FAIR Legislative Update June 1, 2010
Senate Rejects Efforts to Secure the Border
The Senate rejected three border security amendments that were offered last week to H.R. 4899, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill. (Roll Call Vote No. 165, May 27, 2010; Roll Call Vote No. 166, May 27, 2010; Roll Call Vote No. 167, May 27, 2010). (The Washington Post, May 27, 2010). These critical amendments would have used unspent stimulus funds to provide funding and personnel to address the increasing violence and illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats managed to defeat all three measures proposed by border state senators, as they each fell short of the 60 votes required to overcome objections made against the amendments.
The first amendment (S.Amdt.4214), sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and cosponsored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), would have funded the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to support and secure the southern border of the United States. Arguing on behalf of his amendment, McCain stated, “Deploying the National Guard is essential to securing our U.S.-Mexico border. Families living in Arizona should not suffer from the daily threats caused by illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. It is the Federal government’s obligation to protect all Americans by securing the borders, and deploying 6,000 National Guard is a critical first step.” (McCain Press Release, May 27, 2010).
Senators Kyl and McCain also proposed an amendment (S.Amdt.4288) that would have provided $200 million for Operation Streamline, a program to prosecute illegal border crossers rather than release them. The program has been fully implemented in Del Rio, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona, and since its inception in 2005, has dramatically reduced the number of individuals illegally crossing the border in those sectors. (Kyl Press Release, May 27, 2010).
Senator Cornyn’s amendment (S.Amdt.4202), cosponsored by Senators Kyl, Hutchison, and McCain, was a multi-agency border security measure that would have provided $3 billion for the federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who work on the frontlines of the U.S.-Mexico border. The amendment would have funded six important priorities involving border security, which include border security and technology, state and local law enforcement, southwest border taskforces, border enforcement personnel, detention and removal activities, and ports of entry. Speaking on the Senate floor in support of his amendment, Senator Cornyn said, “Our children are living in fear, but the Obama White House is living in denial…I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and help send a message to our border communities that the federal government accepts its responsibility to keep them safe.” (Cornyn Press Release, May 25, 2010).
Senator Kyl slammed the Senate’s rejection of efforts to secure the nation’s border: “On the heels of the President’s ‘announcement’ to send National Guard troops to the border, it’s unfortunate to once again see actions not matching up with words. What happened today in the Senate once again demonstrates the federal government’s failure, and apparent unwillingness, to do what is necessary to secure the border.” (Kyl Press Release, May 27, 2010)
President Obama announced last week that he would send 1,200 National Guard troops and request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement activities. (USA Today, May 26, 2010). By doing so, the President finally responded to lawmakers, who have for over a year called on him to deploy National Guard troops to the border. However, the President’s move also came the very same day that Senate Republicans introduced an amendment that would send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, the same number President Bush sent to the border in 2006 as part of Operation Jumpstart. (NPR, May 27, 2010)
Critics say the timing of the President’s move suggests he intended to avoid what could have been an embarrassing vote for Democrats already on the defensive about border security. Indeed, a senior administration official told The New York Times that the Obama administration hurriedly put together the plan in order to provide Senate Democrats with an alternative plan to support. (New York Times, May 26, 2010). Senators Kyl and McCain were clearly not impressed with the President’s National Guard directive, stating, this “is a weak start and does not demonstrate an understanding of the current situation in the region.” (McCain/Kyl Press Release, May 25, 2010). Senator Cornyn stated that “The President must make border security a priority, not an afterthought or an empty talking point.” (Cornyn Press Release, May 25, 2010).
While the Obama administration announced its plan to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, it was also working behind the scenes to torpedo the McCain Amendment to the Emergency Appropriations Bill (S.Amdt.4214), which called for 6,000 troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan and National Security Advisor General James Jones sent a three-page letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin that boasted of the President’s “comprehensive, multi-layered, targeted approach to law enforcement and security” that had already dispatched 300 National Guard troops to the border and was now committing up to 1,200. (White House Letter, May 25, 2010). In the letter, Brennan and Jones also sharply criticized the McCain Amendment, arguing that it “represents an unwarranted interference with the Commander-in-Chief’s responsibilities to direct the employment of our Armed Forces.” (Id.). Despite this objection, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved McCain’s proposal as an amendment to its fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization bill. (Congress Daily, May 28, 2010).
The Mexican Government quickly reacted to President Obama’s announcement. President Felipe Calderon said Mexico does not object to U.S. plans to station troops along the border between the two nations, as long as the soldiers do not arrest Mexicans trying to get into the United States. “They have a commitment to uphold the law on the American side and not to use the National Guard for immigration purposes or to deal with immigration issues,” said Calderon. (Reuters, May 27, 2010).
Obama’s proposal to provide up to 1,200 members of the National Guard across a 2,000 mile border only adds one guardsman for every 1.6 miles of border. On the Senate floor, Senator Cornyn pointed out that Obama’s proposal is an unacceptable short-term solution to a long-term problem, stating, “My colleagues keep repeating the White House talking points and congratulating themselves on all they’ve done for border security, but it’s not enough.” (Cornyn Press Release, May 27, 2010). McCain added, “I appreciate the additional 1,200 being sent … as well as an additional $500 million, but it’s simply not enough.” (Associated Press, May 26, 2010).
Police chiefs representing the Police Executive Research Fund (PERF) met with Attorney General Eric Holder last Wednesday to voice their disapproval of Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. The chiefs, representing cities such as Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Jose, told the Attorney General that Arizona’s immigration law will break down the trust between communities and police officers and will divert police from investigating more serious crimes. (Associated Press, May 26, 2010). In a press conference after the meeting, the police chiefs reiterated their criticism of Arizona’s new immigration law. “This is a bill that makes it much harder for us to do our jobs,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. Crime will go up if this becomes law in Arizona or in any other state.” (Washington Post, May 27, 2010).
PERF’s criticism of SB 1070 is not surprising given its background. PERF describes itself as an organization of “progressive police executives” from the largest cities and counties across the U.S. This organization is funded by the Carnegie Foundation, which has given millions of dollars to the National Council of La Raza and other organizations that actively support amnesty. Last summer, PERF hosted a summit of Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in Phoenix which concluded with a call for “comprehensive” immigration reform and loud criticism of the 287(g) program. (See FAIR’sLegislative Update, July, 23, 2009).
However, many local law enforcement officials disagree with PERF. In an interview last week with National Public Radio, Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said many sheriffs feel they are in trouble with crime associated with illegal immigration. He credited the 287(g) program in Frederick County for reducing crime and brushed off criticism that local enforcement of immigration laws creates distrust between communities and the police. “I don’t buy into that,” he said. (NPR, May 27, 2010). Finally, Sheriff Jenkins said he would favor a Maryland law that would allow police officers statewide to enforce immigration laws, whether it be through an expansion of 287(g) or the passage of an Arizona-style law. “[M]y citizens tell me, sheriff, this is what we want. I think people across this state want it, but simply, law enforcement executives aren’t listening.” (Id.).
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has alerted Texas law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for a suspected member of a Somali-based terrorist group. According to a DHS bulletin, which has not yet been released to the public, Mohamed Ali is currently believed to be in Mexico and is purportedly preparing to illegally cross the border into Texas. DHS officials believe that Ali has ties to Al Shabaab – a Somali terrorist organization which has aligned itself with Al Qaeda and has made statements about its intent to harm the United States. (Fox News, May 26, 2010; See also National Counterterrorism Center Webpage on Al Shabaab).
The DHS memo is only the most recent of a series of incidents indicating that aliens from Somalia – a country where al Qaeda militants have been active – are stepping up their efforts to come to the United States illegally. In February, officials arrested a man who has admitted to having ties to Al Shabaab for his alleged role in an international ring that illegally brought more than 200 Somalis to the United States. The man allegedly used a Kenya-based travel business as a cover to help the Somalis fraudulently obtain visas from the Cuban embassy. Most of the Somalis remain at large. (Fox News, May 26, 2010; Reuters, February 23, 2010).
In addition, earlier this month, a federal grand jury in Texas indicted a Somali man, Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane, for his alleged role in a human smuggling ring. Authorities claim that Dhakane helped bring East Africans, including Somalis with ties to terrorist groups, across the Mexican border and into Texas. Federal officials say that Dhakane was a member of the wire-transfer network Al-Barakat, in addition to an Islamic militant group in Somalia, Al-Ittihad Al-Islami, both of which are listed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Terrorist entities. (Fox News, May 26, 2010; Express-News, March 6, 2010).
Interviewed on Fox News, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, commented on the DHS bulletin: “This is just one case that demonstrates many other cases out there. And the fact is we don’t know how many other cases are out there. We do know the fact that many of these people are getting into the United States, we don’t know where they are, and, in my view, they present a grave threat and a danger to our national security.” When asked about President Obama’s recent decision to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, McCaul commented: “I think it’s a good first step, but I think we need to do a lot more if we’re going to get serious about securing this border.” McCaul added: “I’m afraid [President Obama is] using this as a political tool to drive his amnesty agenda, which we know he’ll be pushing after this.” (YouTube, May 27, 2010).
Last week, a delegation of Mexican Senators announced that they are planning to travel to Arizona to “listen to opinions” about SB 1070, the state’s tough new immigration law. (Associated Press, May 25, 2010). The Mexican Senate has already expressed its opinion on SB 1070, as it unanimously passed a resolution urging Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto the legislation prior to her signing it into law. (CBS News, April 23, 2010). Some Mexican lawmakers have also urged Mexican President Calderon to cut economic ties with Arizona. (KVOA, May 18, 2010)
Mexican Senator Luis Alberto Villarreal claimed that the delegation is “not going to demonstrate” during its trip to Arizona, and added that the senators have respect for laws of other nations. Another Senator, Claudia Corichi, said that the delegation will meet with Mexican consuls to determine what actions to take if the law goes into effect July 29. (Associated Press, May 25, 2010). A number of pro-amnesty groups have filed lawsuits seeking to prevent SB 1070 from taking effect as scheduled. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, May 10, 2010).
The recently passed Arizona immigration law has set off an immigration debate across the country. In one unlikely state, the debate has literally hit home. Massachusetts lawmaker Mike Moran was recently rear-ended by a suspected illegal alien. The suspect hit Representative Moran’s car going 60 mph, while under the influence of alcohol and reportedly wearing a traditional Mexican costume. According to the Massachusetts State Police, the suspect failed a field sobriety test and when questioned about the incident, he responded, “I plan to go back to my country, Mexico; nothing is going to happen to me, man.” (NBC WHDH, May 26, 2010).
Though it sounds outrageous, this man is likely correct, according to current Massachusetts law. After current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took office, he signed a law that prohibited State Police from handling immigration enforcement. State Rep. Moran is refusing to change his anti-enforcement stance despite the accident. “My voting record has been and will continue to be pro-immigrants. And often times quite frankly, pro-illegal immigrants” (Id.). However, politicians and citizens in Massachusetts are outraged by the incident and are calling for reforms to state immigration laws.
Republican gubernatorial candidates are calling for stricter laws against illegal immigration, and the issue has become a hot topic in the upcoming primary. Candidates Charles D. Baker and Timothy Cahill both want police to have the authority to detain illegal immigrants and charge them with violations of immigration laws. Baker wants to reinstitute an agreement signed in 2006 by then Governor Mitt Romney with the Federal Government that trained 30 State Police Troopers to detain illegal aliens. Cahill wants to push immigration authority in Massachusetts a step further and allow local police officers to check the immigration status of suspects. (The Boston Globe, May 27, 2010).
Governor Patrick opposes these policy reforms directed at combating illegal immigration in Massachusetts. In the first week of his term Patrick reversed the Romney agreement, citing the “policy as a misuse of scant police resources.” (The Boston Globe, May 27, 2010). Responding to the suggestions from the Republican gubernatorial candidates, Undersecretary of Public Safety Kurt N. Schwartz told reporters “it would be a mistake to reinstate Romney’s policy now and direct state troopers to enforce federal immigration law.” (Id.). Kurt added, “This is not in the interests of public safety.” (Id.).
The people of Massachusetts are apparently siding with Cahill and Baker on this issue. According to a 7News/Suffolk University Poll, 53% of voters in Massachusetts already support the recent Arizona immigration law. Also, 63% of Massachusetts likely voters think everyone in America should be required to produce documents proving legality. (WHDH, May 26, 2010). In addition, the Massachusetts State Senate recently passed a series of measures to tighten immigration enforcement, including one that would require state contractors to confirm that their workers are here legally, and another that would statutorily codify an existing state policy that bars illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. (New York Times, May 27, 2010).