Legislation

FAIR Legislative Update March 22, 2010


Illegal Aliens Descend on Our Nation’s Capital to Demand Amnesty

Thousands of illegal aliens and their supporters traveled to Washington, D.C. last weekend to demand amnesty from lawmakers and President Obama.  They staged a so-called “March for America” on Sunday, March 21, on the National Mall and have planned lobbying visits to Capitol Hill today (Monday).  Tens of thousands of activists came from across the country to march through the streets of the capital and rally for amnesty, carrying banners from their home countries and signs such as, “You need us as much as we need you,” and “No human being can be Illegal.”  (The Associated Press, March 21, 2010).  Frustrated with the lack of action on “comprehensive” immigration reform, these pro-amnesty protesters hope to inspire the president and Congress to address their concerns this year. 

President Obama has shown a renewed interest in fulfilling his campaign promise to enact amnesty legislation by meeting with lawmakers and amnesty advocates in recent weeks.  (See FAIR’sLegislative Update, March 15, 2010).  Obama did not attend Sunday’s demonstration, but he did send a message of reassurance to the illegal aliens and their supporters through a video message presented on giant screens at the National Mall that he would fix our “broken immigration system.”  (The Associated Press, March 21, 2010).   The crowd, which included illegal aliens required to wear tracking devices as they are already facing deportation, cheered for Obama.  (The Washington Post,March 22, 2010).

Other speakers included long-time amnesty advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, and an array of African-American leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and N.A.A.C.P. president Benjamin Jealous.  (The New York Times, March 21, 2010).  Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, went so far as to compare the push for amnesty by illegal aliens to the civil rights movement, saying, “This is our Selma.”  Id.  The rally was largely overshadowed by the health care debate taking place in the Capitol, but amnesty advocates sent a clear message that they won’t excuse delays on enacting “comprehensive” immigration reform for much longer and will vote accordingly in the November elections.  (Reuters, March 19, 2010).

House Passes Senate Health Care Reform Bill; Reconciliation Process to Continue

On Sunday, March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3590, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” – health care reform legislation that had previously passed the Senate. (Vote #165, March 21, 2010). Following the passage of H.R. 3590, the House immediately passed H.R. 4782 (the “Health Care and Education Affordability and Reconciliation Act”), a reconciliation bill that will amend the Senate bill with changes the House has negotiated with the Senate over the past several weeks. (Vote #167, March 21, 2010). 

Although H.R. 4782 made several changes to H.R. 3590, it failed to fix the major immigration-related problems – primarily, the fact that H.R. 3590 (1) waives the five-year waiting period for legal aliens with respect to the taxpayer-subsidized affordability credits created under the legislation and (2) contains a flawed verification process that will allow illegal aliens to fraudulently obtain benefits. (See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis of H.R. 3590, December 4, 2009). The elimination of the five-year waiting period alone will be a monumental change of policy as green card holders will now be able to receive these federally-funded health care benefits the moment they step onto U.S. territory.  The fact that the reconciliation bill did not address the immigration-related provisions was not entirely a surprise, however, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had publicly reiterated that by rule the reconciliation process can only address matters directly affecting the budget and that immigration would not be considered such a matter.

While H.R. 3590 has now been cleared for President Obama’s signature, the actual reconciliation bill – H.R. 4782 – will now move to the Senate. (CNN, March 22, 2010). Capitol Hill reports indicate that Senators will likely have the opportunity to offer amendments to the reconciliation bill, and that they are drafting many amendments in anticipation of the floor debate.

Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest on health care reform and immigration…                 

DHS Terminates Funding For Virtual Fence

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that it will immediately halt funding for new work on the virtual fence on the U.S.-Mexican border.  (DHS Press Release, March 16, 2010).  DHS has Secretary Janet Napolitano said that DHS will immediately reallocate $50 million of stimulus funding because “The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines.”  Id.  Her announcement preempted the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was harshly critical of the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), which includes the virtual fence program.  The GAO report, released two days later, detailed DHS’s mismanagement of the program and concluded that the program to use technology to secure the border was developing new problems faster than it could fix existing ones.  (GAO Report).  According to GAO, DHS’s mismanagement of the virtual fence has “increased the risk that the system will not perform as expected and will take longer and cost more than necessary.”  (GAO Testimony, March 18, 2010).

The $6.7 billion virtual fence project was started in 2005 as a component of SBInet, and consists of technology aimed at stopping illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and terrorists from crossing our southern border.  DHS contracted with the Boeing Corporation in 2006 to implement a series of nine security towers equipped with night vision cameras, radar and sensors, along with a variety of communications systems and software to monitor activities along large stretches of the border.  Since its inception, the virtual fence has been plagued with technical difficulties that have delayed its completion.  The technology was supposed to have been in place by June 2007, but the system is still full of bugs.  

In an apparent attempt to get in front of the audit results, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month ordered a reassessment of the entire initiative and President Obama’s budget proposal cut $225 million in funding for the virtual fence program.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, February 16, 2010).  Napolitano stated at the time that “Americans need border security now - not 10 years down the road.”   (The Washington Times, February 4, 2010).  Of last week’s decision to halt any further funding of the virtual fence, she said, “Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost effective way possible.”  (DHS Press Release, March 16, 2010). 

In a House Homeland Security hearing last week, GAO provided highly critical testimony regarding the management of SBInet.  One official noted, “SBInet testing has not been adequately managed, as illustrated by poorly defined test plans and numerous and extensive last-minute changes to test procedures.  Further, testing that has been performed identified a growing number of system performance and quality problems - a trend that is not indicative of a maturing system that is ready for deployment anytime soon.”  (GAO Testimony, March 18, 2010).  Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, described SBInet as “a grave and expensive disappointment.”  (Washington Post, March 16, 2010).  Thompson blamed DHS for its role, “The department could’ve been far more vigilant in its oversight.”  (NPR, March 17, 2010). 

Napolitano’s decision to cease funding that would expand the program may not mean certain death for the virtual fence, but coupled with the harsh report from GAO, is a critical blow to the project.  The funding freeze is pending a broader reassessment but is a sign that the program will likely be terminated.   

DOJ to Step Up Discrimination Investigations of Employers Using E-Verify

Last Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), joined officials from the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to announce the signing of an information sharing agreement that would increase investigations of employers who use E-Verify for possible discriminatory practices.  Mr. Perez, who previously served as a board member of the pro-amnesty organization CASA de Maryland, stated the new information will better enable DOJ to protect authorized workers from national origin or citizenship-status discrimination.  “We will not hesitate to take action against employers who violate our nation's civil rights laws,” he said.  (USCIS Press Release, March 17, 2010).

The new agreement between USCIS and DOJ requires USCIS to refer allegations involving potential discrimination resulting from employer misuse of E-Verify to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Specifically, USCIS will share data from E-Verify queries, including citizenship status, with OSC to assist OSC in identifying violations of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under the MOA, USCIS must also refer all matters relating to employer misuse, abuse, or fraudulent use of E-Verify that could potentially result in adverse treatment of employees. If OSC decides to initiate an investigation as a result of information received from USCIS, the MOA requires USCIS to provide OSC with all information requested by OSC in connection with the investigation. (MOA - §4). On the other hand, the MOA also requires OSC to share information related to suspected employer or employee misuse, abuse, or fraudulent use of E-Verify with USCIS. USCIS may use this information for further investigation. (MOA - §5).

At Wednesday’s press conference DOJ and USCIS officials also announced the release of two new E-Verify training videos and the upcoming launch of a telephone hotline for workers seeking information on E-Verify. The two new training videos are the result of a collaborative effort between USCIS and DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. One video, entitled “Understanding E-Verify: Employer Responsibilities and Worker Rights,” is meant to help employers understand their responsibilities under E-Verify, and is available only in English. Another video, entitled “Know Your Rights: Employee Rights and Responsibilities,” aims to inform employees of their rights when working for employers enrolled in E-Verify, and is available in both English and Spanish. (USCIS Fact Sheet, March 17, 2010). The videos are available at the DHS website.

USCIS officials plan to launch the new E-Verify employee hotline April 5, 2010. According to USCIS, the hotline will allow employees to: gain general information about E-Verify; understand how to complete the Form I-9 with acceptable documentation; learn about employee rights; report employer misuse of E-Verify; file complaints regarding possible violations of policy and privacy laws; and contest E-Verify cases. In addition, the hotline will direct individuals who suspect that their identity has been stolen to the Federal Trade Commission and other resources for reporting purposes. The number for the hotline will be (888) 897-7781 (USCIS Fact Sheet, March 17, 2010).

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano commented on the new initiatives: “E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that helps employers across the country maintain a legal workforce. The initiatives announced today will provide essential information to workers about their rights and ensure that E-Verify is used fairly while bolstering the Department’s efforts to protect critical employment opportunities.” (USCIS Press Release, March 17, 2010).

President Enacts Jobs Bill

On Thursday, March 18 President Obama signed into law the jobs bill, formally entitled the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act. (Vote Results, March 17, 2010). The enactment of H.R. 2847 came one day after the Senate passed the measure, 68-29, without amending the bill to protect the American worker from losing job opportunities to illegal aliens. The HIRE Act contains two major tax provisions: (1) an exemption from payroll taxes for employers who hire new employees in 2010 and (2) a $1,000 tax credit for employers who keep those employees for at least 52 weeks. However, the bill does not require that these new workers be legal or that employers use E-Verify to confirm their work authorization. (See FAIR’s Legislative Updates from February 16, 2010February 22, 2010March 1, 2010; and March 8, 2010).  Unfortunately, in its eagerness to demonstrate that they are addressing unemployment in America, Congressional Leadership quickly steered the bill through Congress and sent it to the President for his signature.  (The Associated Press, March 18, 2010).

New Caucus to Focus on Illegal Workers, Unemployed Americans

Friday, three allies in the House of Representatives announced the formation of a new caucus to focus on the nexus between illegal immigration and unemployment in America.  Headed by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sue Myrick (R-NC), and Gary Miller (R-C), the Reclaim American Jobs Caucus consists of 40 Members from both sides of the aisle, who will work to highlight the link between illegal immigration and record unemployment in the United States.  As the official unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent and the underemployed rate around 25 percent, these Members hope to promote immigration enforcement and getting Americans back to work.

Commenting on the new House caucus, Rep. Lamar Smith, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, said: “If the immigration laws we have on the books were enforced, we could cut unemployment in half.” Rep Myrick noted that employment is the main magnet that draws illegal workers to the United States. “By encouraging employers to use E-Verify and increasing worksite enforcement,” Myrick said, “we make sure that Americans and legal immigrants are able to get back to work.”  Rep. Miller commented on his state of California and the enormous impact illegal immigration has had there.  “Although 2.2 million Californians are unemployed, nearly 1.9 million illegal immigrants are employed,” Miller said. “This is simply unacceptable and is an affront to unemployed American and legal workers.” (Press Release, March 19, 2010). Click here to see these members introduce their new Caucus.

The members of The Reclaim American Jobs Caucus include:

Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-52)
Rep. Ed Royce (CA-40
Rep. Elton Gallegly (CA-24)
Rep. Gus Bilirakis
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (CA-25)
Rep. Jack Kingston (GA-1)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-03)
Rep. John Boozman (AR-03)
Rep. John Carter (TX-31)
Rep. K. Michael Conaway (TX-11)
Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-44)
Rep. Kenny Marchant (TX-24)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01)
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN-07)
Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10)
Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Rep. Nathan Deal (GA-09)
Rep. Parker Griffith (AL-05)
Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC-10)
Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32)
Rep. Phil Gingrey (GA-11)
Rep. Phil Roe (TN-01)
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19)
Rep. Rob Bishop (UT-01)
Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA-05)
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06)
Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (WV-02)
Rep. Spencer Bachus (AL-06)
Rep. Steve King (IA-05)
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (KS - 04)
Rep. Trent Franks (AZ-02)
Rep. W. Todd Akin (MO-02) 
Rep. Walter Jones (NC-03) 

If you don’t see your Member on this list, FAIR urges you to call your Representative and ask that he/she join The Reclaim American Jobs caucus and fight for the American worker.