FAIR Legislative Update April 15, 2013
Members of the Senate “Gang of Eight” completed the final negotiations over their amnesty legislation last week and are set to unveil the bill Tuesday, say sources close to the lawmakers. (CNN, Apr. 12, 2013) Key to finalizing the bill was the creation of a plan for legalizing illegal aliens currently working in the agricultural sector, and a plan for the future flow of farm workers.
Although reports are varied, news outlets state agribusiness and labor unions have developed a compromise that would allow current illegal alien ag workers to receive a new “blue card.” (Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 13, 2013; LA Times, Apr. 12, 2013) The new blue card would require at least two years of farm work and a commitment to work in agriculture for at least another five years, subsequently placing them on a path to citizenship. (LA Times, Apr. 12, 2013)
In regards to the flow of future farm workers, it appears 112,000 new agricultural visas would be issued annually until five years after the start of the visa program, at which point the Secretary of Agriculture would set the annual number of visas based on labor market data. (LA Times, Apr. 12, 2013) Farm workers would be eligible to apply for permanent residency (a green card) after five-years. (Politico, Apr. 12, 2013) Wages under the program would vary depending on occupation category (defined into six categories by the Department of Agriculture), and they would be increased between 1.5 and 2.5 percent. (Id.)
United Farm Worker President Arturo Rodriguez supports the plan, which also keeps agribusiness happy by encouraging aliens to continue farm work in exchange for an expedited path to citizenship. “The bill would give [illegal alien] farm workers presently in the U.S…temporary legal status and the right to earn a green card in the future by continuing to work in agriculture,” said Rodriguez. (See UFW Press Release, Apr. 12, 2013) “[A] speedier process toward proper documentation provides an incentive for those farm workers who are currently working in agriculture to continue working in agriculture.” (Id.) According to news reports, non-ag aliens will wait 10-years to obtain a green card under the Gang of Eight plan, twice as long as the five-year period negotiated for farm workers.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) helped make the final negotiations with Gang Members Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Bennet (D-CO). “After months of negotiation, I can announce that a bipartisan agreement has been reached addressing key issues of agricultural workers….” said Sen. Feinstein in a joint press release with Sens. Bennet and Hatch Friday. “[Agribusiness and Labor] have come together to endorse this agreement, which resolves outstanding issues including wage levels, agricultural guest worker visas and protections for U.S. workers.” (See Sen. Feinstein Joint Press Release, Apr. 12, 2013)
Anticipating potential backlash for his role in the final negotiations to the Gang of Eight plan, Sen. Orrin Hatch was careful to distance himself from the amnesty bill as a whole. “[W]hile I understand this will be included in the Gang of 8 proposal, no one should assume that I’m backing their overall plan. It has not been released and I need to read it and understand its full implications before deciding whether or not to support it,” said the Senator. (Id.)
Stay tuned to FAIR for up-to-date information as the bill is released. Click here to tell your Members you oppose amnesty for illegal aliens.
Last Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a hearing entitled “Border Security: Frontline Perspectives on Progress and Remaining Challenges.”
From the outset, Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) repeated the Obama Administration’s narrative that the border is secure. Reflecting on his trip to the border with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Carper stated “I saw a border that I think appears to me and to a lot of other people is more secure than it’s ever been — or been in a long time.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Apr. 10, 2013) “Are [our] borders more secure than they have been in the past? I think it’s clear that they are.” (Id.) “Today, illegal immigration is at historic lows,” he declared. (Id.)
However, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher’s testimony directly contradicted that assertion. “We have seen an increase in attempted entries,” Fisher told the Committee. (Id.) Specifically, Chief Fisher testified that apprehensions of aliens crossing the border illegally are up 13 percent compared to last year. (Id.) While stating that the “reasons and modus” behind the increase are varied, he conceded that Congressional negotiations for “comprehensive” immigration reform is part of the reason for the increase. (Id.)
And while some Senators on the Committee openly support amnesty, they also criticized the administration’s failure to develop an official metric for border security. Senator Carper particularly criticized DHS’s use of apprehensions as an indicator of border security. “Arrests cannot be the only metric available to measure the performance of our efforts at the border,” said Senator Carper. “Without knowing how many people are actually trying to cross the border, we will never know how effective our efforts truly are to date.” (Id.) Senator McCain echoed that criticism. “You can’t rely on apprehensions as the only measurement. But the fact is we have no measurements. We have no measurements now,” declared McCain. (Id.) Even Chief Fisher acknowledged the weakness of DHS’s position: “The extent to which the border is secure has more to do with known and evolving threats and our ability to respond to those threats and less to do with fluctuations and things like apprehension numbers.” (Id.)
To the Committee’s surprise, Chief Fisher refuted recent testimony by Border Patrol Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski by announcing that the agency is developing a new system that measures apprehensions as well as the number of illegal aliens that avoided detection. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 25, 2013) “We want to know how many people come across the border and of that number, how many people do we either apprehend of turn back,” Fisher testified. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Apr. 10, 2013) “Have you developed the metrics or not?” demanded McCain. (Id.) After receiving an affirmative response from Fisher, McCain asked “You have? And we’re using them?” (Id.) “We’re just starting to,” Fisher replied. (Id.) “Well, it is in the final stages of development, Senator. I can tell you that.” (Id.)
According to the Senate Budget Committee Republican staff, the Gang of Eight’s “comprehensive” immigration reform bill will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars by giving millions of amnestied aliens access to federal welfare benefits and poverty programs once they become legal permanent residents.
Under current law, legal permanent residents (green card holders) can access Obamacare immediately, and then most federally means-tested benefits after five years. (8 U.S.C. 1613) Looking at these programs, the Committee Republicans determined that the cost of the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill “could be upwards of $40 billion in 2022 alone, just for Medicaid and Obamacare. The long-term unfunded liability for Obamacare would grow another $2 trillion.”(Republican Budget Committee Press Release, Apr. 4, 2013) This estimate conservatively takes into account promises by Gang of Eight members that illegal aliens will not be eligible for such benefits while in a temporary legal status. (Id.)
To underscore the staggering costs of the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill, Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Pat Roberts (R-KS), former Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, sent a letter to the Gang of Eight Republicans requesting detailed projected costs of the immigration bill. “A primary concern related to a large-scale legalization of illegal immigrants is the long-term cost for taxpayers,” the Senators wrote. (Republican Budget Committee Press Release, Apr. 10, 2013; the signed letter with background on the extensive oversight on the issue is available here) “The long-term costs, and the strain on resources for low-income Americans, could be enormous,” the Senators declared, once the amnestied population becomes “eligible not only for our nation’s major entitlements but approximately 80 different means-tested welfare and low-income assistance programs.” (Id.)
Since the reported timeline of the path to citizenship falls outside the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 10 year window for calculating a bill’s cost, the Senators specifically asked for an estimated taxpayer cost for the 10 years after the illegal aliens are granted green cards, as well as for 10 years after obtaining citizenship. (Id.) We ask that you will “seek an estimate from the [CBO] that examines your legislation’s long-term impact on the Federal budget before any member is asked to vote on the bill in committee or on the Senate floor,” the Senators concluded. (Id.)
A spokesman for Gang of Eight Leader Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) downplayed the cost concerns raised by his colleagues. “Since we don’t yet have a legislative proposal, it’s not possible to come up with anything resembling an accurate calculation about the potential fiscal impact of bipartisan immigration reform,” spokesman Alex Conant said. (Fox News, Apr. 11, 2013) According to Conant, Rubio is worried about the “potential fiscal impact” of the bill and will request an “in-depth” budget analysis. (Id.)
After months of listening to pro-amnesty Members of Congress advocate for “comprehensive” immigration reform (a.k.a. amnesty) for the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., true immigration reformers in the House of Representatives began voicing their objections last week in anticipation of amnesty legislation to be introduced in the coming days.
The House Members held a press event Thursday to explain their opposition. “We held our powder dry but decided to come forward now because we are seeing the inertia [of immigration reform] and we are concerned about having this wash over us and not have the opportunity for constitutional conservatives in this country and in this Congress to have their voice heard,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who is leading the lawmakers’ efforts. (Daily Caller, Apr. 11, 2013)
Rep. King was joined by Reps. Lou Barletta (R-PA), Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Mo Brooks, (R-AL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), each Member making critical arguments against granting amnesty to illegal aliens.
In particular, Rep. Bachmann discussed how the promises of enforcement in the 1986 amnesty law were broken. “[President Reagan] said we would secure the border. Here we are some 30 years later, that promise hasn’t been fulfilled,” she said. (Id.) “I believe it is imperative that we help to fulfill that promise and then from there go to step two of the conversation.” (Id.)
As a result of this broken promise of enforcement, Rep. Barletta pointed out that the 1986 amnesty only encouraged more illegal immigration. “We’re offering amnesty at a time when we know our borders aren’t secure…. We’ve given a green light to people all over the world to come to the United States and steal jobs away from the American people when 22 million Americans are out of work,” he stated. (Id.) The government granted amnesty to roughly 3.1 million illegal aliens as a result of the 1986 amnesty. Nearly 30 years later, the nation’s illegal alien population has at least quadrupled.
Finally, Rep. Rohrabacher pointed out that contrary to pro-amnesty arguments made by the GOP establishment, granting amnesty to illegal aliens will not help the Republican Party win future elections. “In the long run, the Republican Party will be destroyed,” he said. (Id.) “There’s not just 11 million, there’s 15 to 20 million illegals; then there is family reunification. Within 10 years it means the demise of the Republican Party as we are pushed out even in California.” (Id.)
In Washington State, a bill that would have granted taxpayer-funded financial aid to illegal alien beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) died in the Senate Committee on Higher Education this past week. Committee Chair Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) refused to schedule a vote on the bill, House Bill 1817, before the deadline to act on non-budget policy bills. The Bill had passed the House on March 13th as the last piece of House legislation to make it through before the session’s cutoff date.
Once in the Senate Senator Bailey held a hearing on the bill on March 28, 2013, garnering widespread public interest. At the hearing, illegal aliens testified that they didn’t have a choice where they were born and should have the same opportunities as American citizens and legal residents. (The Capitol Record, Mar, 28, 2013). However, American citizen taxpayers testified in opposition to the bill, stating it is unfair to ask citizens and legal residents to subsidize the higher education of persons who are in the country illegally, citing FAIR’s publication The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Aliens on Washingtonians (2012).
“People say it wasn’t the child’s fault that they were brought here illegally. Their parents brought them here when they were young and they didn’t have a say in it. In many cases this is true, however it is the fault of the parents and if this bill is passed not only do the kids benefit but the parents do as well. This will just encourage more immigrants to break into our country illegally,” said Bob West of Yakima. (Id.).
Subsequently, Senator Bailey stated publically that she had concerns regarding the fiscal impact of extending financial aid to illegal aliens:
I think the state’s financial assistance program needs to be looked at more closely before eligibility is extended to a new group. In order to set good policy, we need to spend more time studying the issue and evaluating the future financial impact. State government has a bad habit of promising many things, but delivering few. It would be disingenuous for us to make an unfunded promise that can’t be kept. (Sen. Barbara Bailey Legislative Update, Mar. 29, 2013).
In consideration of the bill, Senator Bailey commissioned a survey. The overwhelming majority of respondents opposed House Bill 1817 and more than 80 percent responded that illegal immigration is a problem in Washington. (Id.)
A similar bill to House Bill 1817 was introduced in the Senate, but died without ever receiving a vote.