Legislative Update: 7/15/2014
Official Data Shows Deportations of Minors Dropped 80 Percent During Obama Administration
Internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents refute claims by the Obama Administration that unaccompanied alien minors who illegally cross the border will be sent home. According to an ICE document obtained by the Los Angeles Times, removals of illegal alien minors have decreased by 80 percent compared to the final year of the Bush Administration. (Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2014) In 2008, 8,143 alien minors were removed compared to only 1,669 last year. (Id.)
Indeed, a leaked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report obtained by Breitbart Texas confirms the data released by the Los Angeles Times. The ICE report indicates that 98 percent of detained alien minors last year were released to parents or guardians and given a Notice to Appear (NTA), a document that instructs illegal aliens to appear before an immigration judge at a future date. (ICE Report, June 3, 3014 at 3) Yet, many illegal aliens consider the NTA a "permiso," or permit to remain in the country, which substantiates the belief that if illegal alien minors can get into the country, they can stay. Indeed, Juan Osuna, Director, Executive Office of Immigration Review, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week that 46 percent of minors failed to appear at removal hearings, though Committee Republicans put the number closer to 90 percent. (BGov Transcript, June 9, 2014) In fact, judges ordered the removal of 3,525 alien minors last year but only approximately 1,700 were returned because many of the removal orders were issued in absentia — meaning the alien failed to show up for his court date. (Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2014)
The ICE report also dismantles the Obama Administration argument that Central American violence is the cause of the surge. While noting violence as a factor, the report fails to note how the violence is significantly worse now than in previous years. (ICE Report, at 11) In fact, the report specifically mentions that although Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates, "murders have decreased since 2009." (Id.) Additionally, the report notes that "Belize has a higher murder rate than that of Guatemala" but only 20 unaccompanied minors from Belize have been detained this year. (Id.) Finally, the report concludes with "high confidence" that family reunification and "being allowed to stay in the United States" are primary factors causing the surge. (Id. at p. 12)
Amid Criticism, Obama Defends Handling of Border Crisis
On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a speech in Texas defending his handling of the border crisis. The President was in Texas for fundraising events. While there, he met with Texas Governor Rick Perry, but did not travel to the border to see the crisis for himself. (See Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 9, 2014; USA Today, July 14, 2014)
Earlier in the week, Obama faced criticism from both sides of the aisle for not planning to visit the border during his two-day visit to the Lone Star state. On the Senate floor, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) criticized Obama for "prefer[ing] to hang out with campaign donors" instead of "with those who are directly affected by his failed policies." (Congressional Record – Senate, July 7, 2014) Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) warned that a refusal to visit the border could "become the Katrina moment for President Obama." (Fox News, July 7, 2014)
The criticism was too loud to be ignored, and the White House, reversing its position Monday that the president's trip would only consist of fundraising events, hastily added a roundtable discussion with Governor Rick Perry and a speech on the crisis. (See Washington Post, July 9, 2014) The roundtable discussion came at the insistence of Governor Perry, who refused Obama's earlier call for a "quick handshake on the tarmac," and called instead for "substantive meeting" on the border crisis. (CBS News, July 8, 2014) The roundtable was held in Dallas with Governor Perry, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), state and local officials, and faith-based leaders. (See Austin American-Statesman, July 9, 2014)
In his speech after the meeting, President Obama attempted to defend his handling of the border crisis. Obama recounted how he had directed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to visit the border and Vice President Biden to visit Central America. (See Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 9, 2014) Obama defended his decision not to travel to the Texas border, which was 300 miles away from his Dallas stop. Stating that he lacked interest in "photo ops," he said, "There's nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on." (Id.)
President Obama also pointed out that he had also asked Congress for help. In his June 30 letter to Congressional leaders, he asked them to increase "penalties on smugglers" and provide more "flexibility to move migrants through the system faster." (Id.; see FAIR Legislative Update, July 8, 2014). Then, he pointed to his July 8 request to Congress for $3.7 billion in supplemental funding to address the border crisis. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 9, 2014; see also FAIR Infographic, July 9, 2014) Still, Obama tried to shift the overall focus onto the Senate amnesty bill, arguing that the additional troops and changes to the immigration court system "would've put us in a stronger position to deal with this surge, and in fact prevent it." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 9, 2014)
After the President's trip to Texas, President Obama and Governor Rick Perry had different characterizations of their discussions. According to the President, Perry requested more border patrol agents directly at the border, placing border patrol agents closer to the border, allowing the Border Patrol be allowed to treat Central American nationals similarly to Mexican nationals, and speeding the pace of the judicial system and administrative process. Of these four specific demands, Obama said, "there's nothing that the governor indicated he'd like to see that I have a philosophical objection to." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 9, 2014) However, Governor Perry listed different demands in his press release. According to Perry, he asked Obama to visit the border, deploy the National Guard, use Predator drones to find trafficking, medically screen illegal aliens, inspect facilities detaining illegal alien minors, and modify policies that encourage illegal immigration. (Perry press release, July 9, 2014)
Congressional leadership criticized the President's speech. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted to the President's speech on the Senate floor. MConnell said, "in a speech that attempted to shift blame from his failed approach, [President Obama] doubled down on the blank check. He led Americans to believe that the problem could be solved if only Congress would pass his last-minute request." (McConnell press release, July 10, 2014) Speaker John Boehner similarly criticized Obama for requesting "more money with no strings attached." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, July 10, 2014) Boehner added, "The president assured the American people the border was secure but clearly it is not." (Id.)
Obama Asks Congress for $3.7 Billion to Address Border Crisis
Facing an out-of-control flow of illegal alien minors across the southern border, last week President Obama sent Congress an official request for $3.7 billion in additional funding to address the crisis.
Under the President's funding request, most of the money ($1.8 billion) will actually go to care for the illegal alien minors as they stay in the U.S. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell, who testified before the Senate Thursday, 84 percent of the $1.8 billion is for beds for the illegal alien minors. However the term "beds," she explained, includes other things such as wellness exams, mental health interviews, and education. Another 12 percent of this $1.8 billion will provide "other services," which includes legal services and certain health services that go beyond what HHS can provide (e.g., hospital services.) (Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, July 10, 2014, Congressional Quarterly transcript, p.11)
Additional portions of the President's request for $3.7 billion will be allocated as follows:
- $879 million will go to increase detention space — another policy which the President and amnesty advocates have fought for years;
- $365 million will go to the Border Patrol to process and care for illegal alien minors — not for agents;
- $295 million will go to countries in Central America to help them repatriate their own foreign nationals;
- $45 million will be allocated for new immigration judges; and
- $15 million will go to providing the illegal aliens attorneys
Importantly, none of the money will be used to add Border Patrol or ICE agents, who are being pulled off the job to process and care for illegal alien minors. Nor is the President requesting funding to deploy the National Guard to the border, which would allow Border Patrol and ICE agents to return to their jobs.
Also conspicuously absent from President Obama's request to Congress is a proposal to amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, known as the TVPRA. That law — authored in the Senate by now Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — requires the government to place illegal alien minors from Central America in formal removal proceedings instead of quickly returning them to their home, as the law allows with respect to minors from Mexico. (Public Law 110-457, Sec. 235) Meanwhile, the law provides that the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for caring for the minors, including placing them with relatives in the U.S. who are illegal aliens themselves. (Id.) The process takes years, and more often results in the illegal alien minors staying in the U.S. rather than being removed to their home countries. Of the 57,000 illegal alien minors who have entered the U.S. so far this year, the Obama Administration says it has deported 1,340.
But rather than ask Congress to change this flawed process, the Obama Administration insists it needs the $3.7 billion to speed it up. While speeding up the deportations may be an improvement, it will make only a small dent in a staggering problem. The total backlog of cases in the immigration courts is at least 375,000, of which 41,000 cases relate to minors. (Comments of DHS Appropriations Chair Senator Mary Landrieu before the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, July 10, 2014, Congressional Quarterly transcript, p.32; Associated Press, July 12, 2014) This means that, on average, it takes 3-5 YEARS for an illegal alien to get a hearing before a judge. (Id.) Meanwhile, deportations of illegal alien minors have dropped dramatically — in fact by 80 percent since President Obama took office. (Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2014)
Senate Appropriators: Does Obama's Request Stem the Border Influx, or Fund It?
On July 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on President Obama's $3.7 billion Emergency Supplemental Request. (See Senate Appropriations website) The testifying witnesses were the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell, Counselor of the Department of State Thomas Shannon, and the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Juan Osuna. (Id.)
From the start, it was clear that Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) had differing perspectives on the funding request. In her opening statement, Sen. Mikulski cautioned the Committee that the topic of the hearing would be "meeting the crisis," not "immigration reform," whereas Senator Shelby claimed that the hearing over the request to "pour billions of dollars into our current immigration system" was only happening because a succession of administrations had refused to enforce the nation's immigration laws. (See Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jul. 10, 2014) However, members of both parties were extremely interested in specifics of how the money would be spent, as Senator Mikulski noted, the hearing drew "enormous" interest, with 24 of the 30 Senators on the Committee participating. (Id.)
Several senators on the Committee, both Democratic and Republican, wondered whether the increased capacity enabled by the extra DHS funding would be sufficient to stop the flow of aliens across the border. EOIR Director Osuna testified that funds would go towards adding 30 more immigration judges to the current 243 to speed up removals, and also told the Committee that the DOJ had recently prioritized the cases of unaccompanied minors and adults who arrive with minors within the EOIR's current caseload of 375,373. (Id.; see also Prepared Remarks of Juan Osuna, Jul. 10, 2014) Members were skeptical, however, that the extra judges would meaningfully increase the speed at which courts process deportation cases. For instance, Senator John Boozman (R-AK) remarked that even the addition of 40 administrative judges sounded insufficient for such a large backlog, without "developing a plan." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jul. 10, 2014)
Given these concerns that adding judges would not be sufficient to ensure the surge of border crossers could be swiftly sent home, some members of the Committee said Congress should amend the law that places illegal aliens from non-contiguous countries in a lengthy removal process, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). (Id.; see also Public Law 110-457) The Administration itself had initially favored such changes, before had backing off from including them in the budget request under pressure from open borders advocates. (Washington Examiner, Jul. 8. 2014)
Some Democrats on the Committee strongly opposed amending TVPRA. Rather, they suggested, Congress should provide more assistance to the illegal alien minors instead of stopping their flow across the border. Senator Leahy (D-VT), for instance, stated that the TVPRA reflected the country's "moral values" and that he would fight "tooth and nail" any changes to it. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jul. 10, 2014) Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) also expressed disappointment that not enough funds were being allocated for the "representation" and "protection" of the unaccompanied alien minors. (Id.)
Faced with resistance to the funding measure from various perspectives, the Secretaries warned that a denial of the funding request would cause severe consequences. (Id.) "Members of this committee," Secretary Johnson said, "doing nothing is not an option." (Id.) He explained that at the current "burn" rate within DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will run out of money by mid-August, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), will run out of money by mid-September. (Id.) For instance, ICE has been using its existing budget to set up a new facility to house approximately 600 women and children, and CBP's border patrol agents have incurred overtime costs. (Id.) Therefore, if Congress does not pass the budget request, Johnson warned, DHS will soon take some "dramatic reprograming steps" away from "vital homeland security programs." (Id.) And if the money allocated to HHS is not received, Secretary Burwell explained, the burden of caring for the minors will fall to local communities, rather than diffused by the federal government, and they will continue to be "backed up at the border." (Id.; see also, Prepared Statement of Sylvia Burwell, Jul. 10, 2014)
New Jersey Legislators Once More Fight to Give Financial Aid to Illegal Aliens
On July 2, New Jersey legislators held a press conference announcing their intention to reintroduce legislation that would grant taxpayer-funded financial aid to illegal aliens attending New Jersey's public colleges and university. (Politicker NJ, Jul. 2, 2014) The state already provides illegal aliens with in-state tuition subsidies at these schools. The announcement marks the third attempt in a year by New Jersey Democrats to grant illegal aliens taxpayer-funded financial aid. (NJ.com, Jul. 2, 2014)
Language providing financial aid to illegal aliens was originally included in the DREAM Act passed in December of last year, which granted in-state tuition to illegal aliens attending New Jersey's public colleges and university. Governor Christie originally vetoed the bill, but agreed to sign an amended version on condition that the provisions providing financial aid were removed. (NJ.com, Jul. 8, 2014) Governor Christie justified his position by stating, "Giving undocumented out-of-state students benefits that out-of-state citizens aren't eligible for, I'm not in favor of." (Id.) He did not indicate, however, how in-state tuition differs from financial aid in this regard. Out-of-state residents are not eligible to receive in-state tuition or financial aid in New Jersey.
Then, in June of this year, Governor Christie vetoed a provision in the state budget that would provide funding for the aid, without the enactment of any authorizing law. (Philly.com, Jun. 28, 2014) Federal law requires states to first pass a law affirmatively granting a specific public benefit, including post-secondary education benefits, in order to provide such benefit to illegal aliens. (8 U.S.C. § 1621(d)) Currently, New Jersey has no such law.
Democratic legislators plan to push the measure quickly through the legislature. "The [tuition] equality took 10 years to do. I don't want this to take 10 years. I want this to happen now," Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a sponsor of the proposed legislation, said at the press conference. (NJ.com, Jul. 2, 2014) Prieto further commented, "These kids are spending dollars here. They live here. They're actually now getting tuition equality. They should be afforded the right to make college affordable to them." (NJ.com, Jul. 8, 2014) Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, the chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, also announced her support for the idea at a public committee hearing last month. She pledged to an illegal alien advocate, "You are an American citizen, as far as I'm concerned. And we are working with you, we will continue to work with you." (Philly.com, Jun. 27, 2014)
When this issue was last debated by the New Jersey Legislature, opponents of the DREAM Act believed it set the wrong priorities for the state. Barbara Eames, co-founder of the Morris Patriots, opposed providing post-secondary education benefits to illegal aliens because she believed the measure "erodes the value of citizenship" and "abridges the rights of citizens." (NJ.com, Dec. 12, 2013) Assemblyman Jay Webber also opposed the DREAM Act, including the provisions providing financial aid to illegal aliens, because it discriminates against out-of-state U.S. citizens in favor of illegal aliens who grew up in the state. (Id.) "Don't we have obligations to our fellow citizens even though they might not live in the state of New Jersey?" asked Webber. (Id.)
Assembly Speaker Prieto's office reported that the bill will be introduced to the legislature in the coming weeks. Governor Christie is likely to oppose the bill. During his time in office, however, Governor Christie flip-flopped on the issue multiple times. A spokesperson from Governor Christie's office declined to comment on the proposed measure. (NJ.com, Jul. 2, 2014)