Legislation

FAIR Legislative Update March 26, 2012


Obama Administration Undermines REAL ID

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing examining state compliance with the REAL ID Act.

The REAL ID Act was enacted in 2005, pursuant to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, after it was discovered that many of the 9/11 hijackers had fraudulently obtained driver’s licenses and used them in planning their attacks. (See FAIR REAL ID Fact Sheet) REAL ID increases national security by requiring states to comply with rules to verify the authenticity of driver’s licenses. Implementing these requirements will make it harder for terrorists to obtain fake IDs and close loopholes that make it easier for illegal aliens to live and work in the United States. (Id.)

Rep.  Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who was also the original sponsor of the REAL ID Act, served as the Subcommittee’s Chair. He began the hearing with a reminder of how the 9/11 terrorists were able to exploit weaknesses in our driver’s license systems.  The fact that many states issued driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status  allowed the 9/11 terrorists to obtain licenses, which in turn allowed them to move freely about the country, rent cars and condos, take flying lessons, and book airline tickets. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 22, 2012)

However, despite seven years passing since the REAL ID Act became law, only a handful of states are in full compliance. According to DHS statistics, only six states have submitted full compliance certification packages; 22 other states are materially compliant or are committed to the compliance; 12 states or territories are committed to meeting 15 of the 18 REAL ID benchmarks; 13 states refuse to comply; and four additional states have driver's license programs comparable to REAL ID guidelines. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 22, 2012)

Both Members of Congress and witnesses in last week’s hearing criticized the Obama Administration for failing to enforce compliance with the Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner, for example, attributed non-compliance to Secretary Napolitano’s efforts to “create confusion as to whether the law will remain in place,” pointing out that DHS did not specifically allocate money for the program. (Id.)  Similarly, hearing witness Darrell Williams, the former Senior Director of the previously named REAL ID Program Office at DHS (now the Office of State-Issued ID Support), cited the Department’s endorsement of the PASS ID program as encouraging non-compliance with REAL ID. (Id.) PASS ID was the Obama Administration’s attempt at enacting a weaker alternative to REAL ID during the previous Congress, which left states unsure with which program they needed to comply. (See FAIR REAL ID & PASS ID Chart, July 10, 2009)

Assistant Secretary for Policy at DHS David Heyman testified that the Administration will be issuing REAL ID regulations in the coming weeks. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 22, 2012) However, he indicated that DHS regulations could differ from the original legislation.  (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 22, 2012) According to Mr. Heyman, states could innovate their own “solution for implementation of the [regulations], that we had not originally contemplated.” (Id.)

Mr. Heyman also assured the Subcommittee that DHS has no plans to further delay the implementation of REAL ID. (Id.) Since the law’s passage in 2005, DHS has delayed implementation of REAL ID three times. The most recent instance occurred in March of last year, when Secretary Napolitano announced DHS’ decision to push the compliance date back to January 2013. (Fox News, March 5, 2011; FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 7, 2011)

Congress Seeks Answers about Questionable Border Crossing Data

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating the Obama Administration for allegedly releasing false and misleading border crossing data. (Washington Times, Mar. 14, 2012)

In a letter dated March 1, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), demanded answers about the misleading data from Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano. In their letter, Issa and Chaffetz suggest the number of illegal border crossings is substantially higher than that previously reported by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). “[T]he numbers appear to dramatically understate the volume of individuals who cross the border illegally and are neither arrested nor turned back south (‘got-aways’),” the letter reads.

DHS documents obtained by the Committee reveal that instead of tracking and counting such “got-aways” in its border security statistics, the Department let them fall off the record books. The letter explained that CBP agents considered these individuals as “outstanding subjects of active pursuit,” and thus passed them along from shift-to-shift. Eventually, CBP agents lost track of these “got-aways,” who never ended up being logged into their daily shift reports. 

According to Issa, an audit of border patrol shift reports showed over a one week period in 2011 that at least 82 illegal border crossers were never reported. Extrapolated over a full year for the entire U.S.-Mexico border, Reps. Issa and Chaffetz estimate more than 268,000 individuals who illegally crossed into the country went uncounted. They conclude that if the data is as misleading as it appears to be, the Administration’s claims that “’the border is safer than it has been in decades’ is dangerously flawed.”

To grasp the extent of the Departments’ deception, the Chairman requested that Napolitano provide  all situation, operation, and shift reports from each of the eight Border Patrol stations in the Tuscon Sector during 2011. Stay tuned to FAIR for more details…

DHS Employees Give Leaders Low Scores, Again

For the sixth year in a row, the Department of Homeland Security was awarded an abysmal score by the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work annual rankings. (See Best Places to Work Rankings, 2011)

DHS earned the rank of 31 out of 33 federal organizations in its bracket, scoring nearly four points worse than last year. Placing in the bottom three spots in almost every category evaluated, most troublesome is DHS’ dead-last score in the “Effective Leadership” category. (Id.

During a hearing on Thursday of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) admonished DHS.  He called the scores “unacceptable, ” and asked those testifying, “What does it say when only 37% of DHS employees…are satisfied with their senior leaders’ policies and practices?” (Rep. McCaul Opening Statement, Mar. 22, 2012)

A study presented by GAO Homeland Security Issues Director David Maurer before the Subcommittee also showed employee dissatisfaction with DHS leadership. Maurer told the Subcommittee that DHS employees scored its supervisors nearly ten percentage points lower than employees of other federal government agencies when it came to a manager’s ability to communicate the goals and priorities of the organization. (David Maurer Opening Statement, Mar. 22, 2012)

Dissatisfaction with DHS leadership is unfortunately nothing new. 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 both ICE Director John Morton and Assistant Director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning, Phyllis Coven, and called for their removal. (See NICEC Press Release, June 25, 2010; see also FAIR Website, Sept. 2010)

Arizona’s Illegal Alien Population Drops

New government statistics show that Arizona’s illegal alien population dropped significantly between 2010 and 2011.  The drop can be measured from new statistics the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released Friday as part of its latest annual estimate of the illegal alien population in the U.S.  (See Estimates of the Unauthorized Migrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2011)

DHS’s new report reveals that while there was “little to no change” in the illegal alien population nationwide, the drop in Arizona’s illegal alien population could be as much as 23 percent.  (Id.)  According to DHS, Arizona’s illegal alien population in 2011 was 360,000; in 2010 it was 470,000.  (See Estimates of the Unauthorized Migrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2010) Notably, the decline in Arizona’s illegal alien population could even be greater when one factors in DHS’s acknowledgement that its 2010 report significantly undercounted the overall illegal alien population.

Arizona’s illegal alien population has clearly been influenced by enforcement measures taken at the state level.  In 2007, Arizona was the first state in the nation to pass a mandatory E-Verify law for all employers, public and private.  In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, a comprehensive immigration enforcement law aimed at ending sanctuary policies and deterring illegal immigration.  While much of that law has been enjoined, Arizona’s lawmakers sent a clear message nationwide – indeed around the world -- that it no longer intends to be a haven for illegal aliens.  The fate of the SB 1070 now resides with the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the Obama Administration’s challenge to it in late April.  Legal observers expect the Supreme Court to issue a decision on the constitutionality of SB 1070 sometime this summer.