FAIR Legislative Update April 8, 2013
Even before the Senate Gang of Eight has introduced its mass amnesty bill, parts of the business community are voicing objections to the foreign worker program expected to be included in the legislation. (Politico, Apr. 3, 2013) That foreign worker program is the product of weeks of negotiations between the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce, which announced last week they had struck a deal. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 1, 2013).
While the legislative text of the foreign worker program is not yet public, news reports have sketched out its parameters. First, the program will create a new “W-visa” that allows employers to bring in foreign workers to fill ”lesser-skilled” jobs, including those in the hospitality, janitorial, retail, construction and other industries. These W visa holders will be able to move between employers and allowed to apply for a green card after only one year. (Washington Post, Apr. 2, 2013)
Under the W visa program, employers will be allowed between 20,000 and 200,000 foreign workers each year. (Id.) In year one, the cap is 20,000 visas; in year two, 35,000; in year three, 55,000; and in year four, 75,000 — all regardless of the unemployment rate or whether there appears to be specific labor shortages in an industry. In year five, the cap on foreign workers entering through the program will be tied to a statistical formula that incorporates the unemployment rate, the ratio of job openings to workers looking for work, the government’s recommended annual cap, and how closely requests for W workers matched the cap in the prior fiscal year. (Id.) While the annual ceiling on W visas is supposed to be 200,000, news outlets are already reporting that the program contains a loophole allowing businesses to circumvent the cap by paying “a premium.” (Roll Call, Apr. 3, 2013)
Finally, the program allows businesses to hire professional recruiters to find foreign workers. While the plan appears to also require “extensive recruitment of U.S. workers,” so far the exact steps employers must take to ensure American workers are given a first chance at these jobs is unknown.
But before the ink on the AFL-CIO/Chamber deal was barely dry, important voices in the business community began to signal serious objections. (Politico, Apr. 3, 2013) The construction industry, for example, said the deal “repeats mistakes of previous, failed attempts at immigration reform” because it does not let in enough foreign workers and because it caps the number of construction workers that may enter the U.S. through the program at 15,000. (Joint press release, Apr. 3, 2013) Tamar Jacoby, President of pro-business ImmigrationWorks USA, declared the deal was “skewed by union demands” and that it “is much too small to meet U.S. labor needs — now or in years ahead.” (TPM, Apr. 1, 2013)
Even the Chamber of Commerce released a statement after the deal was announced, suggesting it doesn’t entirely support the deal it negotiated itself. (Politico, Apr. 3, 2013) The tepid statement read: “To eliminate any confusion on the matter, the U.S. Chamber believes the construct for a new lesser-skilled visa category that the Gang of Eight has developed is the blueprint for a sound and workable program for the business community.… Importantly, this new visa structure sets the groundwork for moving forward with other important parts of immigration reform.” (Id.)
And while business groups complain that the program isn’t big enough, American workers should also be sounding the alarm. While business groups claim they need the W worker program to fill shortages, the deal announced by the AFL-CIO does nothing to alleviate any claimed shortages because it both allows workers to change employers and apply for a green card after only one year. Thus, the W program is designed to do nothing but permanently add new workers to the U.S. labor market when there are already 22 million Americans unemployed or underemployed.
On Wednesday, several pro-amnesty organizations held a press conference to announce they would fight any efforts by Congress to eliminate or reduce chain migration. (Associated Press, Apr. 3, 2013) Chain migration refers to the ability of individuals to sponsor extended family members for green cards under the Immigration and Nationality Act (See Section 203(a)).
The groups are reacting to statements from Gang of Eight member Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) who has said on several occasions that he intends to tackle chain migration in the highly-anticipated amnesty bill. For example, on CNN last Sunday, Senator Graham said that a primary goal of the legislation would be to “turn our chain migration, family-based immigration system into a merit-based immigration system with a family component.” (CNN.com, Mar. 30, 2013)
But even though Senator Graham has been a long-time amnesty supporter, the amnesty groups were not impressed. ”We’re very concerned about what we’re hearing,” said Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center. (NBCnews.com, Apr.3, 2013)”The elimination of any of the categories, particularly the sibling or married children categories, is going to have a disproportionate impact on the Asian American community, in addition to the Latino community and the African-Caribbean community as we’re striving to allow those groups to reunite with their families.” (Id.)
Martinez de Castro from the National Council of La Raza argued that these extended family members are no less likely to contribute positively to the economy than those who come for work. (Id.) Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops echoed her sentiment. ”Immigrant families are not potted plants,” Appleby said. ”They work, and they are economic actors as well.” (Id.) AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka added: ”Some are trying to pit economic interests against family. They say that ‘on merit’ brothers and sisters and children and spouses are worth less than people employers prefer. The labor movement doesn’t buy that for one second.” (Talking Points Memo, Apr. 3, 2013)
Despite such statements, family-based immigration does in fact make up roughly two-thirds of all green cards issued annually and, because of the ability to sponsor numerous family members, tends to bring in less educated, low-skilled individuals. According to 2010 census data, only 18% of the foreign-born population in the U.S. had a bachelor’s degree. About 16.9% had some college education, while 26% had only a high school diploma and 28.1% had less than a high-school diploma. (CIS Report, August 2012) Similarly, in 2010, the median annual income for a foreign-born worker was $34,021 compared to $43,701 for a native-born. (Id.)
The use of a sophisticated radar system originally developed by the Pentagon to track the Taliban in Afghanistan has revealed more illegal aliens are able to circumvent the Border Patrol than previously thought. The radar system, called the Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar (Vader), was deployed to Arizona in March 2012 and is now used three to four days a week, for eight to 12 hours a day tracking movement along the border. (Los Angeles Times, Apr. 3, 2013)
Although the radar system has helped the Border Patrol catch illegal aliens, internal reports also reveal that Border Patrol agents apprehended fewer than half of those illegally crossing the border into southern Arizona. (Id.) Using the radar, which is operated from a Predator drone, Border Patrol agents caught 1,874 people in a 150-square-mile stretch of the Sonora Desert between October 1, 2012 and January 17, 2013. (Id.) However, the Vader system also identified an additional 1,962 people in the same area who evaded arrest, which the Border Patrol calls “gotaways.” (Id.)
The findings debunk the Obama Administration’s repeated claims that the border is secure. In January, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that the Border Patrol detained 64% of those who illegally crossed into the Tucson sector in 2011. (Id.)
Not surprisingly, Administration officials downplayed the Vader report’s findings. Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Vader was only in a “preliminary testing phase.” (Los Angeles Times, Apr. 3, 2013) He also charged that the calculation method was flawed because it did not include people who were detained after the radar left the area. (Id.) “There is no silver bullet in border technology,” Friel said. (Id.)
In contrast, an unnamed former law enforcement official praised the system as “a match made in heaven for border security.” (Id.) The source credited the radar with helping Border Patrol agents observe migrants and smugglers gathering on the Mexico side of the border before they attempt to cross illegally into the United States. (Id.)
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) echoed that sentiment. “That is the kind of technology we would like to see all across the border,” McCaul, said in a telephone interview. (Id.) Chairman McCaul said he was briefed on the Vader system during a February trip to the border in Arizona. (Id.) McCaul announced that he is drafting a bill that would require DHS to establish an accurate measure of border security effectiveness. (Id.) “You can’t measure what you can’t see,” he said. “There is an awful lot we’re not seeing.” (Id.)
Despite Mr. Friel’s comments, the tests were successful enough that the Border Patrol has asked Congress to appropriate funds for the purchase of two additional Vader systems. (Id.) Each system costs approximately $5 million per year to operate and maintain. (Id.)
According to recent reports, the House amnesty working group plans to offer several different paths to citizenship for illegal aliens currently in the U.S. in their “comprehensive” immigration reform bill. (NY Times, Apr. 3, 2013) Dividing illegal aliens into different categories, the bill would essentially offer a separate path to citizenship to illegal aliens based on the circumstances under which they came to the U.S. and the conditions under which they remained.
First, the plan would offer an expedited path to citizenship for so-called “DREAMers.” Targeting illegal aliens up to a certain age (between 30-35 in previous pieces of legislation) who arrived in the U.S. as minors, the plan would enable them to become U.S. citizens if they attend college or join the military. (Id.) “Those who entered the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own, will be allowed to have a pathway to citizenship,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a former immigration attorney of Puerto Rican descent who is seen as the key negotiator in the lower chamber’s amnesty talks. (See LA-Times Op-Ed, Mar. 31, 2013)Despite being introduced many times over the last decade, however, Congress has consistently rejected this form of amnesty — known as the “DREAM Act” — even as recently as 2010.
Similar to the “DREAMers,” according to House aides familiar with the plan, illegal aliens working in the agricultural sector would also be granted an expedited path to legal status, although they did not specify whether they would be granted citizenship immediately. (NY Times, Apr. 3, 2013)
Next, the plan would offer a green card to illegal aliens who under current law have a familial or employer-based relationship that would make them eligible for permanent legal status, but are inadmissible to the U.S. because they broke the law by entering the country unlawfully or overstaying a visa. (NY Times, Apr. 3, 2013) Under federal law, aliens who cross the border illegally or fail to leave the country upon expiration of their visa and subsequently voluntarily depart the U.S., are inadmissible for a period of three or 10 years depending on the length of time they were in the country unlawfully. (See INA §§ 212(a)(6)-(7), 212(a)(9)(B)) However, according to House aides familiar with the negotiations the plan would allegedly relax or waive those bars to admission, allowing the illegal alien to return to their home country and apply for a green card and eventual citizenship if they meet certain conditions such as paying back taxes and learning English. (NY Times, Apr. 3, 2013)
Finally, all other illegal aliens could apply for a “provisional legal status” if they admitted to violating the law, paid certain taxes owed and followed requirements set forth for learning English. This status would allow them work and travel in the United States. After 10 years, this group of illegal aliens could then apply for a green card and eventual citizenship if they meet criteria under current law. (Id.)
The House working group is expected to introduce its amnesty bill this week or next. (CBS News, Apr. 5, 2013) “We have legislative language that we’ll be ready to go forward on — not concepts, but actual language,” said Rep. John Carter (R-TX) one of the House Members working on the legislation. (Id.) His Senate counterparts are expected to introduce their legislation this week. (Id.)
On Thursday, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to their fellow Republicans on the Gang of Eight, urging them to disclose the contents of the amnesty bill they have been secretly negotiating for weeks. (See Daily Caller, Apr. 5, 2013) The bill, which would grant amnesty to the nation’s approximately 12 million illegal aliens, is widely anticipated to be introduced this week.
The letter, signed by Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and three other Committee Republicans, Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT), urges the Republicans in the Gang of Eight to ensure the Senate engages in a robust debate over the amnesty bill. “It is critical that the public and the entire Senate body be given adequate time to read and analyze the contents of any immigration bill put forward by the Majority.” Noting that they have not had cooperation in conducting Congressional oversight of an administration refuses to enforce U.S. immigration laws, the Senators write they expect to have the opportunity to hear from experts on all aspects of an amnesty bill. They add, “We hope you will stand with us to ensure that all viewpoints are heard before the Committee considers any immigration legislation.”
The Judiciary Republicans also demand that their fellow Republicans on the Gang of Eight — Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) — disclose by Monday, April 8th the contents of the amnesty bill they have secretly been negotiating for weeks. “The time for transparency has come… Given the Majority’s rushed timetable,” they write, “we believe it is time for you to discuss the status of your negotiations, disclose what concessions have been made, and provide details to members of the Judiciary Committee as well as the entire Republican Caucus.”
On Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 715 (SB 715), a bill that grants driver’s licenses and identification cards to illegal aliens, by a vote of 83-54. About a week earlier, the Maryland Senate passed the same bill by a vote of 29-18. Governor Martin O’Malley supports the bill and intends to sign it into law.
SB 715 will make major changes to Maryland law. Current Maryland law expressly prohibits the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing a driver’s license or identification card to an individual who does not provide satisfactory documentary evidence of lawful status. “Lawful status” is used in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to describe the immigration status of those who are not in violation of the INA. Illegal aliens, by definition, are in violation of the INA. However, SB 715 amends current law to allow any person regardless of immigration status to obtain a driver’s license or identification card if they have filed a Maryland state income tax return for the previous two years, or are a dependent of someone who filed such tax returns.
Delegate Jolene Ivey, the Prince George’s County Democrat who authored a similar bill in the House, said “[i]t’s a safety issue. I want to know that everybody on the roads passed a driver’s test. I want to know they have car insurance, that they know not to flee when they’re getting pulled over or in an accident.” (The Baltimore Sun, Mar. 25, 2013).
Delegate Pat McDonough, who opposed SB 715, said Maryland “has become a Disneyland for illegal immigrants with free rides and benefits.” (Id.). Delegate Cathy Vitale disagreed that the bill would make Maryland roads safer as there is no guarantee that illegal aliens will obtain insurance as U.S. citizens sometimes drive without insurance. (Capital Gazette, Apr. 5, 2013). In fact, New Mexico, who issues illegal alien driver’s licenses, is also home to the nation’s second highest percentage of uninsured drivers. (Insurance Research Council, April 21, 2011).
Delegate Herb McMillan said SB 715 will attract illegal aliens to the state. (Capital Gazette, Apr. 5, 2013). In fact, history reveals this is the case. During the ten weeks after Arizona’s immigration enforcement bill, Senate Bill 1070, became law, the number of licenses issued to foreign nationals in the three states that currently grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, Washington, New Mexico, and Utah, rose by 60 percent over the annual average for the previous year. (Seattle Times, Aug. 13, 2010). In Washington State, the FBI was tipped that people from across the country were coming to the state because of its license law. Id. In New Mexico, between August 2010 and April 2011, investigators found that 37 percent of the 16,000 foreign national requests for driver’s license appointments came from out-of-state, most from Arizona, Georgia, and Texas.
Conversely, states that refuse to grant benefits or privileges to illegal aliens see a dramatic decrease in illegal immigration. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated that Arizona’s illegal alien population grew from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 by 2008, one of the fastest rates nationally. (Office of Immigration Statistics, January 2008). After Arizona’s SB 1070 passed, however, Arizona’s illegal alien population dropped by 18 percent from 2008 to 2009. (Office of Immigration Statistics, January 2009). After Prince William County, Virginia instituted a policy of cooperation with DHS, its illegal alien population decreased significantly in just two years, resulting in a reduction in violent crime. (University of Virginia 2010 Final Report).
On Wednesday, April 10, the open borders lobby plans to bus-in illegal aliens and pro-amnesty protestors from all over the country to participate in a rally on Capitol Hill to advocate for citizenship for the nation’s 11-12 million illegal aliens. Taking place on the west lawn of the U.S. Capital Building in Washington D.C., a coalition of pro-amnesty organizations and unions — including By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and the United Farm Workers of American (UFW) — will be taking part in the rally. (See Citizenship-Now Website)
The rally is strategically planned to coincide the Senate Gang of Eight’s introduction of its “comprehensive” immigration reform bill this week. To tell your Senators and Representative you oppose these efforts to grant amnesty to illegal aliens, click here.