Legislative Update: 1/10/2017 
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Legislative Update: 1/10/2017

DHS Secretary Defends Obama Immigration Policies in ‘Farewell’ Address

By: Robert Law

In what is likely his final act as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Jeh Johnson defended the Obama administration’s immigration policies in his exit memo. The memo, which Secretary Johnson titled “Record of Progress and Vision for the Future,” declared that “Today, it is now much harder to cross our southern border without authorization and avoid detection and apprehension. Apprehensions in recent years – a strong indicator of total attempts to cross the border – are much lower than they used to be.” (DHS Exit Memo, Jan. 5, 2017 at 5) Regarding the surge of unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) that began in the summer of 2014 (and still continues), Johnson said, “We responded with a number of aggressive border security, immigration enforcement, and enhanced processing measures, and the flow dropped sharply by August 2014.” (Id. at 7)

Predictably, Secretary Johnson praised President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty programs while calling for mass amnesty. Despite being rejected by the courts, Johnson claimed, “We in the Administration have done as much we [sic] could within our existing legal authority to fix the immigration system, make it more fair, and make our enforcement smarter and more efficient.” (Id. at 7) While promoting the approximately 750,000 illegal aliens who benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the memo noticeably omits any mention of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) amnesty program that was repeatedly rejected by the courts. (Id.) Even though amnesty is not supported by the majority of Americans and Trump largely won the presidential election by campaigning against amnesty, Johnson still said “The next Administration and the next Congress must return to the subject of comprehensive immigration reform.” (Id.) “For one thing, we must reckon with the millions of [illegal aliens] who live in the shadows in this country, who have been here for years, who are not criminals, who are not going away, and who should be given the opportunity to come forward and become accountable.” (Id.)

Lastly, Secretary Johnson defended the Obama administration’s complete gutting of interior enforcement. “Instead of focusing our enforcement resources on those who are law-abiding and productive, we have focused these resources on those who may pose threats to public safety.” (Id.) In addition to effectively ending 287(g) agreements (not mentioned in the memo), Johnson praised the decision to end the successful Secure Communities program that was replaced with the weaker Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). (Id.) Of course, the memo makes no mention of the fact that nearly 90 percent of illegal aliens are exempt from enforcement under the Obama administration’s “priorities.” (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 28, 2015) In summation, Johnson outrageously declares, “President Obama and his Administration will leave a much stronger DHS than the one we inherited eight years ago.” (DHS Exit Memo, Jan. 5, 2017 at 2)  

Remittances to Mexico Skyrocket After Trump Victory

By: RJ Hauman

Remittances to Mexico registered their biggest jump in over ten years after the presidential election victory of Donald J. Trump, who threatened to block these transfers of money during his campaign. (Reuters, Jan. 2, 2017) Mexicans abroad—including millions residing in the United States illegally—sent home nearly $2.4 billion in transfers during the month of November, 24.7 percent higher than a year earlier. (Id.) This marks the fastest pace of expansion in remittances since March 2006, according to the Mexican Central Bank. (Id.) Further, Bank BBVA Bancomer, Mexico’s largest financial institution, forecast that Mexicans will have sent a record $27 billion in remittances into Mexico in 2016, an increase of more than $2 billion over the previous year. (Id.)

In 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the United States was the largest remittance-sending country in the world. (Washington Examiner, Feb. 23, 2016) Foreign-born residents in the U.S. remitted nearly $38 billion to households abroad, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) estimates that $25 billion comes from illegal aliens each year. (Id.) After nearly a decade without new data, the GAO released updated estimates, which confirmed that the U.S. remains the largest remittance-sending country in the world. (Id.) Of the $54.2 billion in remittances sent abroad in 2014, the GAO, citing the World Bank’s Bilateral Remittance Matrix, estimated that $24 billion was sent to Mexico. (Id.)

During his successful campaign, President-elect Trump published a memo that proposed putting pressure on Mexico to pay for a border wall by cutting off remittances sent from Mexicans living illegally in the United States. (Washington Post, Apr. 5, 2016) "It's an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year," the memo said. (Id.) Specifically, Trump said remittances would be cut off by promulgating a proposed rule (regulation) amending 31 CFR 130.121 to redefine applicable financial institutions such as Western Union, and redefine “account” to include wire transfers. (Id.) Also included in the proposed rule would be a requirement that no alien may wire money outside of the United States unless the alien first provides documentation establishing his or her lawful presence in the United States. (Id.)

Even though the incoming administration claims that they will have the authority to issue these regulations, Congress can pass legislation to accomplish the same objective. In the 114th Congress, then-Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced S. 79, The Remittance Status Verification Act, also known as the Wire Act. This legislation would require a remittance transfer provider to request proof that a sender, transmitting funds to a recipient located in another country, is in the country lawfully, or to collect a fee if the sender cannot verify legal status. (Vitter Press Release, July, 23, 2014) The money accrued through fees would go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to cover costs of enforcing the legislation, and any leftover funds would be transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to enhance border security. (Id.) Along with creating a disincentive for illegal aliens to send money to their home countries, the GAO estimated that the Wire Act could raise up to $1 billion for border security purposes, such as constructing a wall. (Washington Examiner, Mar. 7, 2016). Senator Vitter has since retired so FAIR is calling for its reintroduction by another member in the current Congress.

DHS Data Confirms Porous Border in Obama’s Final Year

By: Shari Rendall

New statistics released last week from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reveal that illegal aliens continued to surge across the Southern border in the final year of Obama’s presidency. According to the DHS data, the Department initiated 805,071 enforcement actions and apprehended 530,250 individuals during Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. (DHS End of Fiscal Year 2016 Statistics, Dec. 30, 2016) The Border Patrol apprehended 415,816 in FY 2016, compared to 337,117 in FY 2015; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 114, 434 individuals in Fiscal Year 2016, compared to 125,211 in FY 2015. (Id.) In addition, the Border Patrol identified 274,821 inadmissible individuals at the border in FY 2016, compared to 253,509 in FY 2015. (Id.) ICE removed or returned 240,255 individuals in FY 2016, compared to 235,413 in FY 2015. (Id.) It is important to note, however, that the Obama administration counts as ICE removals, those detained at the border and transferred to ICE custody rather than being immediately turned away. No previous administration has counted ICE removals this way and it was clearly done to make it appear the Obama administration was enforcing our immigration laws.

Despite repeated claims by the Obama administration that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure, the DHS statistics prove that illegal immigration continues to be a major problem. According to a leaked DHS report, DHS only catches approximately half of illegal border crossers. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 12, 2016) That means that at least 150,000 more illegal aliens successfully crossed the southern border in FY 2016 compared to FY 2015. However, the true number of unlawful border crossers could be much higher. Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the number of illegal aliens that make it into the United States may be closer to 75 percent considering a DHS policy memo that requires Border Patrol agents to release aliens who claim to have been in the United States prior to January 2014. (Id.)

Predictably the report also asserts that the administration’s immigration enforcement has successfully reduced the numbers of “serious convicted criminals” and prioritized “those apprehended at the border.”  As evidence of this, Johnson states “an increasing percentage of those deported from the interior were convicted of serious crimes, over 90% in 2016 as compared to 51% in 2009.” (Id.) While the Obama administration claims their top priority is removing criminal aliens, the number of criminal aliens arrested and removed clearly belies their statement. In 2015, ICE made 119,772 arrests compared to the 232,287 arrests made in 2013. (See Center for Immigration Studies, Apr. 27, 2016, FAIR Legislative Update, May 3, 2016) Likewise, the administration removed 216,810 criminal aliens in 2013 compared to 139,368 in 2015. (See ICE Criminal Alien Stats, 2015, FAIR Legislative Update, May 3, 2016)

Sessions and Kelly Confirmation Hearings TODAY

By: Robert Law

True immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for his first confirmation hearing to become Attorney General. Sessions will also appear before the committee tomorrow for a second day of hearings on his nomination. Both hearings start at 9:30 a.m. Eastern and can be viewed here.

Additionally, retired Gen. John Kelly appears before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern for his confirmation hearing to become Department of Homeland Security Secretary. General Kelly’s hearing can be viewed here.

FAIR supports both Sen. Sessions and Gen. Kelly and urges the committees to advance the nominations to the full Senate floor for a confirmation vote. 

Texas Legislature Takes on Immigration Enforcement in 2017 Session

By: State & Local Government Relations

Lawmakers in the Texas State House and State Senate introduced a variety of bills this month to tackle illegal immigration in the 2017 legislative session. With the state’s expansive southern border, Texas has been on the front lines of the illegal immigration issue, including the recent border surge of unaccompanied alien minors and family units from Central America. Texas lawmakers are prioritizing legislation to eliminate sanctuary cities, amp up law enforcement cooperation with federal officials, require additional employers to use E-Verify to verify the work authorization status of their employees, and reduce the magnet for illegal immigration into the state.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate responded to Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) call to end sanctuary policies that impede the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration law by introducing legislation to prohibit such policies and increase law enforcement cooperation with the federal government. (Blaze, Dec. 18, 2016) The legislation includes Senate Bill (SB) 4, introduced by Sen. Charles Perry (R-28); House Bill (HB) 124, introduced by Rep. Matt Krause (R-93); HB 149, introduced by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-65); HB 611, introduced by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-67); and HB 754, introduced by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-106). Governor Abbot promised to sign anti-sanctuary legislation that makes it to his desk and has put his support behind SB 4. (Watchdog, Jan. 5, 2017)

In addition to supporting immigration enforcement, representatives in the State House introduced measures to repeal a 2001 law that allows illegal aliens to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Texas. (KGNS, Jan. 3, 2017) Under this law, illegal aliens who have lived in the state for three years before graduating from a Texas high school may qualify as a resident for purposes of receiving in-state tuition. (Texas Education Code § 54.052) HB 393 and HB 753, introduced by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-92) and Rep. Mark Keough (R-15) respectively, however, prohibit education officials from considering individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States as residents of the state for tuition purposes. 

Additionally, lawmakers introduced legislation to require public contractors to use the federal E-Verify program to verify the work authorization status of their new employees. (TWC News, Jan. 4, 2017) E-Verify is a free, web-based program maintained by the federal government. (USCIS) The program allows employers to verify the work authorization status of new hires nearly instantly by comparing documents provided by employees to documents on file with the federal government. (Id.) The E-Verify system is more effective than the standard I-9 protocol, which merely requires employs to examine work documents themselves. SB 254 and SB 23, introduced by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-5), both require public contractors to use E-Verify in order to obtain taxpayer-funded contracts.

Lawmakers have until the end of May to consider these measures before the session adjourns or must wait until the next legislative session in 2019. The Texas Legislature meets every two years.