FAIR Legislative Update February 4, 2013
In a campaign-like event Tuesday, President Obama announced his amnesty proposal at a Las Vegas high school. During his speech, the President urged Congress to quickly enact “comprehensive” immigration reform which includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens “from the outset.” (President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013)
The White House’s four-part plan closely resembles the Senate Gang of Eight’s amnesty plan released the day before. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 28, 2013) The principles of the Obama plan include amnesty for the 11 million illegal aliens currently living in the country and increasing legal immigration, along with mere promises of improving border security and workplace enforcement (White House Fact Sheet, Jan. 29, 2013)
Despite acknowledging that the illegal aliens in the country “broke the rules,” the President claimed they are “woven into the fabric of our lives” and should have an opportunity to “earn” citizenship. (President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013) This path to citizenship would include passing a background check, paying taxes and a penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line. Obama insisted that if they meet these criteria, his Administration will grant them citizenship, “There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria,” he proclaimed. (White House Fact Sheet, Jan. 29, 2013)
Specifically, the Obama plan lays out a three-step process to what the pro-amnesty lobby refers to as “earned citizenship.” First, all illegal aliens, including agricultural workers, who register with the government, submit biometric data, pass background checks, and pay fees and penalties are granted a provisional legal status. (Id.) There is nothing “provisional” about this status, however, as these illegal aliens are automatically allowed to live and work in the United States. While the President claims they will have to “go to the back of the line,” his plan grants special treatment to illegal aliens because most legal immigrants must wait outside the country until their green card is granted. His proposal further rewards those who broke our immigration laws by allowing them to obtain U.S. citizenship after “earning” lawful permanent residency status. (Id.) Under the President’s plan, so-called DREAMers, will be granted citizenship through an expedited process that would only require them to go to college or serve in the Armed Forces for at least two years. (Id.)
Although calling enforcement the top priority, the President’s outline does not link a “pathway to citizenship” to tighter border security. (See President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013; see also New York Times, Jan. 29, 2013) In fact, the proposal vaguely calls for strengthening and improving infrastructure only at ports of entry while simply “supporting the use of technologies” that help secure the borders. (White House Fact Sheet, Jan. 29, 2013) The plan creates new criminal penalties and forfeiture laws for transnational crimes, drug trafficking, passport and immigration document fraud, and calls for increasing the number of immigration judges. (Id.)
Interestingly, the workplace enforcement proposal does not specifically mention the E-Verify program. Instead, a new mandatory electronic employment verification system will be phased-in over a five-year period. (Id.) President Obama’s plan claims it will “significantly increase” penalties for employers hiring illegal workers and create new penalties for those who commit fraud and identity theft. (Id.) The proposal mandates creating a fraud-resistant, tamper resistant social security card. (Id.)
Regarding the legal immigration system, President Obama declared that it must be brought “into the 21st century because it no longer reflects the realities of our time.” (President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013) This includes increasing the current family-based immigration system by “recapturing” green cards and increasing visa caps. (White House Fact Sheet, Jan. 29, 2013) The proposal raises country caps for family-based and employment-based green cards, and eliminates the country cap for employment-based visas. (Id.) President Obama’s plan would also treat same-sex partners as spouses, making them eligible for all related benefits, a point he omitted from his speech. (Compare Id., President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013; see New York Times, Jan. 29, 2013)
The proposal further revises the current system and creates additional visa categories. Notably, the plan grants broader discretion for the Department of Homeland Security to waive bars in cases of hardship. (White House Fact Sheet, Jan. 29, 2013) Moreover, it weakens national security by “streamlining” the foreign visitor process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program. (Id.) In addition to the oft-stated “staple green cards to diplomas” for foreign graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, the plan permanently authorizes the EB-5 visa program. (Id.) The outline also calls for the creation a new visa category for “highly-skilled and specialized immigrants” to work in federal science and technology laboratories. (Id.)
Seeking to expedite the amnesty overhaul, the President threatened that “if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, [he] will send up a bill based on [his] proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.” (President Obama Remarks, Jan. 29, 2013) Senate Democrats, however, pushed back by making clear that comprehensive immigration reform would move through the “regular order.” (CQ Today, Jan. 31, 2013) Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that after a thorough discussion of the Gang of Eight plan, a bill will be sent to the Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate floor for a vote. (Id.) “That’s the process; [w]e’re going to stick with that process,” stated Reid. (Id.)
FAIR’s president Dan Stein criticized President Obama’s proposal for placing the interests of illegal aliens above American workers and taxpayers. (FAIR Press Release, Jan. 29, 2013) “It offers nothing to American taxpayers except assurance they will pay ever increasing costs as millions of low-skilled illegal immigrants move through the amnesty process and become eligible for government assistance programs,” declared Stein. (Id.)
In a press conference last Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the lead Democrat negotiating the details of the amnesty bill, said that border security would not be an obstacle to granting illegal aliens a path to citizenship. In fact, Sen. Schumer told reporters that the amnesty will move forward regardless of whether the border is controlled. “We want the border to be secure…but we’re not using border security as an excuse or block to the path of citizenship,” he said, or “as a barrier to prevent the 11 million [illegal aliens] from eventually gaining a path to citizenship.” (C-Span, Jan. 31, 2013)
Moments later, another member of the Gang of Eight, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), echoed these comments. “If we made the path to citizenship contingent on a safe and secure border,” Durbin said, “then it’s in the eye of the beholder, it will always be subjective. The idea behind a metric is to have something measurable, and we believe we can achieve that.” (C-Span, Jan. 31, 2013)
These Democrats’ dismissive statements regarding border security came in sharp contrast to earlier statements made by Republican Senators in the Gang of Eight. Upon unveiling their proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has been the most vocal Republican negotiating the amnesty bill, insisted on securing the border before an amnesty. “Unless there's real [border security] enforcement triggers, we're not going to have a bill that moves on,” said Sen. Rubio. (Yahoo! News, Jan. 29, 2013)
Responding to subsequent criticism that Sen. Schumer is backtracking from the Gang of Eight agreement, Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon told reporters “the bipartisan framework clearly states that the border enforcement metrics must be met before any path to citizenship is triggered, and Sen. Schumer has not wavered from that principle. Nonetheless, he added, “border enforcement metrics cannot be an unachievable standard that postpones an earned path to citizenship indefinitely.” (Politico, Feb. 1, 2013)
The question remains, at what “metric” will the Senate Gang of Eight decide is an adequate level of security to allow amnesty to move forward. The Gang blueprint, according to Sen. Schumer, dictates that the “DHS Secretary will have final say on whatever metrics we propose.” (Id.)
In his speech, Sen. Sessions alleged that Director Morton was incapable of overseeing the agency in charge of enforcing federal immigration laws—including new laws incorporated into any amnesty bill—due to his current efforts to undermine the enforcement of existing law. “There can be no comprehensive immigration reform as long as it is the policy of the Director of ICE, John Morton, to refuse to enforce existing law,” said Sessions. (Sessions Press Release, Jan. 29, 2013) Over the last several years, Director Morton has authored a series of memoranda implementing de facto amnesty through the use of “prosecutorial discretion.” (See FAIR Morton Memos Summary, Jan. 2012)
In addition to creating policies that weaken immigration enforcement, Morton has been accused of hindering ICE agents’ ability to do their jobs, including reprimanding agents who enforce the law. Sessions noted that “Morton’s tenure at ICE has been marked by such an undermining of his own agents that the ICE officers’ union voted unanimously to hold him in no confidence.” In June of 2010, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (NICEC), a union representing roughly 7,000 ICE officers, publicly expressed a unanimous vote of no confidence in ICE Director John Morton and called for his removal. (See NICEC Press Release, June 25, 2010; see also FAIR Website, Sept. 2010)
According to Senator Sessions, Morton’s actions are encouraging more illegal aliens to come to the United States, thereby harming American workers. (Sessions Press Release, Jan. 29, 2013) “[Morton is] encouraging more people to come to the country by not enforcing our laws. At a time of high unemployment, the result is, we are lowering wages and creating more unemployment.” (Id.)
Due to this misconduct, Sen. Sessions called for Morton’s removal from his position. “I don't see how we can be confident in any sense that if he were to be in charge of some new law that he would enforce it any better. I think it's time for him to go.” (FOX News, Jan. 29, 2013)
Director Morton gave no response to Sen. Session’s call for his resignation.
Last Thursday, the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee defeated Senate Bill (“SB”) 1090, a bill that would have granted in-state tuition rates at all state colleges and universities to illegal aliens.
To qualify under the legislation, illegal aliens must
- have a Virginia high school diploma or GED
- reside in the state for at least three years immediately preceding enrollment or one year if a veteran or active military,
- provide an affidavit stating that they have been approved for deferred action under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and
- submit evidence that they, a parent or guardian filed state income tax returns for at least three years prior to enrollment. (SB 1090).
A similar bill, HB 1525, moved in the House on Wednesday. That bill easily passed through subcommittee by a vote of 6-0, and by Thursday passed the full Education Committee by a vote of 17-4. (HB 1525). Now referred to the House Appropriations Committee, HB 1525’s future is doubtful as a result of the Senate killing SB 1090.
Senator Donald McEachin (D), who sponsored SB 1090, expressed his disappointment after the vote, “I think it sends a very unfortunate message that Virginia’s not yet ready for prime time when it comes to fair treatment of its children.” (American University Radio, Jan. 31, 2013). Senator Jeff McWaters (R), an opponent of the bill, made clear his grounds for voting to kill the bill, “A simple read of this would suggest that these [prospective students] are illegally present.” (Id.). Senator McWaters also expressed concern that the bill would hurt legal residents as there are only a fixed number of college admission slots which means that for every illegal alien admitted to college, a legal resident student will be turned away. (The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 1, 2013).
Currently, thirteen states grant illegal aliens in-state tuition: California, Texas, New York, Utah, Washington, Oklahoma, Illinois New Mexico, Nebraska, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Kansas. (See NCSL Undocumented Student Tuition: State Action). Four states prohibit it: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, and Indiana. (Id.). Both Alabama and South Carolina ban illegal aliens from enrolling in its public colleges and universities altogether. (Id.).