Legislation

FAIR Legislative Update July 18, 2011


House Judiciary Chair Introduces Bill to End Administrative Amnesty

Last Tuesday, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), introduced the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act” or the “HALT Act” (H.R. 2497), a bill that would suspend the Obama Administration’s ability to grant administrative amnesty to illegal aliens. “Congress has defeated amnesty for illegal immigrants several times in recent years but this has not stopped President Obama from trying a backdoor amnesty.  Over the course of the last year, the Obama administration has ignored the will of Congress and the American people by using executive branch authority to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S.,” said Chairman Smith in a press release. (Rep. Smith Press Release, July 12, 2011)

Since taking office, President Obama’s Administration has issued several memos authorizing or suggesting ways to keep illegal aliens in the country. Just last month Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director, John Morton, issued two memos to ICE Field Office Directors, Special Agents in Charge, and all Chief Counsel instructing them to look the other way when confronted with certain classes of illegal aliens. One of the memos directs them to refrain from enforcing immigration laws against those who would qualify for amnesty under provisions of the failed DREAM Act. (See Morton Memo, Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens, June 17, 2011) The other memo directs them not to enforce immigration laws against illegal aliens pursuing “civil rights” lawsuits, such as employment or housing discrimination, as well as against certain aliens identified through the Secure Communities program. (See Morton Memo, Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses, and Plaintiffs, June 17, 2011) And last summer, senior officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offered Director Alejandro Mayorkas a variety of ways, through regulations, to “reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization” and extend benefits and protections to many individuals and groups until amnesty is granted. (See USCIS Memo, Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform)

Rep. Smith’s bill would end this practice of circumventing Congress until the end of President Obama’s term, January 21, 2013. If enacted, the HALT Act would prevent the executive branch from further abusing its prosecutorial discretion by suspending its ability to:

  • Grant deferred action, parole, or extended voluntary departure to illegal aliens other than those being tried for a crime or acting as a witness at trial, those needed for significant law enforcement or national security purposes, or those whose life is imminently threatened (§§2(b), 2(f));
  • Waive the three and ten year bars to admission for aliens who have been illegally present in the U.S. (§2(a));
  • Cancel the removal and adjust the status of illegal aliens ordered deported (§2(c));
  • Designate additional countries as qualifying for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) (§2(d)); and
  • Grant work authorization to illegal aliens (§§2(e), 2(g)).

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is expected to introduce a companion bill to the HALT Act in the Senate this week. Stay tuned to FAIR for updates

Funding to States for Criminal Aliens Missing in 2012 Appropriations Draft

The House Appropriations Committee approved a Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill for 2012 funding which fails to provide any money to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).  (Press Release, July 13, 2011)  The draft legislation, which cleared committee by voice vote, provides funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Commerce, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation, in addition to related agencies.  (Bill Draft)  SCAAP receives its annual budgetary allotment through DOJ appropriations.

SCAAP provides federal money to states and local municipalities for the costs they incur from the incarceration of criminal aliens.  (Bureau of Justice Assistance SCAAP Guidelines and Application)  To qualify for reimbursement,  a jurisdiction must have incarcerated an alien with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law for a time period of no less than four consecutive days. (Id.)  The authority for SCAAP comes from Section 241(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  According to this statute, the state or political subdivision can submit a written request to the DOJ for compensation.  SCAAP is, however, subject to the annual congressional budgetary allotments. 

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), who serves on the Appropriations Committee, provided hope that SCAAP funding might eventually be restored to the 2012 budget.  (CQ, July 13, 2011)  Wolf remarked on the benefits of SCAAP and asserted that he would make it a priority.  (Id.)  Due to Congressman Wolf’s confidence on SCAAP’s potential return, Representative John Carter (R-TX) withdrew an amendment which would have provided $136 million to the program.  (Id.)  “You have my commitment,” Wolf told Carter, that “[funding] will be at this number, but I believe it will be higher than this number.” (Id.)

Maryland Residents Prove They Have a Different DREAM

Maryland’s true immigration reform activists have led Maryland residents to submit more than 130,000 signatures to force a vote on the recently-passed college tuition break for illegal aliens.  (The Washington Times, June 30, 2011)  The group needed just over 55,000 signatures to get the measure on the 2012 ballot.  (Maryland State Board of Elections 2012)  Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, signed a bill into law earlier this year that allowed illegal alien students who have attended Maryland high schools for three years to receive in-state tuition at Maryland colleges. (SB 167; See FAIR Legislative Update, April 18, 2011)  Without the work of these activists, the law would have gone into effect this fall. 

In order to appear on the ballot, petitioners had to collect valid signatures representing three percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, and the petitioners’ names must match those names appearing on Maryland’s voting rolls.  (The Washington Post, June 1, 2011)  Maryland’s Board of Elections has announced that it has already been able to validate 102,000 of the signatures submitted, almost doubling the 55,736 needed to the hold off implementation of the law until Maryland residents have a chance to vote on the measure in 2012.  (The Baltimore Sun, July 13, 2011)  This grass-roots movement shows the importance of the issue to Maryland residents and has received bipartisan support, with more than 30 percent of approved signatures coming from registered Democrats.  (The Washington Times, June 30, 2011)