Legislative Update: 10/23/2013
Obama, Reid Resume Amnesty Push
Now that Congress has reached a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, President Obama has resumed lobbying Congress to pass "comprehensive" immigration reform, his top agenda item. President Obama signaled that he plans to actively pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to pass an amnesty bill. "I'm going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform," Obama told Univision's Los Angeles affiliate the day before an agreement was reached to end the shutdown. (The Hill, Oct. 15, 2013) Then, during a press conference the day after the government reopened, Obama listed amnesty as one of three priority items and declared that passing "comprehensive" immigration reform "can and should get done by the end of this year." (BGov Transcript, Oct. 17, 2013) "[N]ow is the time to do it." (The Hill, Oct. 15, 2013)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) showed that he is lockstep with the President in pushing for the House to pass an immigration bill in the coming weeks. "I look forward to the next venture, which is making sure we do immigration reform," said Reid. (USA Today, Oct. 17, 2013) "I think we need to get this done," Reid said Sunday on Univision's "Al Punto." (Politico, Oct. 21, 13) Senator Reid also made clear that he and the rest of the pro-amnesty lobby will accept nothing short of a direct path to citizenship for all 12 million illegal aliens currently in the country. "And I will never agree to anything that doesn't have a pathway to citizenship," he declared. (Id.)
Because Congress could only agree to a short term deal to reopen the government — funding it through mid-January and raising the debt limit until February 7 — the open borders lobby realizes time is of the essence to pass amnesty. "There's a very clear window now for the next month or two," said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. (Politico, Oct. 21, 13) "The key is to make the case for the political imperative." (Id.) "We want to be next up and we're going to position ourselves that way," added Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-amnesty America's Voice. (buzzfeed.com, Oct. 15, 2013)
House Republicans have scoffed at claims that immigration reform is next, citing Obama's refusal to negotiate with the House GOP during the budget fight. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the immigration subcommittee, said "I think there is less trust now than in the three years I've been here" that Obama will negotiate in good faith on immigration. (breitbart.com, Oct. 18, 2013) "So when I hear the president say immigration reform is coming next? No, it's not." (Id.) "It would be crazy" for House Republicans to negotiate with Obama on immigration, added Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a former member of the now-defunct House bipartisan gang. (National Review, Oct. 16, 2013) "It's not going to happen this year," Labrador said. (USA Today, Oct. 17, 2013) "After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the speaker of the House… they're not going to get immigration reform. That's done." (Id.)
Obama's DHS Nominee Has No Immigration Experience
On Friday, President Barack Obama officially unveiled his pick for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): former Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson.
While Johnson's biography suggests he has some national security experience, unfortunately he appears to lack any experience on immigration — President Obama's second-term priority. (See news reports by ABC, the Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor) As the Pentagon's chief lawyer under Obama, Johnson oversaw programs related to legality of U.S. drone strikes, the closing of Guantanamo Bay Prison, and the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. (Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 18, 2013) Yet, if confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would be responsible for ensuring the border is secure, enforcing immigration laws within the U.S., and managing a massive system that issues documents and immigration benefits to millions of foreign nationals entering the U.S. each year.
Several senior Senators have criticized Obama's decision to nominate a Homeland Security Secretary with no immigration experience. Indeed, Ranking Member of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, John Cornyn (R-TX), called out the President for picking someone from his inner circle instead of someone with experience along the border. "Rather than selecting someone who knows the unique dynamics of our Southern border, President Obama has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers. We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars, "he said in a prepared statement. (See Sen. Cornyn Press Release, Oct. 18, 2013) True immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) also chided the President for picking a donor over someone with more law enforcement experience. "It would appear that the President plans to nominate a loyalist and fundraiser to this post. This is deeply concerning. This huge department must have a proven manager with strong relevant law enforcement experience, recognized independence and integrity, who can restore this department to its full capability." (See Sen. Sessions Press Release, Oct. 17, 2013)
According to news reports, Johnson is a longtime Democrat donor. For example, federal campaign finance records show that over the past decade, Johnson has contributed more than $100,000 to Democratic candidates and groups. (Fox News, Oct. 18, 2013) In particular, Johnson gave more than $33,000 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. (Id.) In fact, his ties with President Obama extend to more than just donations, with then candidate-Obama's campaign website listing him as both a member of his national finance committee and as a foreign policy advisor. (Id.) He also donated $2,300 to Hillary Clinton's presidential primary campaign. (Id.)
FAIR to Boehner: "No Conference"
Last week, the Federation for American Immigration Reform's President, Dan Stein, joined over 130 pro-enforcement organizations in urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to publicly reject going to conference with the 1,100 page Senate immigration bill, S. 744. The letter to the Speaker reads: "[We] write to ask you to make a public commitment that the House of Representatives will not conference any House immigration bill with any version of the Senate immigration bill or engage in any informal negotiations to do so."
In doing so, FAIR and the other groups warned that they would be unable to support any piece of immigration-related legislation that could be used to conference with the mass amnesty and guest worker legislation. "In the absence of such a commitment, we, and the millions of Americans our organizations represent, will have no choice but to oppose all efforts to bring any immigration legislation before the House of Representatives," the letter continues.
When the Senate and House pass different bills, they must resolve their legislative differences through a "conference committee." After the conference committee negotiates a single bill, the new legislation goes back to each chamber to vote for final passage. However, immigration enforcement groups and many Americans are already aware that even if the House passes and negotiates with a positive interior enforcement or border security bill, past experience has shown that any negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Gang of Eight Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will inevitably lead to legislation identical to the amnesty-first, enforcement-later provisions of S. 744.
Other signatories include the Co-Founder of Tea Party Patriots Jenny Beth Martin, Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham, Eagle Forum Founder and President Phyllis Schlafly, and Numbers USA President Roy Beck.
You can read the full letter here.
Rep. DeSantis: Conference with the Gang of Eight Bill Would Be "Minefield"
Last Wednesday, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) became the latest member of the House GOP to warn of the dangers of negotiating with the Senate over immigration. Rep. DeSantis said, "We should not go to a conference on the Gang of Eight bill." (Breitbart News, Oct. 16, 2013)
DeSantis is concerned that any piece of immigration legislation that comes from the House — even one that improves enforcement — could be used as a vehicle to turn the Senate amnesty bill into law. Concerned about this dangerous possibility, DeSantis said, "Why would we want to step into that minefield?" (Id.)
The "minefield" to which DeSantis refers is called a "conference committee," a step before a bill becomes a law where Members of the House and Senate meet to resolve differences between bills passed by each chamber. While the Senate passed the Gang of Eight bill in June, no immigration bill has yet passed the House to meet the Senate in conference. Several bills, however, have already been passed through House committees and could be brought to the floor for a full vote by Speaker Boehner at any time.
Through this tactic, even if the House does not pass a comprehensive immigration bill, a strong border security measure could be the pathway to amnesty. He said, "it would be a big mistake if we're all voting for E-Verify [the Legal Workforce Act] or Gowdy's bill about interior enforcement [the SAFE Act] and then that somehow gets spit back to us as this big, 1,500-page omnibus comprehensive bill." (Id.)
In fact, pro-amnesty Senators have been publicly strategizing for months to make the Gang of Eight bill law. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 14, 2013). Senate Gang of Eight leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "We would much prefer the comprehensive bill, but any way the House can get there is all right by us." (The Hill, Aug. 7, 2013) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed, declaring "If [Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)] wants to pass something and send it over to the Senate, we will take a look at it because what we will do is just go to conference and just do our bill anyway." (The Hill, Aug. 9, 2013) (emphasis added)
DeSantis also commented about the poorly drafted Gang of Eight bill. He said, "If you look at the way the Gang of Eight bill is structured, I think the flaws are so endemic." (Id.). DeSantis has consistently opposed the Gang of Eight bill and described it as "littered with waivers and exceptions." (Sunshine State News, June 10, 2013) Concerned with its flawed border enforcement measures, DeSantis declared, "How can anyone view the Senate immigration bill as a viable vehicle for re-establishing the rule of law, securing the borders, and implementing a long-needed entry-exit system?" (Id.)
For more information on the flaws in the Senate Gang of Eight bill, see FAIR's S. 744 bill resources.
Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Voter ID Law
Last Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld SB16/HB7, a 2011 Tennessee law that requires voters to provide photo identification at the polls. (WBIR, Oct. 17, 2013) The Court held that "[p]rotection of the integrity of the election process empowers the state to enact laws to prevent voter fraud before it occurs. "And that "[i]t is within the authority of the General Assembly to guard against the risk of such fraud in this state, so long as it does not do so in an impermissibly intrusive fashion." (City of Memphis v. Hargett)
The Tennessee law provides that all citizens who vote in person must present photographic proof of their identity using a variety of acceptable forms of ID. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(a)(1)(B)) Acceptable forms of ID include a Tennessee driver license, U.S. passport, and Tennessee Department of Safety or Homeland Security photo IDs. College IDs, privately issued IDs or IDs issued by other states, a county or city government are not acceptable as voter ID at the polls. (Voter Identification Requirements)
Tennessee's voter ID law was challenged when two Shelby County residents attempted to vote in the 2012 primary election using City of Memphis Public Library photographic library cards as means of identification. Election officials rejected the cards as proper identification. The residents brought suit alleging that the photographic identification requirement violated constitutional protections and that the City of Memphis public library qualified as an entity of the state authorized to issue valid photographic identification cards.
The trial court disagreed. The trial court held that the photographic identification requirement did not violate the state constitution nor did the City of Memphis qualify as state entity. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, finding that the photographic identification cards issued by a municipal library complied with Tennessee law for voting purposes.
Following the Court of Appeals ruling, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted amendments to the statute that barred the use of photographic identification cards issued by municipalities or their libraries for voting purposes. Taking into consideration the subsequent amendments, the Supreme Court held that the question of whether public library cards are a valid form of identification to vote was moot. The Supreme Court also held that the photographic identification requirement meets constitutional scrutiny, both on its face and as applied. The Supreme Court justices ruled 4-0, with Justice William C. Koch, Jr. concurring.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the "unanimous decision emphasizes just how well the law was written. We felt very strongly all along that the law would be found constitutional. I'm pleased but not surprised." (The Tennessean, Oct. 17, 2013) Plaintiff attorney George Barrett said he was disappointed with the ruling and would consult his clients before making a decision on potential next steps. (Id.)