FAIR Legislative Update May 23, 2011
Utah Program Promotes Identity Theft While Aiding Pregnant Illegal Aliens
The Utah Department of Health has been issuing what appear to be false Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to pregnant illegal aliens who apply for a state and federally funded prenatal-care program, news outlets in Utah reported last week. (The Salt Lake Tribune, May 17, 2011) The state administered program at issue, “Baby Your Baby,” provides low-income expectant mothers who meet certain qualifications prenatal healthcare services for up to two months while they wait for their Medicaid applications to be approved. (Id.)
The practice gained national attention after an illegal alien, who goes by the pseudonym Rosa Flores to avoid deportation, told reporters she was instructed to lie by a counselor at Utah’s WestView Women’s and Family Medical Center, a private clinic in Utah, in order to receive benefits under the program. (Id.) “Yes, I’m a legal resident,” Flores alleged a counselor at the clinic urged her to claim in 2008. The Utah Department of Health then, through the clinic, issued a nine-digit number to Ms. Flores, which happened to be the same as a SSN belonging to Rick Bonneau, the Deputy Chief of the Skowhegan, Maine Police Department. (Id.)
Utah’s Medicaid Director, Michael Hales, says the numbers handed out by program employees were never intended to be SSNs. (Deseret News, May 13, 2011) “No one in our organization encourages people to somehow defraud the system,” Hales commented. (Id.) Nonetheless, the U.S. Social Security Administration has subsequently used many of the numbers given to the illegal aliens taking part in the program, causing concern among those such as Deputy Chief Bonneau whose SSN is being casually handed out by Utah employees. (Id.) “It looks and smells like a Social Security number, and I’m the only one authorized to use it,” said Mr. Bonneau about the ordeal. (The Salt Lake Tribune, May 17, 2011) “What’s to stop this illegal immigrant from turning around and using it to establish credit? It doesn’t take a lot of research to figure out who I am,” he argued. (Id.)
Sam Meziani, an attorney who represents two of the WestView clinic’s owners argues the State used the 9-digit system to avoid turning away undocumented pregnant women. (Deseret News, May 13, 2011) “I think it was swept under the table and that's what you see here with these facts,” he said. (Id.) Utah State lawmakers are also weighing in on the investigation, such as Representative Chris Herrod (R-Provo): “It just confirms what a lot of us already knew was going on … State officials are consistently saying illegal immigrants aren’t getting benefits. But it appears they are — and at tremendous costs to taxpayers and privately insured citizens who get stuck with higher premiums.” (Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 2011)
In a move that places American students at a disadvantage, the Obama Administration announced last week that it would expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for foreign students. (ICE Press Release, May 12, 2011) Under the OPT program, foreign students are authorized to work in the U.S. under certain conditions: during annual vacation or other times when school is not in session; up to 20 hours per week while school is in session; or between 12 and 29 months following completion of a qualifying degree program. (See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)) In particular, foreign students benefit from the ability to work following the completion of their degree because they do not have to obtain an additional work visa, such as an H-1B, which would require a sponsoring employer and certification from the Department of Labor. (See Department of Labor Website, June 17, 2010)
The change initiated by the Obama Administration last week expands the OPT in two ways. First, it increases the number of qualified fields from which foreign students may apply for OPT following graduation. In doing so, the Obama Administration added degree programs such as video graphics and special effects, dairy science, neuroscience, business statistics, wood science and wood products/pulp and paper technology, and personality psychology. (Fox News, May 17, 2011; see also STEM-Designated Degree Program List, May 20, 2011) Second, Obama’s announcement extends the period in which foreign students completing one of the newly-expanded degree programs may participate in OPT from 12 months to 29 months by permitting them a 17 month extension. (ICE Press Release, May 12, 2011)
Foreign students, who some experts believe already enjoy an advantage over Americans as a result of OPT, will gain an even greater advantage than they already have due to the expansion. According to David North of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), businesses do not have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes when they hire foreign students under the OPT program. (Fox News, May 17, 2011) Calling it an “unequal playing field” for college graduates, North estimates that businesses receive a 7.65 percent discount when they hire a foreign student over an U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. (Id.) “I'm not sure how many employers know this, but boy when it gets around, it'll make some people very attractive,” North said. (Id.) “It gives the employer a bonus for hiring the foreign worker.” (Id.)
Mexican authorities stopped two tractor-trailer trucks with in 513 illegal aliens from Central America and Asia last week. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 10, 2011; CNN, May 18, 2011) Mexican authorities were able to detect the individuals jam-packed into the trucks—240 in the back of one tractor, 273 in the other—using X-ray technology at a southern Mexico checkpoint. (Fox New York, May 17, 2011)
Mexican authorities say the illegal aliens paid $7,000 (USD) each to travel to the United States, where the two long-haul trucks were headed. (CNN, May 18, 2011) Although the truck drivers sped away from authorities after being ordered to stop, police were able to apprehend the trucks nearby. (Id.) Mexico’s National Institute of Migration reported that the individuals were “traveling in subhuman conditions.” (Press Releases, National Institute of Migration, May 17, 2011) The agency noted that there were 32 women and four children among those trapped in the trucks. (Id.)
The aliens were not only Central Americans trying to head into the U.S. Among those found in the trucks were 12 nationals from India, six from Nepal, three from China, and one from Japan. (Id.) Guatemala has been a pipeline for illegal immigrants from India since 2009, when diplomatic and commercial relations between Guatemala and India changed. (Fox News Latino, May 18, 2011) Visa requirements on Indian nationals were removed, opening the door to a spike in the number of Indian nationals heading to Guatemala. (Id.)
Guatemala’s Director of Immigration Services, Enrique Degenhart, said that 4,966 Indian nationals entered Guatemala in 2010, but only 1,058 exited the country legally. (Id.) This discrepancy led officials to suspect that Indians were using Guatemala as a gateway into the U.S. (Id.) The southern border state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala and is the location where these two trucks were caught, is a major crossing point for Central American immigrants heading north. (CNN, May 18, 2011) According to statistics from the National Institute of Migration, Mexican authorities apprehended about 25,000 illegal aliens in that particular area in 2010. (Id.)
The bust of these human smuggling trucks comes at a time when the Obama Administration is attempting to finalize details on a pilot program to begin cross-border trucking programs with Mexico. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 10, 2010; CNN, April 27, 2011) The pilot program would be a three-year program which would allow long-haul Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways. (76 Fed. Reg. 20,807, Apr. 13, 2011) Cross-border trucking provisions were originally allowed under NAFTA, but the provisions have not been fully implemented due to concerns about national security, highway safety and American job losses. (NAFTA Secretariat; The Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2007; Bloomberg, Jan. 20, 2011; The Huffington Post, March 11, 2009) Even as Mexican and U.S. Administration officials assert they are working to implement a pilot program that will ensure safety and security, Mexican long-haul carriers will only be more heavily scrutinized for the first three months of the pilot program. (CNN, April 27, 2011; 76 Fed. Reg. 20,807, Apr. 13, 2011) After the three month initiation period, trucks will only be inspected at a “rate comparable to other Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that cross the United States-Mexico border.” (76 Fed. Reg. 20,807, Apr. 13, 2011)
The Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security met last week to discuss security and commerce along America’s northern border. As Chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) commented, “it is very challenging to guard and protect the longest, non-militarized border in the world.” (Statement of The Honorable Patrick Leahy, May 17, 2011) Indeed, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin testified before the committee that his agency alone seizes roughly 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs along the northern border each year. (Testimony of Alan Bersin, May 17, 2011)
Despite Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) expression of concern about the amount of drugs flowing into upstate New York, he seemed most concerned about the impact security checks are having on travel. (Press Release, May 17, 2011) The Senator from New York stressed the balance that must be made between the dramatic growth in drug activities in upstate New York with the economic benefits of a close relationship with Canada. As such, Schumer asserted that “more needs to be done to streamline entry procedures,” suggesting “weeding out high-risk cargo for close inspection” but expediting overall processing of commercial traffic. (Id.) He complained to CBP Commissioner Bersin that Amtrak trains coming into New York from Quebec were sometimes stopped for two hours. The Senator encouraged Commissioner Bersin to speed that up. “At times, we’ve employed a backwards border strategy that lets drugs in but keeps business out,” Schumer said. “It’s absolutely critical that we reverse this trend and implement smart policies that will keep drugs out of our communities while encouraging new business and economic opportunities across the state.” (Id.)
Senator Leahy concurred with Schumer’s concerns about travel inconvenience through the northern border. He said he worried that “insufficient staffing levels will cause excessive delays at the ports of entry once the summer tourism season kicks off in a few weeks.” (Statement of The Honorable Patrick Leahy, May 17, 2011) In addition to cross-border travel, the Senator expressed concern that individuals were getting pulled over by CBP agents in on Interstate 91 in Vermont. Commissioner Bersin explained to the Chairman that this inconvenience to Vermont citizens is necessary to effectuate the layered security protocol followed to keep the country safe.
It was Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who reminded the committee the “number one responsibility of Congress is to protect the homeland.” (Statement of The Honorable Chuck Grassley, May 17, 2011) He said that they “must not turn a blind eye to the realities of illegal activity that is seen every day along the southern and northern borders.” (Id.)
As the Obama Administration continues to bring immigration issues to the forefront of the 2012 campaign, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it is petitioning Congress for the funds to keep 1,200 National Guard troops along the border until September of this year. (The Hill, May 17, 2011) “Congress appropriates funds for these types of missions, and DHS is requesting a reprogramming through the end of FY11,” said Matt Chandler, a spokesman for DHS. “National Guard support along the Southwest border remains in place.” (Id.)
The guardsmen have been stationed along the southwest border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas since last July. (Id.) DHS says it hopes to train sufficient Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to eventually take over for the National Guard troops. (Id.) Captain Valentine Castillo with the National Guard stated that although DHS has made this request, guardsmen will begin a gradual withdrawal from the border as no action has been taken yet to ensure the troops remain in place. (KVOA, May 19, 2011)
In a startling maneuver, the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday gutted the anti-sanctuary city bill that had been moving through the Texas legislature. By a unanimous vote (8-0), the committee members stripped House Bill 12, which would have prohibited public officials from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration law, and replaced it with Senate Bill 9. SB 9 requires law enforcement agencies to participate in the Secure Communities Program, which Homeland Security says will already be mandatory in 2013 (Section 1). It also requires proof of lawful presence in order to obtain a Texas driver’s license (Section 19). However, it does not contain a provision that prohibits sanctuary cities. SB 9, which passed out of the Senate last month, had stalled in the House.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) proposed the change, which was allowed by Sen. Tom Williams (R-The Woodlands), the author of SB 9 and the committee chairman. Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton), the author of the companion House bill, was “a little surprised” by the switch, according to the Texas Tribune. The House had passed HB 12 by a vote of 100 to 47 on May 10.
The Associated Press reported that certain police chiefs –who are not elected, but appointed by mayors – claim that “enforcing this legislation would jeopardize public safety by ostracizing the local immigrant community and making them afraid to report crimes.” However, they provided no evidence to support this argument, an argument that is commonly used by those who support sanctuary cities. Moreover, HB 12 simply reiterates what is already prohibited under federal law. Under 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 and 1644, no state or local government may prohibit state or local officials from sending information regarding the immigration status of any individual to federal authorities.
Advocates for the original version of HB 12 have urged lawmakers to reinstate the anti-sanctuary city provisions within the text of SB 9. However, if Texas lawmakers are to save the anti-sanctuary city measure, they will need to act soon. The 2011 session of the Texas Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 30.