FAIR Legislative Update April 23, 2012
Senate to Consider Increasing U Visas this Week
The U.S. Senate is widely anticipated to take up the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) this week. Although VAWA was initially passed in 1994 to increase protections for women suffering domestic violence and abuse, it has become the latest vehicle for the open-borders lobby to increase visas and grant amnesty to illegal aliens.
The version currently before the Senate, S. 1925 introduced by Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT), contains provisions that could increase the number of U-visas by 34,000. It does this by increasing the number of U visas granted annually from 10,000 (the current ceiling) to 15,000, until all unused U visas since 2006 are recaptured. (S. 1925 at § 805)
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in 2000 to allow aliens who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a victim of domestic violence, rape, or certain other crimes to obtain temporary legal status if they help law enforcement prosecute those crimes. (INA § 101(a)(15)(U); see also FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 6, 2012) An alien can obtain a U visa regardless of legal status, remain in the country for four-years at a time, receive work authorization, and become eligible for a green card after three years. (INA § 214(p); USCIS Website on U visas)
Spearheaded by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Republicans plan to introduce alternative legislation that would strike the U visa and other immigration-related provisions from the bill. (See Des Moines Register Op-Ed by Sen. Hutchison; Apr. 5, 2012) “Violence against women except for these additions is noncontroversial. I’m afraid what they’re doing here is they want a political issue — you know, ‘war on women’ — and they are going to end up with another one-year extension,” said Sen. Grassley of Democrats’ use of VAWA to increase immigration.
S. 1925, however, already has 61 co-sponsors, giving Sen. Leahy’s bill a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Acknowledging this, Sen. Grassley has stated he will not try to extend debate, but expects Democratic leaders to at least allow his alternative to be voted on. (Roll Call, Apr. 18, 2012) “We’re not going to extend this debate,” Grassley commented. “There won’t be a cloture vote necessary, and they’ll surely let us have a vote on our substitute,” he stated. (Id.)
If the Senate passes S. 1925, it goes to the Republican-controlled House where it is expected to face an uphill battle. (Id.)
Alabama House Votes to Strip Language from HB 56
Last Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 64-34 to make major revisions to the State’s immigration enforcement law, HB 56. (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012) The changes were adopted through the passage of HB 658, introduced by Rep. Micky Hammon, also the House author of HB 56. House passage of HB 658 comes only two weeks after the bill’s introduction, during which time the bill was heard and amended by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. (See Alabama House Bill Status for HB 658)
HB 658 weakens HB 56 in several ways. It limits the circumstances under which law enforcement officers check immigration status, weakens the penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens, eliminates the prohibition on renting apartments to an individual a landlord knows is an illegal alien, and eliminates the requirement that schools collect immigration data on their students for inclusion in state reports. (See HB 658 as engrossed; FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 9, 2012) With regard to the last provision, however, HB 658 still requires that the state prepare a report on the cost of educating the children of illegal aliens and expressly allows the state to contract with scholars, economists, or public research institutions to complete it.
Debate on the Alabama House floor was long and contentious. Opponents said the bill did not go far enough, calling for an outright repeal. (See, e.g. Letter to House Speaker Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Marsh) Early on, the House Legislative Black Caucus led a filibuster, saying the law had led to discrimination and other unintended consequences. (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012) Rep. Hammon, however, promoted the changes as merely clarifying HB 56, particularly for law enforcement. “We’ve had a year to examine our law and talk to people who work with the law every day,” said Hammon. “We have put together some clarifications and simplifications and few language changes in the law.” (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012)
The Alabama Senate will soon be considering companion legislation to HB 658. The companion bill, SB 541, was introduced by Senator Scott Beason on April 19, the same day the House passed HB 658. However, in contrast to HB 658, SB 541 is much smaller in scope regarding the revisions it makes to HB 56.
Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on SB 1070
This Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. The Arizona legislature passed SB 1070 in April of 2010 and within months, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the State in an attempt to strike down the law. (See FAIR Legislative Update, June 21, 2010)
At issue before the Supreme Court are four sections of SB 1070:
- Section 2: Requires state and local law enforcement officers, during a lawful stop, arrest or detention, to inquire about immigration status if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is an illegal alien.
- Section 3: Provides that it is a violation of state law for an illegal alien to be in violation of the federal alien registration statutes.
- Section 5: Creates a misdemeanor offense that prohibits illegal aliens from applying for work, soliciting work in public places, or performing work in Arizona.
- Section 6: Authorizes state and local police officers to conduct a warrantless arrest of an individual if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed a removable offense.
All four of these sections were enjoined by the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then upheld that injunction. Among the factors for determining whether an injunction is appropriate is a determination of whether the plaintiff will likely win on the merits. Thus, as part of its ruling, the Supreme Court must decide whether the DOJ will likely win its case on the merits. To learn more about the arguments Arizona and the Department of Justice have filed with the Supreme Court, FAIR’s guide to the oral arguments.
House Committee Votes to Close Child Tax Credit Loophole
The House Ways and Means Committee passed by a 22-12 vote key legislation Wednesday that would close a loophole under current tax law that allows illegal aliens to collect the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). (CQ Today, Apr. 18, 2012; see votes here) The ACTC is a refundable credit that allows individuals with three or more children to reduce their federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each child who meets certain criteria. (See TIGTA Report 2011-41-061, July 7, 2011)
Currently, illegal aliens are eligible for this credit because the IRS only requires applicants for the ACTC to provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indiscriminately hands out to illegal aliens. And, the amount of tax dollars handed out to illegal aliens is significant. Last year, the Inspector General for the U.S. Treasury Department released a report revealing that illegal aliens annually receive $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits, primarily through the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). (Id.; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Sept. 6, 2011)
But during last week’s committee hearing, the Ways and Means Committee voted to close this tax credit loophole by requiring that individuals who claim the ACTC provide a valid Social Security Number (SSN). This amendment was based on language introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX). (See Proposed Committee bill)
The ACTC amendment is now part of a budget reconciliation proposal that will go to the House Budget Committee for inclusion in a larger package aimed at saving tax-payer dollars. (CQ Today, Apr. 18, 2012; NY Times, Apr. 13, 2012) While passage in the House seems likely, the bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain.
Congress Questions Obama’s Decision to Cut Border Troops
On Tuesday, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a hearing on the Obama Administration’s decision to drastically reduce the number of National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, after 19 months of stationing 1,200 National Guard ground troops along the border, that number sits at a mere 300. (Boston Herald, April 19, 2012)
Late last year, the Administration announced its intent to replace a majority of National Guard ground troops with aerial surveillance by using members of the Army and Air National Guard. (San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 13, 2011; FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 19, 2011) Troops were initially placed along the southern border to assist both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in spotting illegal entries, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with criminal intelligence. (C-Span video, July 19, 2010; see also FAIR Legislative Update, July 26, 2010
Pointing this out, Members of the Subcommittee questioned the Administration’s plan to reduce the number of boots on the ground. Chairman Candice Miller (R-MI) argued that National Guard troops have served a critical purpose on the border, serving as backup to CBP during times when agents were in short supply. “[W]ill CBP’s aviation components be able to sustain the missions previously performed by the National Guard?” she asked. (Rep. Miller Advisory, April 12, 2012) Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar (R) agreed, further arguing against troop withdrawal given the fact that the U.S. only has operational control of 873 miles of the 2,000-mile border. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, April. 17, 2012)
The Administration nonetheless claims that replacing the troops on the ground with aerial surveillance will increase border security. Testifying before the Subcommittee, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Stockton claimed that aerial surveillance technology would provide a new deterrent to illegal border crossers, as traffickers would no longer be able to easily avoid fixed-location entry identification teams along the border. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, April. 17, 2012)
Members of the National Guard’s aviation teams have already taken to the skies. Instead of 1,200 ground troops, Blackhawk helicopters and fixed-wing manned surveillance planes now fly over the border region. (Boston Herald, Apr. 19, 2012) According to media reports, the 300 remaining troops will either fly aircraft or analyze intelligence about smuggling routes in command centers miles from the border. (Id.; The Baltimore Sun, Apr. 19, 2012)