FAIR Legislative Update January 14, 2013
Last week, the Migration Policy Institute — an organization closely aligned with the Obama Administration — peddled the results of its latest study, which fraudulently depicts a surge in immigration enforcement spending over the past decade. (MPI, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery, January 2013) The goal of the study is to establish that spending on immigration enforcement has risen to historic levels, the goal of “enforcement first” has been achieved, and that Congress can now move to addressing amnesty, guest worker programs, and cutting the budgets of immigration enforcement agencies. (MPI Report at 11-13)
The heart of the study revolves around a table that depicts what MPI describes as a “dramatic growth in enforcement resources” between 1986 and 2012 — spending that is 15 times greater in 2012 than in 1986. (MPI Report at 16-17) However, the table is inherently misleading for a variety of reasons, particularly because the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 reorganized various immigration activities across agencies. For example, for the years 2003 through 2012 the table includes as “enforcement spending” billions of dollars in appropriations for U.S. customs activities. (MPI Report at 17) While extremely important, customs enforcement generally deals with goods not people. Further distorting the picture, the MPI table does not include any appropriations on U.S. Customs between the years 1986 and 2002, when the agency was housed in the Treasury Department. (Id.)
In addition, the MPI table on “immigration enforcement” spending includes millions in appropriations on administrative functions carried out by what is now U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) — but only between the years 1986 and 2002. (Id.) In the years 2003-2012, the table only includes the activities of US-VISIT (the entry-exit program) that is a part of that agency. (Id.)
Finally, after cherry picking agency appropriations and putting them into a table, MPI has the audacity to claim that the federal government “spends more on immigration enforcement than on FBI, DEA, Secret Service & all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. Not only is this comparison false because of the misleading data in its ”immigration spending” table, but — as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) notes — it is false because MPI fails to include major enforcement agencies in this “all other” category, such as the federal prison system, the U.S. Attorneys, and the Transportation Security Administration. (CIS Analysis of MPI Report, January 2013)
It is certainly true that some immigration enforcement programs have seen an increase in spending over the years. Some agencies, such as the Border Patrol, have seen the number of its agents increase while new programs, such as US-VISIT or E-Verify, have been created and funded (at least partially). But that does not mean that the job of immigration enforcement is done. MPI argues that apprehensions are at an all-time low, but does not mention that the illegal alien population has remained static over the past few years and will only increase when the economy improves; that the problem of human trafficking is steadily growing worse; that drug cartels now operate in over 1,200 U.S. cities (Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2012); or that the United States still faces very real threats of international terrorism.
But perhaps more importantly, even with an increase in appropriations for immigration agencies over the past several years, it is fundamentally wrong to consider all of the activities carried out by those agencies immigration “enforcement.” For example, in the past two years government agencies have used unknown amounts of taxpayer dollars to review deportation cases and close cases they do not consider important. ICE has spent taxpayer dollars creating new detainer policies that actually limit the agency from taking custody of illegal aliens sitting in state and local jails. ICE has spent taxpayer dollars reviewing and discontinuing 287(g) task force agreements. ICE and USCIS have also spend taxpayer dollars to grant deferred action and work authorization to illegal aliens who qualify for the DREAM Act — even though Congress has rejected that legislation multiple times over the past decade. And finally, the Department of Justice — which has immigration functions but is not included in the MPI study, has spent unknown amounts of money suing states to stop the state and local enforcement of immigration laws the federal government refuses to enforce.
Both President Obama and Congressional Leaders have promised comprehensive immigration reform in the 113th Congress. Sworn in January 3, 2013, the new Congress could take up the issue any day now. (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2012; Los Angeles Times, Dec. 7, 2012) However, before any legislation can be brought to the Senate or House floor for a vote, it must first pass through the committee that has jurisdiction over immigration issues — the Judiciary Committee. (Senate Judiciary Committee Jurisdiction; House Judiciary Committee Jurisdiction) Below is a break-down of the new faces on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees:
Senate Judiciary Committee
In the Senate, Democrats maintain control of the committee 10-8, with one new Democrat and two new Republicans joining. (See Reid Announces Updated Committee Assignments for 113th Congress, Jan. 4, 2013; see also Senate Republican Committee Assignments for the 113th Congress, Jan. 3, 2013) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will continue as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee (Leahy press release, Dec. 19, 2012) while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) remains as Ranking Member. (See Senate Republican Committee Assignments for the 113th Congress, Jan. 3, 2013)
The lone change in Democratic membership is newly-elected Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who replaces retired Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI). Newly-elected Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) join the Republican minority, replacing Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and retired Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ).
The new members have a range of views on immigration policy. As a member of the House, Sen. Hirono voted along Democrat Party lines on immigration legislation, voting for the DREAM Act of 2010 (H.R. 5281) and against the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429). Senator Cruz, who many expect to play a prominent role in crafting legislation, has consistently expressed a pro-enforcement stance on immigration. For example, in a CBS News interview the day after winning his Senate seat he stated, “I don’t think the answer to our immigration problems is amnesty.” (CBS News, Nov. 7, 2012 ) On the other hand, Sen. Flake previously supported comprehensive immigration reform proposals, even proposing amnesty legislation while a member of the House of Representatives. However, Sen. Flake backpedaled on his previous commitment to amnesty during his 2012 Senate campaign, declaring on his campaign website, “In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform – increased border security coupled with a temporary worker program. I no longer do.” (Jeff Flake for Senate Campaign Website Oct. 19, 2012) Senator Flake’s revised stance on immigration makes his current position largely uncertain as the Senate gears up for a comprehensive immigration reform debate.
House Judiciary Committee
Although Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, maintaining the power divide of the 112th Congress, leadership in the House Judiciary Committee changed hands. Veteran true immigration reformer Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was appointed the new Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (former Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was term-limited and is now Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee). (Goodlatte press release, Nov. 28, 2012) Joining him as the new Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security is pro-enforcement Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). (Goodlatte press, Dec. 18, 2012)
In addition to leadership changing hands, several new members have joined the Committee’s Republican Majority. Chairman Goodlatte announced that Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) will rejoin the committee after leaving in 2007 to serve as Ranking Member and later Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. (Goodlatte press release, Dec. 12, 2012) Also joining the committee are Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Raul Labrador (R-ID), along with freshmen Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Rob DeSantis (R-FL), George Holding (R-NC), and Keith Rothfus (R-PA). (Id.)These new committee members are replacing Reps. Tim Griffin (R-AR) and Dennis Ross (R-FL); retired Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and Mike Pence (R-IN); and defeated Reps. Dan Lungren (R-CA), Sandy Adams (R-FL), and Ben Quayle (R-AZ).
The Democrats also welcomed a handful of new members to the committee and most notably, added a seat as a result of November’s elections. Initially, the new faces joining the committee were Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-CA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Joe Garcia (D-FL), and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). (House Judiciary Democrat Committee Members) These members replaced Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and defeated Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).
In addition, outspoken amnesty advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) made headlines recently, announcing he was also joining the Judiciary Committee, forgoing his 20 years of seniority as the third ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee in an attempt to wield influence during the upcoming immigration debate. (Gutierrez press release, Jan. 4, 2013)Representative Gutierrez replaces fellow Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley, who moves to the House Appropriations Committee. (SeePelosi Press Release, Jan. 4, 2013)
The new members have a range of views on immigration policy, suggesting that a protracted fight is likely in within the Committee, and even among Party ranks. While Chairman Goodlatte has made his opposition to amnesty clear over the years, other newly-appointed Members to the Committee have suggested they are open to voting for comprehensive immigration reform. For example, sophomore Republican Rep. Raul Labrador has openly voiced his support for granting illegal aliens a legal status shy of full citizenship. “You can have a legal process where people know they can be here for a long period of time, renew their visas, but you don’t need a pathway to citizenship,” he told reporters. (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 14, 2012)
Stay tuned to FAIR for updates on the new makeup of the Subcommittees as details unfold…
On January 8, the Illinois House approved bill (SB 957) that would allow as many as 250,000 illegal aliens to receive an Illinois driver’s license. (ABC News, Jan. 8, 2013). In testimony before the House on January 7, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police urged the House to vote against SB 957 because it lacks “basic public safety and homeland security safeguards,” thus jeopardizing the safety of all Illinois citizens. (PR Newswire, Jan. 10, 2013). Despite these warnings, the bill easily passed the House with bipartisan support by a vote of 65-46. It had previously passed the Senate on December 4, 2012 by a vote of 41-14. (Huffington Post, Jan. 8, 2013).
SB 957 expands the Illinois temporary visitor driver’s license currently used by legal aliens to cover illegal aliens. In order to obtain a so-called “temporary” driver’s license under the bill, an alien need only have lived in Illinois for a year and may establish his or her identity using a consular ID or foreign passport. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 3, 2012).
Now that SB 957 has passed the General Assembly, the bill must be sent to the Governor within 30 days. From that date, Governor Quinn (D) will have 60 days to sign or veto the bill. In a statement issued following the passage of SB 957, the Governor declared his intention to sign the bill. (Governor Quinn Press Release, Jan. 8, 2013). Governor Quinn rationalized that the bill is good for Illinois because Illinois residents will save money on insurance premiums as illegal aliens will now have to maintain liability insurance as other licensed drivers. (Id.).
Opponents argue, however, granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in no way guarantees that they will purchase insurance. (See FAIR Press Release, Dec. 7, 2012). “There is no evidence to suggest that people who are already inclined to disobey laws they find inconvenient and who, in many cases have few assets to protect, are going to purchase insurance just because they have licenses,” said FAIR President Dan Stein. (Id.). To back up his claim, Stein points to New Mexico who grants driver’s licenses to illegal aliens and is home to the nation’s second highest percentage of uninsured drivers despite having a mandatory liability insurance law. (Id.; see also Insurance Research Council, Apr. 21, 2011).
If Governor Quinn signs the bill, Illinois will be one of four states that provide driving privileges to illegal aliens. New Mexico and Washington State currently provide driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, while Utah provides a driver’s privilege card. Bills have been introduced recently in both California (AB 60) and Connecticut (SB 68) that would extend driving privileges to illegal aliens, while a bill has been introduced in Washington State (SB 5012) that would limit driver’s licenses to only those who can prove their lawful presence in the United States.
During his annual State of American Business address last week, President Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the country’s largest business lobby — announced that getting comprehensive immigration reform passed is one of the organization’s top priorities in 2013. (POLITICO, Jan. 10, 2013) “[W]e need to provide a path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today….” Donohue told his audience. (See State of American Business remarks, Jan. 10, 2013)
The address was part of the unveiling of the Chamber’s 2013 agenda, in which “reforming immigration and visa policies” is a key item. In particular, the agenda outlines the group’s amnesty plan, which includes self-proclaimed “strict conditions” such as requiring illegal aliens to pass a criminal background check, pay fines and taxes, and demonstrate progress toward English proficiency in order to qualify for legal status. (See Chamber of Commerce Immigration Reform 2013 — Issues and Solutions, Jan. 10, 2013)
Remarkably, the Chamber’s agenda completely ignores the roughly 23 million Americans who are unemployed or looking for full-time work by advocating for increases in legal immigration. “The U.S. Chamber believes that fundamental changes to the structure of our immigration laws are needed to recognize the necessity of establishing provisional visas for lesser skilled workers, ensuring sufficient numbers of visas for the highly skilled, including STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] graduates, and reforming our visas for production of agriculture,” the agenda states. (Id.)
However, there is no proof that a shortage of U.S.-born workers, particularly in high-skilled and STEM fields, actually exists in the United States. (See FAIR Myth of Skilled Worker Shortage, Nov. 2011) In fact, the surplus of science and engineering degree holders in the U.S. has caused many graduates in those fields to seek work in other disciplines. (Id.) Less than one-third of science and engineering degree holders are working in a field closely related to their degree, while 65 percent are either employed in or training for a career in another field within two years of graduating. (Id.)
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday hinted that President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address will outline his amnesty plan. Telling reporters he didn’t want to get ahead of the President’s speech, Carney declared, “State of the Union addresses tend to include at least a sample of a president’s agenda. And immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, is a very high priority of the president’s.” (The Hill, Jan. 9, 2012)
President Obama made clear following the elections that pushing amnesty legislation through Congress was at the top of his list. “My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration,” the President said in November. (FOX News Latino, Jan. 3, 2013)
This year’s State of the Union address is scheduled to take place Feb. 12, 2013. (New York Times, Jan. 11, 2013)