FAIR Legislative Update March 7, 2011
During a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon Thursday, President Obama announced that the U.S. government filed a formal extradition request to Mexican authorities for the killer of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata. (LA Times, Mar. 3, 2011) “We expect the full weight of the law to be brought against this perpetrator,” Obama said. He declined to comment further.
Agent Zapata was shot to death and fellow agent, Victor Avila, suffered two gunshot wounds to his leg when their Chevy Suburban was attacked as they were returning to Mexico City from a meeting with other U.S. personnel in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 24, 2011; See also FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 22, 2011) Mexican authorities claimed to have arrested ICE agent Zapata’s murderer at the end of last month. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 24, 2011) Suspect Julian Zapata Espinoza, a cell leader in the Zeta drug cartel, claimed he mistook agent Zapata’s vehicle for one used by a rival gang. (Id.) Nonetheless, some U.S. officials maintain the attack was an intentional ambush of the agents and said the gunmen made comments before they fired indicating they knew who their targets were. (Id.)
Julian Zapata Espinoza was one of six arrested by the Mexican Army in connection with Agent Zapata’s murder. (Id.) The army quoted the suspect as saying only two of the other men arrested had participated in the attack on the ICE agents, but did not specify which of the five. (Id.) One of the men reportedly had a swollen, bruised face, and soldiers found five rifles at the four houses raided, according to Mexican authorities. (Id.)
It is unclear at this point whether President Calderon will cooperate with President Obama’s request. Calderon stated that he would “have to reserve [his] opinion” on the matter and see what the law permits. “There is the political will … that this individual be brought to justice with the full weight of the law, whether that be in the United States or in Mexico,” Calderon remarked.
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano argued for her desired Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 2012 budget allocations. The DHS budget includes all government funds allotted for immigration departments and enforcement activities, including United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Napolitano’s remarks represented a reiteration of earlier remarks, as the Secretary promoted the same budget and programs earlier last week before the Senate Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Testifying before the Committee, Secretary Napolitano listed securing our borders as one of six critical missions of the Department, second only to preventing terrorism. The Secretary set forth what she described as three interrelated goals with respect to protecting the border: securing U.S. air, land and sea borders; safeguarding lawful trade and travel; and dismantling transnational criminal and terrorist organizations. She described the latter is an especially poignant and pressing goal in light of the recent slaying of ICE agent Jaime Zapata by a suspected Mexican gang member. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 22, 2011) Secretary Napolitano also stressed the importance of removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety and targeting employers who knowingly and repeatedly break the law. The Secretary did not stress a focus on individuals who are breaking the law by entering the U.S. illegally in the first place.
Chairman Aderholt spoke of Zapata’s murder, and expressed his concerns of the “cartel-fueled violence [which] continues to cast a lengthy shadow over the southwest border.” The Chairman reminded Secretary Napolitano of her recent testimony before Congress that our nation is currently facing its most heightened state of threats since the 9/11 attacks. Given that the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is approaching this year, Congressman Aderholt reiterated how important it is for Congress to fully fund all frontline operation personnel, including border patrol and ICE agents.
Noticeably absent from the DHS 2012 budget request is the REAL ID program. Chairman Aderholt pointedly reminded the Committee that Homeland Security’s obligation for immigration enforcement includes REAL ID. The REAL ID Act, based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, sets minimum standards for the states when issuing driver’s licenses. The law, which needs federal funding to be implemented on the state level, also prohibits states from issuing identification cards to illegal aliens. Although the deadline for states to comply with REAL ID was May 11, 2011, DHS announced last Friday that it will once again be postponing the deadline until January 15, 2013. (DHS REAL ID Final Rule, Feb. 1, 2011; DHS REAL ID Final Rule, March 7, 2011) Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) argued that by postponing the implementation once again, six years after REAL ID was authorized by Congress, DHS is “disregard[ing] the law of the land. Delaying REAL ID unnecessarily places Americans’ lives at risk and threatens national security.”
Despite budgetary constraints, Secretary Napolitano’s testimony documented plans to continue improving the detention care of illegal aliens. She noted continued improvements to “detainee access to quality health care, reducing the average length of stay, and facilitating access to family members and legal representation” as a goal for detention reform efforts. The Secretary did not note how much such reform projects would cost.
Last week the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing focusing on how illegal immigration impacts minorities. “[S]even million people are working in the U.S. illegally, remarked House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “These jobs should go to legal workers, many of whom would be minorities.”
Several of the witnesses at the hearing agreed with Chairman Smith, testifying that illegal alien workers displace minorities. Carol Swain, a Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University, testified that “native-born blacks and Hispanics with a high school education or less … suffer the most in the current economic situation. These are the groups that compete directly with illegal aliens for a dwindling supply of employment opportunities.” (Testimony of Carol Swain, Mar. 1, 2011) Professor Swain pointed out that the February 2011 unemployment rate is highest among blacks at 15.7 percent, followed by 11.7 percent for native-born Hispanics, and eight percent for whites. (Id.)
Dr. Frank Morris, a board member of both Progressives for Immigration Reform and FAIR, testified that American labor law practices created a “de facto privileged status in favor of immigrant workers—especially illegal immigrant workers.” He noted that while employment in U.S. households declined 6.26 million over the last two years, 1.1 million new immigrants (many of whom are illegal) found jobs. (Testimony of Frank Morris, Mar. 1, 2011)
Some Representatives at the hearing dismissed Professor Swain and Dr. Morris’s testimony, calling the hearing nothing more than an attempt to pit minorities against one another. Ranking Judiciary Member John Conyers (D-MI), for example, argued that the witnesses were falsely portraying immigration “as the reason for widespread unemployment’” among minorities and accused those testifying of “pitting black against brown.” (San Antonio Express-News, Mar. 2, 2011; Ventura County Star, Mar. 1, 2011) Similarly, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) dismissed out of hand the evidence presented by the witnesses, and declared the hearing to be nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the real problems behind high black unemployment rates. (Ventura County Star, Mar. 1, 2011) Fortunately, Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly (R-CA) defended the witnesses, calling the attempts to undermine the witnesses as “shameful” and added, “I hope we’ll bring a little more civility to hearings in the future.” (Id.)
In the midst of strained relationships with Mexico, President Obama’s administration announced that he and Mexican President Felipe Calderon have reached a preliminary agreement to allow Mexican truckers access to U.S. highways. (Washington Post, March 3, 2011) Mexican trucks were originally authorized access under the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, but President Clinton refused to implement the trucking provisions due to national security, environmental and highway safety concerns. (Secretariat File No. USA-MEX-98-2008-01 Although the NAFTA tribunal required President George W. Bush to implement a pilot trucking program, it lasted only briefly before Congressional adversaries, citing national security and concern for U.S. highway safety, defunded the program early in President Obama’s Administration. (The Huffington Post, Mar. 11, 2009)
In another attempt to launch the cross-border trucking program, President Obama hopes to present Congress with a plan of implementation sometime this spring. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 10, 2011; Washington Post, March 3, 2011) An administration official noted that negotiations are ongoing between the U.S. and Mexico to create a plan in which Mexico gradually phases out tariffs on U.S. products beginning with the signing of the agreement and removing the rest of the tariffs when the cross-border trucking officially begins. (The New York Times, March 3, 2011) Although the Obama administration has been pro-union in other matters, the Teamsters union has spoken out against cross-border trucking for stripping Americans of jobs and costing American taxpayers. (Labor Union Report, Jan. 6, 2011)
Early last week, a bill aimed to deter illegal immigration passed through the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee. (Associated Press, Feb. 28, 2011) The bill, HB 1446, is now moving to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The bill’s author, Rep. George Faught, describes the legislation as incorporating language from Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration bill into Oklahoma’s existing immigration laws. (Id.) If passed, the bill would authorize state and local law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of individuals detained during a traffic stop. (Id.) It would also prevent drivers from stopping their vehicles on public roadways to hire day-laborers. (Id.)