Legislation

FAIR Legislative Update February 22, 2011


U.S. Immigration Agent Gunned Down in Mexico

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer was murdered and a second was injured in last week while working to help fight drug cartels in Mexico.  (CNN, Feb. 16, 2011) Special Agent Jaime Zapata was gunned down on a well-traveled federal, four-lane highway 23 miles north of downtown Mexico City while traveling for routine work after meeting with other U.S. personnel.  (AP News, Feb. 16, 2011;CNN, Feb. 16, 2011; CNN, Feb. 17, 2011)  The second ICE agent who was wounded in the same attack was released from a U.S. hospital.  (CNN, Feb. 17, 2011)

Some officials are concerned that the method of the attack could signal an escalation of violence by the Mexican drug cartels. (CNN, Feb. 16, 2011)  The agents were driving in an armored car with diplomatic plates, when a group of more than 10 people forced the ICE agents’ car off the highway. The agents identified themselves as U.S. diplomats. (Id.)  Although Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano made a statement denouncing the violence, she would not speculate on the killers’ motives.  (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2011)  Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, described the attack as intentional after being briefed by the agency.  (CNN, Feb. 17, 2011) Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), also a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, agreed: “This attack was not a case of mistaken identity — the attackers knew who they were going after.”   He cautioned, “This is a game changer. The cartels are willing to take on the United States.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 16, 2011)  Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, stated the shootings were a “serious escalation of the willingness of these syndicates to push back not only against the Mexican government’s efforts to shut them down, but to the very important and very productive cooperation that [Mexico has] unleashed with the United States.”  (CNN, Feb. 17, 2011)

Violent drug gangs are increasingly a threat to U.S. Border agents despite U.S. efforts to fight them through the Merida Initiative.   The U.S. government launched the Merida Initiative in 2008 in an effort to partner with Mexico, Central American nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic to reduce drug demand, stop the flow of weapons, and confront gang organizations.  (U.S. Department of State, June 23, 2009)  U.S. Congress has provided $1.4 billion to the Mexican government for equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance for reform and oversight of security agencies.  (Id.) 

The U.S. government agencies hoped that the financial assistance offered through the Merida Initiative could help stem the steady growth of international gang violence.  Unfortunately, Mexico and its U.S. border are still seeing record rates of drug-cartel violence, claiming more than 34,000 lives in the past four years.  (AP News, Feb. 16, 2011)  In December 2010, a U.S. Border patrol agent was fatally shot just north of the Arizona border.  (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2011)  In March, a U.S. employee of the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, her husband and one other individual with consulate ties were killed when Mexican gang members fired on their vehicles leaving a child’s party in El Paso, Texas.  (AP News, Feb. 16, 2011)  Drug gangs are targeting large groups as well, murdering a reported 72 migrants who were traveling along the border last year.  (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2011)  Although San Luis Potosi—the state in which Agent Zapata was murdered—suffers only sporadic drug violence, it borders two states where the drug cartels are waging deadly fights for territory.  (AP News, Feb. 16, 2011) 

IEC has approximately 30 officers assigned to its post in Mexico City.  (CNN, Feb. 16, 2011)  The office works on issues including drugs, weapons, currency and immigration.  (Id.)  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement noting that "the murder of Special Agent Jaime Zapata and the shooting of another ICE agent provide a sad reminder of the dangers American law enforcement officers face every day," (CNN, Feb. 17, 2011) Senator Joseph Lieberman called the shootings “the latest reminder of the grievous violence south of our border that must be stopped.”  (Id.)

Representatives Offer Immigration Amendments to House Spending Bill

Representatives offered four immigration-related amendments to the House spending bill (H.R.1) last week.  FAIR supported two of the amendments: #199 offered by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and #225 offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  FAIR also opposed two of the amendments: #188 offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and #277 offered by Rep. David Price (D-NC).  

  • Rep. Ted Poe’s amendment, which was ruled out of order, would have prohibited the U.S. Department of Justice from using any funds to sue Arizona in an effort to strike down its new immigration enforcement law, SB 1070.  The law, which is currently under review in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, requires law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of individuals lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal alien.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, Aug. 2, 2010) The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI)—FAIR’s legal arm—was instrumental in helping Arizona lawmakers draft this enforcement legislation.  
  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s amendment, which never received a vote, would have prohibited government funds from being used to carry out the Visa Lottery (INA § 201(e)), essentially abolishing the program.  The Visa Lottery program, which grants 55,000 unskilled immigrant visas each year, does not assess the skills these aliens would bring to the U.S or whether the labor market can support these additional workers.  
  • Rep. Jerry Polis’ (D-CO) amendment, which never received a vote, would have limited Department of Homeland Security to amaximum of 33,400 detention beds (as introduced, H.R. 1 set theminimum number of detention beds at 33,400). By limiting the number of detention beds, the amendment would have prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from expanding its enforcement efforts against illegal aliens because it would have had nowhere to detain the illegal aliens while in the process of removing them from the U.S. 
  • Rep. David Price’s (D-NC) amendment, which never received a vote, would have denied all funding for the implementation of REAL ID. By defunding REAL ID, this amendment would have essentially allowed states to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

The House passed H.R.1 by a vote of 235-189 early Saturday morning.  (See Roll Call Vote 147, Feb. 19, 2011) The bill funds the federal government through the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2011, but cuts federal spending by $60 billion. (Politico, Feb. 19, 2011)  President Obama threatened to veto the bill arguing that it “sharply undermine[s] core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation.” (CNN, Feb. 15, 2011) Moreover, the Senate is not expected to take up the spending bill until early March, only days before current funding is slated to run out.  (MSNBC, Feb. 15, 2011)

House Subcommittee: Less than Half of Southern Border Under Operational Control

This week the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held its first hearing of the 112th Congress to focus on the government’s failure to control the southern border. In her opening statement Subcommittee Chairman Candice Miller (R-MI) underscored the urgency of the situation: “The American people rightly expect and demand that we do achieve ‘operational control’ of the border . . . We cannot continue to cede U.S. sovereign territory to drug cartels, human traffickers, smugglers, and potential terrorists.” (Opening Statement of Rep. Candice Miller, Feb. 15, 2011)

Testimony offered at the hearing demonstrated that neither the northern nor southern border is close to meeting either definition of “operational control”. Alluding to a recent GAO report on border security, Chairman Miller noted that only 69 of roughly 4,000 miles along the northern border are under “operational control,” and that only 873 of about 2,000 miles are under “operational control” along the southern border.   (Opening Statement of Rep. Candice Miller, Feb. 15, 2011; GAO-11-97, Dec. 2010) 

The hearing also revealed that the Obama Administration’s definition of “operational control” differs from the one set forth by Congress.  Michael Fisher, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) who testified before the Subcommittee, defined “operational control” as the “ability to detect, identify, classify, and then respond to and resolve illegal entries along our U.S. borders.” (Testimony of Chief Fisher; Feb. 15, 2011) In the 2006 Secure Fence Act (H.R. 6061) Congress mandated that Homeland Security achieve and maintain operational control of the borders and defined “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.” (emphasis added) Nonetheless, recent statements by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demonstrate that the Administration defers to CBP’s definition rather than Congress’: “[I]t’s important to recognize that ‘operational control’ is a very narrow term of art in Border Patrol lingo . . . [it] should not be construed as kind of an overall assessment of what’s happening at the border.” (See Opening Statement of Rep. Candice Miller, Feb. 15, 2011; Forbes, Feb. 15, 2011)

Members of the Subcommittee questioned how the Administration and CBP could disregard an act of Congress.  “I don’t understand how the CBP has a different definition of ‘operational control’ than that set out by Congress in the 2006 legislation,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) said to Chief Fisher.  You’re law enforcement officers and you’re not following the law, he added. 

Utah Lawmakers Receive Death Threats over Immigration Legislation

Utah police are investigating possible death threats sent to Utah legislators last week in outrage over the lawmakers’ support for an Arizona-style immigration bill in Utah.  (abc4, Feb. 15, 2011) Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-Orem) and Rep. Chris Herrod (R-Provo) each received a threatening two-page letter complete with images of an AK-47 and Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.  (Deseret News, Feb. 15, 2011) The threat claims to be from United Front for Defense of Immigrants, but the group’s Chicago-based spokesman denied that his organization sent the letters.  (Id.

The letter opens by calling for a confrontation with the "racist state of Utah" that is based on a "dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun." (Id.)  "A comprehensive immigration reform has never and will never be established in Utah through peaceful dialogs, civil discourse, or the Mormon Church involvement," the letter continues. "It will be established as any other revolutionary changes always have been ... by pen and gun, by word and bullet, by tongue and teeth." (United Press International, Feb. 15, 2011)

Rep. Sandstrom, the sponsor of the bill (HB 70), also reported two incidents of vandalism on both his and his daughter’s cars.  (Id.)   Sandstrom, however, said he will not be deterred, stating that the bill’s opponents are realizing it has traction and are “thinking of any way they can to try and stop the bill.”  (abc4, Feb. 15, 2011)