Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this September 28, 2009 Legislative Weekly…
- Immigration Amendments to Senate Finance Committee Health Bill Could See Action this Week
- Congress Set to Pass Short-Term Funding Resolution, Including 31-day E-Verify Extension
- Rep. Gutierrez to Introduce Amnesty Bill
- True Immigration Reformers Score Victory in House
Immigration Amendments to Senate Finance Committee Health Bill Could See Action this Week
Last week, FAIR’s Legislative Update provided details about the health care reform bill released by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. (FAIR’s Legislative Update, September 21, 2009). We noted that the “chairman’s mark” was conceptual in nature and did not contain enough detail to understand how the eligibility verification provisions to ensure illegal aliens do not receive health care benefits would actually work. The Congressional Budget Office this week issued a letter to Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) confirming our analysis. (See CBO Letter, September 22, 2009).
Accordingly, we still do not know how exactly Senator Baucus intends the eligibility verification provisions to work. We do know, however, that at least one Senator has concerns over even the conceptual language that Senator Baucus released. Senator John Ensign (R-NV), a member of the Finance Committee, filed three immigration related amendments for the committee’s markup. (See here, on pages 282 through 284). One of Senator Ensign’s amendments would boost the verification requirements in the underlying bill by: specifically requiring a determination of citizenship or legal status (the underlying bill references status being “considered substantiated,” but not actually verified); requiring a redetermination of eligibility for non-citizens to ensure that legal aliens who are initially determined eligible cannot, for example, overstay a visa and then continue to receive benefits; and containing penalties for anyone who lies about being a citizen in order to fraudulently apply for benefits.
Senator Ensign also filed an amendment to maintain current law requirements that legal aliens must wait at least five years before they can access many taxpayer-funded benefits. This waiting period was first enacted in 1996 as part of the Welfare Reform bill signed into law by President Clinton. It ensures that an immigrant’s sponsor, and not the American taxpayers, will provide necessary benefits like health insurance for someone who they have sponsored. In many cases, current law requires the sponsor of an immigrant to sign an “affidavit of support” to ensure that the immigrant will not become a “public charge” or burden to the American taxpayers. FAIR has recently released a study concluding that this amendment offered by Senator Ensign would save the American taxpayers at least $33.8 billion under the House or Senate health care bill. (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis). At the time of this writing, there has still been no vote on these amendments.
Congress Set to Pass Short-Term Funding Resolution, Including 31-day E-Verify Extension
Last Thursday, the House and Senate conferees for the Fiscal Year 2010 Legislative Branch appropriations bill agreed to the conference report for the $4.65 billion bill. (See CongressDaily, September 24, 2009). Spending for the current Fiscal Year was set to expire on September 30, 2009, but the conference report also includes a 31-day extension – or “continuing resolution” (CR) of all federal spending programs to avoid a government shutdown.
Details of the conference report, including details on the CR, were made available on the House Appropriations Committee website late Thursday. (See summary and bill text). The CR not only extended funding for federal programs, but also extended the authorization of a number of programs for 31 days, including a 31-day reauthorization for the critical E-Verify program, the federal database that allows employers to ensure new hires are legal American workers and not illegal aliens.
The conference report passed the House on September 25, 2009 by a vote of 217 to 190. (CQ Politics, September 25, 2009). The Senate must now pass the same bill and send it to the White House so that President Obama can sign this legislation into law.
Rep. Gutierrez to Introduce Amnesty Bill
On Thursday, September 17, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) announced that he will “outline the fundamental principles of” an amnesty bill by October 13 and introduce actual legislation “shortly thereafter.” Gutierrez announced his intent to push amnesty legislation at a rally attended by special interest, open border advocacy groups, and noted that his bill will include “a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it.” (Rep. Gutierrez Press Release, September 17, 2009).
Congressman Gutierrez did not hint at what specific legislative details can be expected in his amnesty bill. However, in 2007, Gutierrez cosponsored the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act (STRIVE Act). The STRIVE Act would have (1) granted amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegal aliens residing in the United States at the time and (2) provided for a future flow of cheap foreign labor by both offering a guest worker program with a path to citizenship and increasing existing employment-based visa programs. (See FAIR’s Legislative Backgrounder, May 2007). Political observers expect Rep. Gutierrez’s new legislation to be similar to the 2007 STRIVE Act.
Stay tuned for more information on legislative activity in the House as it becomes available.
True Immigration Reformers Score Victory in House
On Wednesday, September 23, true immigration reformers scored a victory regarding border security in the U.S. House of Representatives. The victory came during debate over H.R. 324, the “Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Act.” (H.R. 324).
According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), H.R. 324 “designates the Santa Cruz Valley region of Arizona” – a large parcel of land located along the U.S.-Mexico border – “as a national heritage area.” This designation “would allow the National Park Service to support existing and future State and local conservation efforts through Federal recognition, seed money, and technical assistance.” (CSPAN, September 23, 2009). During the floor debate on H.R. 324, however, Rep. Richard Hastings (R-WA) pointed out that the bill raised “serious concerns about border security.” Hastings argued that the bill’s language “[left] the barn door open to the reality that this heritage area designation could restrict, could hinder or impede border enforcement or security authority, including drug interdiction and illegal immigration control.” (CSPAN, September 23, 2009). Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) observed that the bill would “adversely impact the ability of DHS to secure part of the border,” and pointed out that “[d]esignation as a national heritage area can prevent the Border Patrol’s access to the land.” (CSPAN, September 23, 2009).
In an effort to address the legislation’s border security deficiencies, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) offered a “Motion to Recommit With Instructions.” Under Rep. Bishop’s motion, H.R. 324 was to be amended to include language indicating that nothing in the bill “modifies, restricts, impedes, hinders, or supplants any border enforcement or security authority, including drug interdiction and illegal immigration control.” In addition, Rep. Bishop’s motion sought to add a section to the bill entitled “Border Security.” This section stated that nothing in the bill “may impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of the Secretary of Homeland Security to achieve operational control…within the National Heritage Area.” (Bishop Motion to Recommit). The House voted to include the Bishop language (See Roll Call Vote #727, September 23, 2009), and the bill was ultimately passed. (See Roll Call Vote #728, September 23, 2009).
IRS to Send Tax Refunds to Deported Aliens; School District Asks Students for Proof of Residency
Two reports last week dealing with benefits for illegal aliens highlighted just how out of touch the federal government has become in the immigration debate. On the federal level, “[a] partnership between a Pennsylvania accounting firm and a Mexican human rights group [is aiming] to seek out Mexicans recently deported from the United States and offer to help them file for thousands of dollars in tax refunds.” (BNA – Daily Tax Report, September 21, 2009). On the local level, however, a school district superintendent in a Texas border town is asking students to prove that they are residents of the school district before they can attend school. (The Associated Press, September 21, 2009).
According to a report from the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), the Center for Border Studies and Human Rights Promotion (CBSHRP), headquartered in the border city of Reynosa, Mexico, is working with Pennsylvania-based accounting firm Warminster Financial to help recently-deported aliens file for federal income tax refunds. To receive a refund, an eligible alien must obtain an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). ITIN’s are granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regardless of an alien’s legal status or whether they fraudulently obtained employment. Mexico-based IRS acceptance agent Elizabeth Vargas confirmed to BNA that the process is legal. (BNA – Daily Tax Report).
Officials from both Warminster Financial and CBSHRP indicated that “[u]ndocumented Mexican migrants may have worked illegally in the United States, but they are entitled to their share of U.S. tax refunds.” Warminster Financial has even circulated a flier stating: “If you worked in the United States in 2006, 2007, or 2008, and were paid by check, you can receive up to $15,000 per year….It doesn’t matter if you are undocumented, were deported, or returned [to Mexico]….” CBSHRP legal coordinator Felipe Gonzalez indicated that his center has already registered 15 deported aliens to help them receive tax refunds. Warminster Financial, on the other hand, had opened an office in Puebla, Mexico earlier this year to attend to recently deported clients, and has already registered 25 deported aliens, one of whom has already received his $7,800 refund. The two organizations say that their “new partnership is expected to draw many more clients.” BNA also pointed out that “[a]ccounting firms in Mexico have been helping migrants recoup their taxes since 1997, when the IRS began allowing non-resident aliens living more than 183 days per year in the United States to file a W-7 form in order to receive their ITINs.” (Id.).
While the federal government has been assisting deported aliens in receiving federal tax refunds and failing to stem the tide of illegal immigration, local governments have been forced to take steps to address the rising costs associated with providing taxpayer-funded education to illegal alien children. In Texas, for example, state law requires students to reside in a school district in order to receive tuition-free public education in that district. However, last week, The Associated Press reported that “[s]tudents living in Northern Mexico have skirted residency requirements to attend U.S. public schools for generations.” When San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Kelt Cooper “got word that about 400-school age children” were crossing a bridge connecting Texas to Mexico and were carrying “backpacks but no student visas,” he decided to take action. Cooper has ordered officials in his district to warn students crossing the bridge that they could be expelled if they are unable to prove that they live in the district. FAIR Communications Director Bob Dane pointed out that Cooper’s policy is aimed at preventing parents from taking advantage of a “duty-free education.” “It’s very obvious the parents are cheating the system,” Dane said. “The kids are getting quality education without contributing.” (The Associated Press).
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.