FAIR Legislative Update March 11, 2013
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced her agency plans to release even more detained illegal aliens to address budget cuts mandated by sequestration.
Speaking at a D.C. event featuring all three individuals to serve as DHS Secretary, Napolitano announced "We're going to continue to do that... for the foreseeable future." (Daily Caller, Mar. 4, 2013) "We are going to manage our way through this by identifying the lowest risk detainees, and putting them into some kind of alternative to release," she stated. (Id.)
On March 1, the Associated Press reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had already released 2,000 illegal aliens prior to sequestration taking effect and planned to release an additional 3,000 by the end of March. (Associated Press, Mar. 1, 2013; see FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 4, 2013) At the time ICE downplayed the report, claiming that several hundred "low-risk" illegal aliens were released. (FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 4, 2013) Remarkably, Napolitano claimed the decision was made by a lower-level ICE official who never consulted her. (Id.)
During the event, Napolitano again repeated the Administration's narrative that "only" several hundred detainees were released. (Daily Caller, Mar. 4, 2013) However, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) published an internal ICE document — presumably the one reviewed by AP — that explicitly details the Administration's plan to release 1,000 detained illegal aliens per week from February 15 through March 31. (ICE Sequestration Plan)
Disappointingly, neither of Napolitano's predecessors rebuked the Obama Administration's latest effort to undermine enforcement of our immigration laws. Instead, Tom Ridge, former Secretary under George W. Bush, complained that the move might prevent the passage of amnesty legislation. "The job of the Secretary of Homeland Security... with regard to securing the border would be a heck of a lot easier if the U.S. Congress would forget about the partisanship and come up with a broad-based, comprehensive immigration plan," Ridge bemoaned. (Daily Caller, Mar. 4, 2013) Michael Chertoff, who also served as Secretary under Bush, merely added that it is critical for the general public to believe DHS will enforce immigration laws after an amnesty. (Id.)
Shockingly, Chertoff encouraged the Administration to ram an amnesty bill through Congress before public opposition can mobilize. Reflecting on the failed amnesty push in 2006, Chertoff said "the time between agreement and getting it to the floor really allowed a lot of erosion from both the right and left... [so] you've got to move it quickly." (Id.)
According to Senators within the Gang of Eight, the controversial issue of creating a new unskilled guest worker program is holding up their progress in drafting "comprehensive" immigration reform legislation.
"That's the biggest impediment right now," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Tuesday when asked about the Gang's progress in developing amnesty legislation. (Politico, Mar. 5, 2013) "It's one of the hardest issues," agreed Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). "I think we're coming up with a reasonable approach to it. We want to work with our friends in labor and business — I think we can find a way to do this." (Id.)
Debate over unskilled guest worker programs has been a sticking point in past comprehensive immigration reform negotiations. During the 2007 amnesty debate, the business lobby supported the creation of additional guest worker programs while many labor groups opposed such expansions.
Purportedly, Senators Graham and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are leading the negotiations between business and labor groups. (Id.) According to news reports, their staff has been exchanging proposals with U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO officials on cutting a deal. (Id.) In fact, the Gang is reportedly meeting multiple times a week to ensure the groups reach a compromise in the near future. (Id.; U.S. News and World Report, Mar. 5, 2013)
Nonetheless, despite the additional meetings, it is uncertain whether business and labor will be able to reach a compromise. In fact, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka last week warned that his union may not reach an agreement with the nation's largest business lobby. (ABC News, Mar. 7, 2013) "I'll be honest with you. I can't guarantee we'll get an agreement with the Chamber," Trumka said in an Univision interview. (Id.)
News of the potential labor-business impasse drew the attention of true immigration reformers on Capitol Hill. "The Trumka statement reflects an increasing appreciation of reality by union and non-union workers both. A large increase in the supply of foreign labor will reduce the value of the individual American worker, threaten his job, and reduce his salary. There is no escaping that fact. This is especially serious at a time of unemployment and labor surplus," said Senior Senate Judiciary Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
To the contrary, speaking at a local event on immigration late last month, Senator Graham insisted that he is championing amnesty to save the country from what he perceives as a labor shortage. "I'm trying to save our nation from, I think, a shortage of labor and a catastrophic broken system," he said. Currently, 14.3 percent of Americans are either unemployed or underemployed. (See Bureau of Labor Statistics Website, U-6)
The rush to reach an agreement on importing future flows of unskilled labor into the U.S. stems from the Senate Gang of Eight's self-imposed mid-to-late March deadline for introducing comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
However, as a result of business and labor's inability to find common ground on this issue — despite the purported breakthrough when releasing their "common principles" last month — the Gang of Eight is now reporting it may not introduce legislation until April, following the Easter recess. (U.S. News and World Report, Mar. 5, 2013) "You don't want to leave [the legislation] hanging out for two weeks to get shot up," Sen. Graham told reporters, indicating the Gang would wait to introduce its bill to avoid criticism. (Id.)
Stay tuned to FAIR as details unfold...
Details of an amnesty bill being crafted by a group of eight Members of the House of Representatives were leaked recently to inside-the-beltway publication Roll Call. (CQ Today, Feb. 28, 2013) The House "Gang of Eight" includes Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Sam Johnson (R-TX), John Carter (R-TX), and Raul Labrador (R-ID).
Similar to the Senate and President Obama's plans, the House proposal grants immediate legalization with work authorization to the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the United States. After an undetermined amount of time, these newly amnestied aliens will be eligible for a green card, if sponsored by an employer or relative who is either a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and eventually citizenship. Notably, the plan does not yet resolve what happens to illegal aliens without family ties or an employer sponsor. (Id.)
According to Roll Call, the House plan would waive the three and 10-year bar under current law to allow illegal aliens to remain in the country during the legalization process (federal law requires illegal aliens to leave the country for three or 10 years, depending on how long they have been in the country unlawfully, before they apply for a visa to return legally). (Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(a)(9)(B)) However, an anonymous Democratic lawmaker familiar with the plan indicated that the group was having difficulty agreeing to language that eliminates the bars. "It would have to be so subtle that nobody would notice it but it gets them out from under the debate on pathway," he said. (Id.)
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) indicated support for the proposal. "If you address some kind of reform of that aspect of it, you can avail people of an opportunity that they don't have now," Goodlatte said. (Id.) "Maybe you have to still go home and don't have the bar, or maybe you adjust here." (Id.)
Predictably, Republicans in the group continue to claim that the proposal does not offer a special pathway to citizenship. "Any new pathway to citizenship is completely off the table," stated Rep. Labrador. (Id.) Contradicting that statement, he added that illegal aliens should be able to obtain citizenship "the same way as any other immigrant has to do it." (Id.) "You shouldn't be treated worse than the people doing it the right way, but I think it would be unconscionable for us to treat them better than the people who are doing it the right way." (Id.)
Representative Carter made similar remarks during an interview last Monday. "Our bill does not grant any fast track to citizenship for anyone who has broken the law," Carter told The Christian Post. (Christian Post, Mar. 4, 2013) The House amnesty bill includes "built in consequences for breaking the law, and an indirect path to citizenship," Carter continued. (Id.) "We are not rewarding people for breaking the law, but we took into consideration that this is dealing with people, not numbers, and families, not categories." (Id.)
The House plan mirrors the Senate outline by supposedly linking amnesty to border security. "Nothing will happen until we are confident that the border is secure," insists Carter. (Id.)
Last Thursday, the Obama Administration began sending furlough notices to thousands of agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the guise of dealing with the sequester.
Although the Department of Homeland Security must make mandatory budget cuts, the Administration is clearly using sequestration to further undermine immigration enforcement. First, CBP is taking workforce reduction steps well ahead of less-critical agencies despite the border being unsecure. (The Hill, Mar. 7, 2013) Additionally, the letter sent to CBP agents justifies the furlough as "promot[ing] the efficiency of the service" but fails to target agency waste or lower priority functions that do not jeopardize the safety of Americans. (Furlough Notice)
The letter informs CBP employees that they face up to two weeks of unpaid leave between April and September. "The furlough will be on discontinuous (intermittent) days, beginning no earlier than April 21, 2013, and will continue through approximately September 30, 2013. Full time employees will be furloughed no more than 14 workdays or 112 hours. If you are a part-time employee, your furlough time will be prorated, based on your work schedule," reads the notice. (Id.)
According to inside-the-beltway publication The Hill, approximately 24,000 CBP workers, managers, and supervisors will be furloughed. (The Hill, Mar. 7, 2013)
Last Monday, Texas Representative Matt Krause introduced legislation that requires Texas law enforcement officials to verify an arrested person's immigration status through direct inquiry or use of the federal Secure Communities program. (HB 2187, section 1(a), art. 2.251). The bill, HB 2187, also requires law enforcement agencies to honor federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers by maintaining custody of illegal aliens until they are transferred into federal custody, not to exceed 48 hours. (HB 2187, section 1, art. 2.252). If passed, the act would take effect September 1. (HB 2187, section 2).
The legislation breaks a recent trend of state and local governments introducing measures to defy ICE detainers. In the past few months, legislators have introduced an alarming number of bills that prohibit law enforcement from cooperating with the federal government in its immigration enforcement efforts. Legislators in California (AB 4, Dec. 3, 2012), Washington (SB 1874, Feb. 13, 2013), Massachusetts (HB 1613/SB 1135, Jan. 22, 2013) and Florida (HB 767/SB 730, Mar. 5, 2013) all introduced measures that prohibit state and local law enforcement officials from honoring ICE detainer requests, except under limited circumstances. Some local governments, including New York City, passed similar measures. (See INT 0982-2012 and INT 0989-2012; see also FAIR Leg. Update, Mar. 4, 2013).
ICE Director John Morton wrote in a letter to FAIR that states and localities that ignore ICE detainers "are undermining public safety in their communities" and such policies "may also violate federal law." (Letter to FAIR's Executive Director, Aug. 23, 2012). And according to its website, "ICE relies on the cooperation of  state and local law enforcement partners in this effort" to identify and remove criminal aliens who are in state or local custody. (ICE Detainers, FAQ). However, until the federal government takes action with regard to state and local defiance of ICE detainers, it will be up to states, such as Texas, to introduce and pass legislation to require its officers to cooperate with the federal government.