Legislative Update: 3/19/2014
Obama Looking to Halt Deportations
Under increasing pressure to simply stop all deportations, President Obama announced Thursday that he has ordered Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to review the department's deportation practices. The President made the announcement during an Oval Office meeting with three prominent members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), and Xavier Becerra (D-CA), all of whom have urged the president to curb deportations while amnesty legislation remains stalled in Congress.
After the meeting, Rep. Gutierrez, one of Congress's most outspoken amnesty advocates, told reporters it was "clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president." He added that he and his fellow Democrats at the meeting "were adamant that the president needed to act." (New York Times, Mar. 13, 2014) According to the White House, President Obama expressed "deep concern about the pain families feel" from having illegal alien relatives deported and said the goal of the review is to help DHS conduct enforcement "more humanely within the confines of the law." (White House readout, Mar. 13, 2014)
But while the White House on Thursday suggested DHS's review of deportations was new, it appears the President actually ordered the review months ago. Only the day after his meeting with members of the CHC, President Obama met with amnesty advocates at the White House, where he revealed that the deportation review was ordered months ago. (For a list of participants, see White House readout, Mar. 14, 2014) In fact, according to participants at the meeting, the President said he had directed DHS Secretary Johnson to look into ways of limiting deportations "on his first day" as secretary. (Politico, Mar. 16, 2014)
Thus, the Administration's search for ways to halt deportations has been taking place while President Obama has been repeatedly telling amnesty advocates he lacks the authority to act on his own. Just last week Obama told Spanish-language media outlets during a virtual town hall that he "cannot ignore those laws any more than I could ignore any of the other laws that are on the books." (Associated Press, Mar. 13, 2014) Obama added that his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants legal status and work authorization to illegal aliens who claim to have been brought to the U.S. as minors, had "stretched my administrative capacity very far." (Id.)
Pro-amnesty groups responded to the deportation review by claiming the President needs to do more for illegal aliens. "We disagree that he cannot act today to halt deportations and be bold on the administrative front," said Lorella Praeli of United We Dream. (New York Times, Mar. 14, 2014) "We don't need a review at this time. We need him to act." (Id.) "Relief delayed is relief denied," added Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. (New York Times, Mar. 13, 2014) "The president has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy." (Id.)
Meanwhile, true immigration reformers in Congress blasted the Administration's move. "It looks to me like he's preparing another trial balloon to go forth with more likely unconstitutional executive actions," said Rep. Steve King (R-IA). (New York Times, Mar. 14, 2014) "I don't know how trust can be restored." (Id.) Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) added, "It is astonishing that the President would order an 'enforcement review' not for the purposes of repairing enforcement but weakening it further." (Sessions Press Release, Mar. 14, 2014) "This latest action further demonstrates that the Administration cannot be trusted to enforce any immigration plan from Congress." (Id.)
Likewise, FAIR criticized President Obama's ordered review of deportation policies. "President Obama's order that [DHS] review its deportation practices 'to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,' is yet another escalation of his ongoing defiance of U.S. immigration laws and the constitutional limits of his office," charged Dan Stein, FAIR's president. (FAIR Press Release, Mar. 14, 2014) "The Obama immigration enforcement record is inhumane and unfair. It is inhumane and unfair to the millions of Americans who are losing employment and wage opportunities to the illegal aliens his administration refuses to act against. It is unfair to millions more Americans who are burdened with the staggering costs of illegal immigration, and to millions of legal immigrants who have played by the rules." (Id.) (emphasis in original)
Since taking office, the Obama Administration has eroded the enforcement of U.S. immigration law through a series of prosecutorial discretion and backdoor amnesties. For more information, read FAIR's timeline of President Obama's Record of Dismantling Immigration Enforcement.
DHS Secretary Admits Department Manipulates Deportation Statistics
Last Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged that the Department has been reclassifying deportation data in a way that makes it appear deportations have increased. Specifically, Secretary Johnson confirmed that the 368,000 deportations reported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for fiscal year 2013 are due to the activity of an entirely different agency — Customs and Border Protection — and would not have counted towards ICE's removal total in previous administrations. (Hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee Mar. 11, 2014; Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 12, 2014; see also, Washington Times, Mar. 12, 2014)
Secretary Johnson made this admission last week when testifying before the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations. Representative John Culberson (R-TX) asked: "But under the Obama administration, more than half of those removals that were attributed to ICE are actually a result of Border Patrol arrests. They wouldn't have been counted in prior administrations." Secretary Johnson responded, "Correct." (See Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 12, 2014; Washington Times, Mar. 12, 2014) Then Johnson confirmed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had increased the number of ICE deportations by transferring custody of illegal aliens caught by the Border Patrol to ICE so that ICE could have credit for removing the aliens. "For various reasons," Johnson said, "including reasons involving logistics, a larger number of people who were apprehended in or around the border then go to ICE custody," and thus the "368,000 reflects those removed by ICE." (Id.)
Perhaps understanding the magnitude of Secretary Johnson's admission, only two days later his subordinates attempted to minimize the Secretary's statement on the deportation statistics. (Hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Mar. 13, 2014; Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 14, 2014) In particular, Thomas Homan, Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) within ICE, said that only 54,000 of ICE's total removals came from Border Patrol apprehensions. (Id.) He claimed that these came from the Alien Transfer Exit program, through which ICE detains and transfers Border Patrol arrestees in order to break up smuggling rings. (Id.)
However, Homan's own report suggests that the numbers conflict with his testimony that only 54,000 of ICE's removal numbers come from Border Patrol apprehensions. The ERO Annual Report for fiscal year 2013 cites on its first page that 235,093 of ICE removals, out of ICE's total of 368,644, were "individuals apprehended along our borders while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S." (ERO Annual Report, FY 2013 ICE Immigration Removals) Ninety-five percent of these apprehensions were by Border Patrol agents. (Id.)
But despite the fact that he admitted that DHS has padded ICE removal numbers with Border Patrol deportations, Secretary Johnson remains insistent that ICE removals have increased. (Hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mar. 13, 2014; Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 14, 2014) When asked by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) whether ICE was making "record deportations," Johnson replied, "If you focus on those removals by ICE, the numbers are higher than they have been previously." (Id.)
Johnson's disclosure not only confirms that the Administration has been playing a shell game with deportation numbers for political gain, it also confirms that despite widespread complaints by amnesty proponents of "record deportations," enforcement has actually declined under Obama. (See FAIR's Legislative Update, Nov. 6, 2013; see also, Center for Immigration Studies' "Deportation Numbers Unwrapped," Oct. 2013) Regardless of which agency DHS gives credit for deportations, an accurate comparison to past administration numbers can be ascertained by simply adding the yearly number of all deportations by all immigration enforcement agencies, and comparing the total rather than agency numbers to past administrations. These statistics are publically available on DHS' website for the years 1927-2012. (See the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 39) The calculation reveals that by 2012 the total number of removals from both the border and the interior under Obama had declined to the lowest level since the mid 1970's.
Last Thursday, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) questioned Leon Rodriguez, President Obama's nominee to be the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), about his membership on the board of the pro-amnesty group CASA de Maryland. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 13, 2014) When asked about CASA de Maryland's publication on immigration raids and its lawsuit relating to driver's license application loopholes used by illegal aliens, Rodriguez said he was not aware of the publication and that he did not hold a personal opinion on the case.
Senator Grassley expressed deep concern that during Rodriguez's tenure on the board of CASA de Maryland, the organization published a booklet entitled "Warning: Protect Yourself from Immigration Raids." Grassley described the March 2007 booklet as instructing illegal aliens "how to avoid or minimize the chance of triggered lawful deportation proceedings." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 13, 2014; see also CASA de Maryland Booklet, Mar. 2007) In particular, the booklet encourages illegal aliens not to give law enforcement their names, even though failing to do so is a crime in some jurisdictions. (Id.) Furthermore, Grassley noted that "[s]ome press accounts also noted how the illustrations could be perceived as disparaging law enforcement." (Id.) Grassley asked Rodriguez, "As a board member, did you have any knowledge of this booklet before it was published in March 2007?" (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 13, 2014) Even though Rodriguez noted that he was a board member until May of 2007, he said that he "was not aware of that publication." (Id.)
Senator Grassley also questioned Rodriguez about a lawsuit that CASA de Maryland entered during his board tenure. (Id.) In 2005, CASA de Maryland sued Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration to prevent it from complying with the federal law REAL ID Act. (Fox News, Nov. 16, 2005) 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 improves national security by requiring states to comply with rules to verify the authenticity of documents used for obtaining 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.) When Senator Grassley asked Rodriguez whether he personally opposed the REAL ID Act, Rodriguez indicated that he did "not have a specific opinion on the REAL ID Act." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Mar. 13, 2014)
Last week, the Florida House Appropriations Committee passed House Bill ("H.B.") 851, which provides in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens. On Tuesday, March 18, 2014, the Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill ("S.B.") 1400, which also provides in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens. These bills would put Florida taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars, costing taxpayers as much as $17,000 per year per illegal alien receiving in-state tuition. (Herald Tribune, Feb. 24, 2014)
Under H.B. 851 and S.B. 1400, illegal aliens who have attended high school in Florida consecutively for 3 years will be eligible for in-state tuition rates at Florida's public colleges and universities. (H.B. 851) Illegal alien students seeking the in-state tuition subsidy must apply to a Florida public college or university within 2 years of graduation and need only submit a Florida high school transcript for documentary evidence of eligibility. (Id.)
These bills gained support in the Florida Legislature despite the severe budget crisis within the state higher education system. (Fox News, Mar. 13, 2014) State funding for higher education fell by 22 percent between fiscal year 2007 and fiscal year 2012, even as enrollment rose. (Grapevine, 2013) As a result, Florida's public universities were forced to increase tuition by an average of more than 91 percent, cancel classes, cut programs, reduce full-time and tenured faculty, and make countless other subtractions. (Demos Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, 2012; Florida College Access Network, 2013; Sun Sentinel, Apr. 13, 2012; Ars Technica, Apr. 23, 2012)
Although Florida Governor Rick Scott opposed in-state tuition for illegal aliens when running for Governor, he has now reversed course, supporting in-state tuition for illegal aliens. (Fox News, Mar. 13, 2014) This stance marks a 180-degree turn from the position Governor Scott took during his campaign for the governorship. (Id.) During his campaign, Governor Scott promised to pass tougher immigration laws, pointing out that illegal labor hurts Americans workers and costs the state "countless billions." (Id.) Governor Scott has not commented on how the costs of providing in-state tuition rates to students who lack federal work authorization will benefit Florida's legal residents.
The House Appropriations Committee was the last committee required to approve H.B. 851 before the bill can be heard on the House floor. If H.B. 851 passes a vote in the House, it will then be sent to the Senate for consideration before reaching Governor Scott's desk for signature. S.B. 1400 must be heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and Senate Appropriations Committee before the full Senate can consider it. If S.B. 1400 passes a vote in the Senate, it will then be sent to the House for consideration before reaching Governor Scott's desk for signature.