Legislative Update: 12/1/2015 
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Legislative Update: 12/1/2015


Bernie Sanders Unveils Plan to Grant Amnesty to ALL Illegal Aliens

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for president, released his immigration plan based on a large-scale amnesty for the entire illegal alien population in the country. Sanders's plan also guts interior enforcement, minimizes border security, and increases legal immigration. (Bernie Sanders Immigration Plan)

Vowing to make immigration "reform" a "top priority," Sanders pledges within the first 100 days of his administration to "take extensive executive action" that goes farther than what President Obama did unilaterally in November 2014. (Id.) First, he would allow all illegal aliens who claim to have lived in the country unlawfully for at least five years to qualify for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty programs. (Id.) According to Sanders, nine million illegal aliens would immediately qualify for deferred action (and presumably work authorization). (Id.) Noticeably absent from Sanders's plan is the fact that DAPA and expanded DACA are currently subject to a federal court injunction preventing their implementation. (See FAIR's Texas v. U.S. Resources) Next, Sanders will expand the Obama administration's use of parole-in-place (which has no statutory authority) for illegal alien "relatives" of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and grant deferred action to "relatives" who overstayed their visas and remain in the country unlawfully. (Bernie Sanders Immigration Plan) Additionally, Sanders will use humanitarian parole to allow certain previously deported illegal aliens to return to the country. (Id.) The Sanders plan does not include an estimate for the number of illegal aliens who would benefit from these executive actions.

Although lacking details, Sanders appears to call for mass amnesty legislation for the entire illegal alien population. The plan says Sanders will "ensure that the roadmap to citizenship is inclusive… and does not contain arbitrary cut off eligibility dates and application periods." (Id.) He specifically states that "non-violent" criminal illegal alien offenders should be eligible for amnesty. Sanders also wants to expedite the path to citizenship, insisting that illegal aliens can obtain a green card and U.S. citizenship within five years. (Id.) The plan would also allow so-called DREAMers to obtain citizenship even faster, while making them immediately eligible to serve in the military, receive in-state tuition, and financial aid. (Id.) Ensuring that as many illegal aliens as possible apply, Sanders wants to "minimize financial penalties and fees." (Id.)

Unlike other amnesty plans, Sanders is upfront that border security is not a precursor to the mass legalization. "Senator Sanders rejects the argument that the border must be further militarized before the implementation of a roadmap to citizenship," the plan reads. (Id.) Sanders calls for defunding "boondoggle walls" to "modernize" the border by using cameras, sensors, and other technology instead of fencing. (Id.)

The Sanders proposal completely guts interior enforcement. "We cannot and should not sweep up millions of men, women, and children… and throw them out of the country unjustly," the plan reads. (Id.) Along those lines, Sanders would end State and local cooperation with the federal government on immigration enforcement, prohibit the detention of illegal alien family units, defund the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and eliminate the congressionally mandated requirement of 34,000 detention beds. (Id.) The Sanders plan also calls for repealing the 3- and 10-year bars to admission that Congress passed in 1996 as a deterrent to illegal immigration. (Id.)

Finally, Sanders appears to call for an increase in legal immigration. Although lacking specificity, the Sanders plan seems to allow working immigrants to bring his or her "family members" into the country. (Id.) The plan also creates a new whistleblower visa with undeclared eligibility criteria. (Id.) Lastly, Sanders wants to vastly expand both the criteria and numerical quotas for refugee admissions. (Id.)

Number of UACs Apprehended Along Southwest Border Increases Significantly

The latest statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reveal a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) and family units crossing the southwest border. (See CBP.govFoxNews.com, Nov. 25, 2015) The statistics, released last Tuesday, show that nearly 5,000 UACs — many coming from Central America — were apprehended crossing the southwest border in October, almost double the number from October 2014. (FoxNews.com, Nov. 25, 2015) Additionally, some 6,000 family units were apprehended during the same time period — nearly triple the number from October 2014. (Id.)

While Obama administration officials claim that violence and poor economic conditions in Central America are to blame, UACs and family units cross the border illegally because they know they will get to stay in the U.S. once they arrive. (Washington Times, Oct. 21, 2015) Once Central American UACs and family units are apprehended at the border, they receive papers setting court dates and are then released into the U.S. (Id.) These documents are known as "notices to appear," but illegal aliens refer to them as "permisos," or free passes, because they give permission to stay in the country while they await their appearance in already backlogged immigration courts. (Id.) Testifying before a recent Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Chris Cabrera of the National Border Patrol Council said that "[these documents] are now known as the ‘notice to disappear' — 80 percent, 90 percent of those folks will not show up for that hearing." (See Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015; FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 27, 2015) The solution to the crisis at the border, according to Cabrera, is for illegal border crossers to be "detained, adjudicated, and repatriated." (Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015)

It is worth noting that the only enforcement measure that the Obama administration took to address the initial UAC crisis, the expansion of family detention, has been dealt numerous blows. (See FAIR Legislative Update, June 30, 2015) In late June, under pressure from open borders activists, the administration undermined its own detention program by allowing family units that establish a "credible fear" of persecution to be released after posting a bond. (Id.) Then, in July, a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration's practice of detaining illegal alien minors, both UACs and those in family units, violates a 1997 Clinton administration class action settlement agreement. (FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 4, 2015) In late August, the judge ordered that the minors had to be released by October 23. (LA Times, Aug. 22, 2015). As it becomes known in Central American countries that the U.S. is not deterring illegal entry, the number of UACs and family units crossing the southwest border will continue to increase. According to Raul Ortiz, acting chief of the Border Patrol for the Rio Grande Valley, "family members that are already here are saying, now is potentially a pretty good time to come to the U.S." (New York Times, Nov. 26, 2015)

Obama Administration Alters Visa Waiver Program After Paris Attacks

Yesterday, President Obama announced changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) amidst growing security concerns after the Paris terrorist attacks earlier this month. The VWP currently allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa or be interviewed, face-to-face, by a U.S. consular officer. (See INA § 217(a)) In a statement, the White House said it is "aggressively strengthening" the VWP and "bolstering our relationships" with the participating nations. (White House VWP Statement, Nov. 30, 2015) "In the wake of the attacks in Paris, the administration is announcing additional actions today that will further enhance and accelerate these changes." (Id.)

The series of changes unveiled yesterday are intended to prevent terrorists from exploiting the VWP to gain entry into the United States. First, the White House announced that it will begin screening VWP passport holders who have recently visited "countries constituting a terrorist safe haven." (Id.) Next, the FBI Director will evaluate the terrorism information sharing between the U.S. and VWP countries. (Id.) Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will explore implementing a pilot program that uses biometric information in the screening process. (Id.) Several of the other announced changes involve DHS, the FBI, and other enforcement agencies assisting VWP nations with their own refugee screening processes. (Id.) Finally, President Obama proposes increasing the fine for airlines that fail to verify passport data from $5,000 to $50,000. (Id.)

President Obama's announced changes to the VWP come in response to efforts underway in Congress to tighten the program. Indeed, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has been working for weeks on legislation with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would make European citizens ineligible for the VWP if they spent time in Syria or Iraq in the past five years. (See The Hill, Nov. 18, 2015) Earlier this month Sen. Feinstein spoke of what she sees as the benefits to the VWP but added, "I also believe it is the soft underbelly of our national security policies." (Feinstein Press Release, Nov. 19, 2015) Similarly, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson made comments critical of the VWP ahead of the President's announcement. "ISIL's force consists of foreign terrorist fighters, including thousands from countries in the Visa Waiver Program," Johnson said. (Politico, Nov. 30, 2015)

It is unclear how effective President Obama's changes — or the forthcoming Senate bill — will be in detecting terrorists seeking to exploit the VWP. Neither the President nor the Senators have explained how the U.S. will be able to track the global travels of citizens of 38 different countries, including travel in the previous five years.

Goodlatte Sees Hypocrisy in the Obama Administration's Refugee Threat

Last Wednesday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) sent a letter to all states threatening enforcement action unless they cooperate with the Obama administration's plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. (See ORR Letter; Washington Times, Nov. 26, 2015) "Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees," the letter said. (ORR Letter) "Any state with such a policy would not be in compliance with the State Plan requirements, applicable statutes, and their own assurances, and could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension and termination." (Id.) The threat was issued after a majority of the country's governors said that they will try to refuse cooperation with resettlement efforts in their states, citing safety concerns. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2015)

While the ORR letter does not clearly specify the type of enforcement action states could face, the federal government can withhold funding from states that don't cooperate with federal law. If President Obama were to withhold funding from states that refuse to cooperate on refugees, it would directly contradict his administration's refusal to do the same with sanctuary cities. (Washington Times, Nov. 26, 2015) In a statement regarding the ORR letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) pointed out this hypocrisy. "It's hypocritical for Obama Administration officials to threaten enforcement action against these states when they refuse to enforce the vast majority of our immigration laws, such as sanctuary cities that openly defy federal law and endanger the American people," Goodlatte said. (See Goodlatte Press Release)