask crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status. The announcement highlighted the most recent in a string of city policy changes meant to accommodate a growing illegal alien population in New Orleans. (The Times Picayune, September 10, 2009; WWLTV, September 9, 2009).

Since 2005, the illegal alien population in New Orleans “has boomed.” (WWLTV). These aliens “flocked to rebuild the city in the wake of the 2005 flood,” and Superintendent Riley estimated that between 20,000 and 60,000 illegal aliens now reside in New Orleans. In announcing the sanctuary policy, Riley noted that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has already made several “reforms” to accommodate the city’s growing illegal alien population, including the Department’s creation of a “Hispanic community liaison.” The NOPD also provides 26 officers with the ability to serve as translators for Spanish-speaking individuals, and approximately 350 of the NOPD’s officers have been sent to Spanish language classes. (The Times Picayune).

According to reports, last week’s sanctuary announcement merely “seemed to enshrine the city’s unofficial policing stance as it pertains to illegal immigrants.” Mayor Nagin noted that the city’s goal in preventing its officers from asking crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status was to make illegal aliens feel “welcome” not only in New Orleans, but in the United States: “We want to say that you’re welcome in New Orleans. You’re welcome in this country.” Nagin added that the policy was meant to place illegal aliens on equal ground with American citizens in New Orleans: “…we want to make sure that from a law enforcement standpoint, that whatever happens in our community, that you are treated just as any other citizen is treated in this community.” (Id.).

Riley described the sanctuary policy, and noted that the NOPD “will not under any circumstances focus on deportation.” He even specifically directed a statement towards illegal aliens living in New Orleans: “We want them to know that – unless you are the violator or the perpetrator – there is no threat of deportation or arrest, as it relates to the New Orleans Police Department.” Riley seemingly contradicted himself, however, when he claimed that the NOPD is not “looking the other way” on immigration status. The superintendent added that he had not spoken to federal officials about the sanctuary policy, and rhetorically asked press conference attendees: “Why should I?” (Id.).

Nagin and Riley made the announcement alongside Arturo Venegas, creator of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, an organization that openly supports amnesty. Venegas used the press conference as a platform to express his group’s support for amnesty: “We need to figure out, we need to create a legal status for ten to twelve million folks in this country.” (WWLTV).