FAIR Legislative Update February 19, 2013
Over the weekend, a White House official leaked President Obama’s plan for legalizing the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. to USA TODAY. (USA TODAY, Feb. 17, 2013)
Based on the article, the President’s plan repeats the same failed ideas as previous amnesty proposals. The President’s plan allows illegal aliens to apply for a newly created “lawful prospective immigrant” visa. The visa is good for four years (and is renewable), and authorizes illegal aliens to work in and travel to and from the country.
To be eligible for the lawful prospective immigrant visa, illegal aliens would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric data, and pay fees. Illegal aliens with felony convictions, convictions of three or more different crimes that resulted in a term of 90 days in jail, or who have committed an offense abroad that would make them inadmissible or deportable from the U.S. are ineligible for the special visa. Nonetheless, illegal aliens who are already in federal custody and facing deportation proceedings would be eligible for the President’s program.
Once granted the new lawful prospective immigrant visa, a newly amnestied alien may sponsor spouses and children of illegal aliens living outside of the U.S. through the same process.
According to USA Today, illegal aliens are eligible to trade in their lawful prospective immigrant visa for a green card within eight years and then will have the ability to become a U.S. citizen if they meet the additional steps of learning English, U.S. history and civics, and paying back taxes (generally, the existing requirements for green card holders). It is still unclear whether illegal aliens who fail to meet these additional requirements will be able to stay in the U.S. indefinitely under the special visa program.
Not surprisingly, the plan is vague as to border security and immigration enforcement. The proposal seeks to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, but fails to specify a goal for the increase, and seems to “allow” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand technology along the border without specifying how this will be achieved. The plan would also phase-in use of E-Verify for all employers within four years, beginning with requiring businesses with over 1,000 employees to use the program within two years. Interestingly, the plan requires DHS to submit a report on the efficacy of the E-Verify program within 18-months, making one cautious as to whether the Administration will use the findings of this report to stall the program’s implementation like it has with others (such as REAL ID) in the past. (See Obama Administration Delays REAL ID Again) Moreover, article is silent as to any consequences employers may face for failing to use the program.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is spearheading Senate efforts to grant amnesty to illegal aliens, called the President’s plan “dead on arrival” in Congress. (USA TODAY, Feb. 17, 2013) “It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, (and) creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally,” Rubio said. “It would actually make our immigration problems worse.” (Id.)
The Administration official who leaked the plan to USA TODAY claims it is in the process of being distributed to several governmental agencies. Stay tuned to FAIR as details unfold…
Talks between AFL-CIO union leaders and U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials to hash out an immigration reform deal have stalled, according to a recent article appearing in the inside-the-beltway publication Politico. (Politico, Feb. 13, 2013)
A source close to the discussions claimed the two organizations are having a hard time finding common ground on immigration reform. “It’s like we’re speaking different languages,” said the source. (Id.) “We’re very far apart. It’s hard to see us coming to any sort of agreement.” (Id.)
Breakdown of discussions underscore the labor-business divide over guest worker programs that have plagued previous comprehensive immigration reform measures. In 2007, the business lobby supported the creation of a massive new guest worker program, whereas some labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, opposed increasing the number of guest workers programs. (See Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2013)
Nonetheless, labor and business leaders are denying allegations of a stalemate. Ana Avendano of the AFL-CIO and Randy Johnson of the Chamber of Commerce commented in a joint statement, “We are continuing to talk and remain committed to comprehensive immigration reform.” (Id.; Politico, Feb. 13, 2013) The SEIU also has stated its support for amnesty on its website.
According to the Washington Post, the two organizations missed a Friday deadline from a Senate working group to develop a plan. (Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2013)
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on “comprehensive” immigration reform last Wednesday, highlighting what promises to be a long, drawn-out debate between the pro-amnesty and pro-enforcement wings of Congress.
Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) set the tone early, using his opening remarks to dismiss the notion that amnesty should be conditioned on border security. He told the packed hearing room, which included many illegal aliens, “we’ve effectively done enforcement first and enforcement only. It is time to proceed to comprehensive action.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 13, 2013) Leahy also stressed that comprehensive immigration reform means “the goal of citizenship” for the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the country. (Id.) Leahy chastised pro-enforcement advocates, delivering a blunt message: “I say that you have stalled immigration reform for too long.” (Id.)
Enforcement champions, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) rebuffed those claims. Senator Sessions countered that the “fundamental” concern of the American people is that Democratic Leadership is pushing an “amnesty only” approach and “we’re not going to have enforcement.” (Id.) Senator Grassley proclaimed “an overnight legalization program for millions of lawbreakers is a short-term band-aid, not a long-term solution.” (Id.)
Nevertheless, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, the hearing’s main witness, steadfastly touted amnesty as the way to fix America’s immigration system. “I often hear the argument that before reform can move forward, we must first secure our borders,” she said. (Id.) “Too often, the border security first refrain simply serves as an excuse,” she charged. (Id.) Napolitano even rejected the border security trigger in the Gang of Eight proposal, claiming “a trigger implies you don’t get to these other things until X is met” while advocating that amnesty and enforcement should be applied “simultaneously.” (Id.)
In fact, Secretary Napolitano continued to boast that the U.S. borders have “never been stronger” and shockingly claimed that amnesty would improve security. (Id.) Arguing that deporting 11-12 million illegal aliens is “cost prohibitive” and “runs counter to our values,” she claimed amnesty “allows [DHS] to focus enforcement resources on those who are here committing other crimes and who are really dangerous to our public safety and our security.” (Id.) Meanwhile Napolitano ignored the fact that illegal aliens engaged in other crimes are unlikely willing to come forward and cooperate with the government if Congress passes an amnesty.
Border state Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) vehemently objected to Napolitano’s claims that the border is stronger than ever. Citing two Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies, Cornyn proclaimed, “I do not believe that the border is secure, and I still believe we have a long, long way to go.” (Id.) Cornyn used a map of the Texas-Mexico border from a 2010 GAO study to illustrate that the government has no more than 30 percent of each of the four sectors that constitute the Texas border under operational control. (Id.) Then, relying on a 2011 GAO study that found DHS apprehended, at best, 61 percent of illegal border crossers, Cornyn asked Napolitano if she considered that rate “acceptable.” (Id.) Secretary Napolitano dismissed each of the government-produced studies as “one of the many numbers that float around when the term border security is used.” (Id.)
Senators Grassley and Sessions echoed Sen. Cornyn’s concerns over border security and enforcement. “First and foremost, we need enforcement of the laws on the books,” proclaimed Grassley. (Id.) “We have a serious unwillingness to enforce even the most basic laws,” concluded Sessions. (Id.) “I truly believe, had this administration done a better job of enforcement, been more effective in moving forward with a lawful system of immigration, you would be in a much stronger position with the American people who ask for a more broad solution to the problem,” he continued. (Id.)
Even pro-amnesty “Gang of Eight” Committee Members voiced skepticism of Napolitano’s enforcement claims. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said “you’ve got to have a secure border,” because other immigration laws would be useless if someone “can still walk across the street” to enter the country. (Id.) Similarly, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) observed “there seems to be confusion within DHS itself, or within the Border Patrol, as to what constitutes better security or lesser security,” citing a 2012 GAO report that found Border Patrol is currently unable to “define border security.” (Id.) “So you can see as policy makers, we have a difficult time here. It’s tough for us to measure,” he said. (Id.) Even Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) conceded “we have a ways to go on the border.” (Id.)
Following Secretary Napolitano’s testimony, Sen. Leahy used the hearing’s second panel of witnesses to celebrate illegal immigration rather than having a serious discussion about immigration enforcement. Leahy loaded the second panel with representatives of the pro-amnesty lobby, inviting self-admitted illegal alien and felon Jose Antonio Vargas to testify along with Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the pro-amnesty National Council of La Raza (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 15, 2012) Meanwhile, Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, urged Congress to eliminate the visa cap on foreign-born STEM graduates. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 13, 2013)
Murguia did nothing more than reiterate Leahy’s theme that enforcement is “all we have done” so Congress must enact a “roadmap to citizenship.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 13, 2013) Shockingly, she rejected the “pathway to citizenship” as an amnesty and even claimed “earned” citizenship does not “harm anyone.” (Id.)
Moreover, Vargas audaciously used this platform to lecture Congress. “When you inaccurately call me ‘illegal,’ you’re not only dehumanizing me, you’re offending [my family]. No human being is illegal,” he claimed. (Id.) “I am not an illegal alien, I am an undocumented American,” he continued. (Id.)
The only panelists arguing for enforcement were Jessica Vaughan, Policy Studies Director for the Center for Immigration Studies and Chris Crane, President of the ICE Agents’ union, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118. The Democratic-controlled Committee attempted to marginalize their testimony by rarely posing questions to them during the second panel.
The presence of Vargas on the same panel as Chris Crane clearly demonstrated the Obama Administration’s complete disregard for immigration laws. Because of the President’s new non-deportation policies, Crane was unable to arrest Vargas. “It should not be lost on anyone the surreal nature of even this hearing, the fact that I am sitting here, on the same table as Mr. Crane….” boasted Vargas. (Id.) Nonetheless, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) praised the Administration’s circumvention of Congress, observing that in the absence of this policy Vargas “could be arrested right here and now deported.” (Id.)
Chris Crane used his testimony to reveal the truth about the Administration’s immigration enforcement policy. “Secretary Napolitano describes these new policies as smart and effective. I can assure you they are neither.” (Id.) “Most Americans would be surprised to know that immigration agents are regularly prohibited from enforcing the two most fundamental sections of United States immigration law,” he lamented. (Id.) Noting that the administration has not sought his union’s input on enforcement, Crane charged “ICE is now guided by special interest groups that advocate on behalf of illegal aliens.” (Id.)
As Congress debates whether to grant amnesty to the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Administration plans to drastically cut the number of Border Patrol agents manning the borders. (See Politico, Feb. 14, 2013)
Using the U.S. Border Patrol as a political pawn, Napolitano announced to the Committee Thursday that if the automatic spending cuts – known as sequestration — occur on March 1, the Administration will impose a one-quarter reduction in Border Patrol’s workforce hours. (Id.) “I can tell you that under sequester, we will lose in hours 5,000 Border Patrol agents over the next year,” she said. (Id.) Customs would be forced to impose “furloughs of 12 to 14 days for every port officer …. We’re looking at longer wait times, less security between the ports of entry,” she continued. (Id.)
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) called for Napolitano to testify because DHS was continuously providing vague responses to inquiries on the impact the cuts would have on the agency. Noting that the Defense Department has provided detailed information, Mikulski chastised Napolitano: “there are others who wear the uniform and we need to hear about the impact on them.” (Id.) Despite warnings from Customs and Border Protection officials of severe cuts, Napolitano sent Mikulski a letter on January 31 devoid of specifics. (Id.) A White House fact sheet from February 8 was equally vague on the border security implications. (Id.)
With sequestration set to occur in less than two weeks, the Administration’s repeated failure to detail the impact on Border Patrol further illustrates it does not take border control seriously.
President Obama used last week’s State of the Union to continue his push for amnesty legislation. During his speech, the President signaled his intent to speed an immigration bill through the legislative process as quickly as possible, rushing Members of Congress to “get this done.” (Washington Post, Feb. 12, 2013) The President urged the House and Senate, “send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.” (Id.)
The President’s plan for comprehensive immigration legislation, which he refers to as “real reform” presents no new ideas outside of previously failed attempts at granting amnesty. (Id.) Repeating former rhetoric, President Obama listed “passing a background check” and “paying…a meaningful penalty” as two of several requisite steps for gaining citizenship, but did not offer any new details of what either of these would entail. (Id.) Other requirements include paying back taxes and learning English. (Id.)
The President also signaled he intends to increase legal immigration as part of his plan for “real reform.” “[Attracting] the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers,” he said, “will help create jobs and grow our economy.” (Id.) This statement comes in spite of the fact that roughly six million individuals in the U.S. with STEM degrees are not working those fields. (New York Times, Feb. 8, 2013) In fact, unemployment has more than doubled for tech workers since 2007. (Id.)
Not surprisingly, in his outline of “real reform” the President gave the least attention to border security. (Id.) “[We] can build on the progress my administration’s already made,” President Obama generically said, “putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.” (Id.) However, the President’s statement ignores the fact that it was the Bush Administration that was responsible for the bulk of the increase in Border Patrol manpower and that last year President Obama reduced the number of National Guard troops along the border from 1,200 to 300. Not surprisingly, the Government Accountability Office has only found a fraction of the border to be under operational control, and the Administration lacks any real metrics for measuring border security.
Following the President’s address, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave the Republican response, which overall failed to distinguish his immigration policies from those of the President. Senator Rubio called for amnesty for the 11-12 million illegal aliens currently in the United States, “We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally.” (ABC News, Feb. 13, 2013) Rubio also mirrored President Obama’s sentiments on expanding legal immigration, “We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest.” (Id.)
Finally, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave a second response to the President’s State of the Union address, purportedly on behalf of the Tea Party. (Examiner, Feb. 14, 2013) Sen. Paul made it clear that new policies — immigration or otherwise — should come from Congress, not as a power grab by the President. “If necessary, we will take [the President] to court again over attempts to legislate by executive order. Congress must reassert its authority,” Paul said. (Id.) “Congress must stand as a check to the power of the executive….” (Id.)
During the first Obama Administration, the President and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were able to implement de facto amnesty through a series of memos, such DACA and the Morton Memos.
The New York State Assembly Higher Education Committee approved legislation last Tuesday that would make financial aid available to illegal aliens for college. Assembly Bill 2597 (AB 2597), called the New York state DREAM Act, establishes the New York DREAM Fund Commission. The 12- member commission will raise private funds for college tuition scholarships for illegal alien minors. The DREAM fund will also make family tuition accounts available to anyone who provides a valid taxpayer identification number, which the IRS grants to illegal aliens because they are not eligible for Social Security Numbers. (See Section 2 of AB 2597, Jan. 16, 2013; see also. (New York Daily News, Feb. 12, 2013). AB 2597 also eliminates the current education law requirement that an applicant for a general award or academic performance award be either a citizen of the United States, an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States, or refugee. (See Section 3 of AB 2597; see also N.Y. Education Law § 661(3)). If enacted, any illegal alien would be eligible for state funded aid programs, scholarships or other financial assistance awards if they meet certain criteria.
New York’s taxpayers currently subsidize illegal alien college students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates, and pay over $4.8 million annually in K-12 education for illegal aliens. (See FAIR Summary on States Permitting In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens, Sept. 2011; see also FAIR Illegal Immigration Cost Study, July 2010). Thus in addition to discounted tuition, with the passage of AB 2597, illegal aliens will also be eligible for state funded financial aid in New York. This is projected to cost the state $20 million. (New York Daily News, Feb. 12, 2013).
At an Assembly Higher Education Committee press conference regarding AB 2597, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated, “[t]he [New York State] DREAM ACT will help these ‘DREAMERS’ acquire the skills necessary for the jobs of the future so they, like the immigrant generations before them, can help build on and contribute to this state and nation’s social, academic, cultural and economic greatness.” (AB2597 Memo; N.Y. Assembly News Release, Feb. 12, 2013). However, federal law currently prohibits employers from employing illegal aliens, that is, the very individuals who would benefit from AB 2597. (See INA § 274A(h)(3)).
The New York bill, similar to legislation passed by Illinois in 2011 (Illinois SB 2185, Aug. 1, 2011), now awaits consideration by the New York Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee before it can be put to a full vote on the Assembly floor.
Although AB 2597 is expected to pass the Assembly, the New York Senate is prepared to fight parts of the measure. Members of the Senate, including Senate Republican Leader, Dean Skelos, support the private DREAM Fund but oppose taxpayer funded financial aid for illegal aliens. (New York Daily News, Feb. 12, 2013). A similar measure failed in the New York Senate last year. (See A08689B, May 1, 2012; see also Fox News Latino, June 20, 2012).