FAIR Legislative Update May 13, 2013
Senate Judiciary to Take Up Gang of Eight Guest Worker Provisions
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to continue “marking up” (amending) the Gang of Eight amnesty bill tomorrow at 10 a.m. Though initially stating at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing the Committee would continue onto the bill’s amnesty provisions (Title II), Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) decided Friday the Committee would instead begin amending the bill’s guest worker and other nonimmigrant visa program provisions (Title IV). (Sen. Leahy Press Release, May 10, 2013; The Hill, May 10, 2013) Title IV contains provisions regarding H-1B and L “high-skilled” guest workers, low-skilled guest workers (non-agriculture), new investment visas, student visas, and the JOLT Act.
Lax Border Security Provisions Remain in Gang of Eight Bill
Despite committing to be open to improving their bill, Members of the Senate Gang of Eight on the Judiciary Committee rejected a multitude of amendments intended to strengthen the bill’s border security provisions.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup hearing Thursday to address the “border security” provisions (Title I) of the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, the two Republican Gang of Eight Members — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — consistently voted with the Committee’s 10 Democrats to block changes to the bill’s core “border security” provisions. As a result, the Committee failed to pass any meaningful reforms to the Gang’s nearly 900-page bill.
The only positive amendment adopted by the Committee was an amendment by Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to require the 90% apprehension rate goal outlined in the legislation to apply to all border sectors instead of just “high risk” sectors. (See Grassley Amdt. #1) As introduced, the Gang of Eight bill requires DHS to achieve a 90% apprehension rate at the U.S.-Mexico border, but only in “high risk” border sectors. The bill defines “high risk” as sectors in which border patrol agents catch 30,000 or more unlawful entrants per year. Sen. Grassley’s amendment struck all mention of “high-risk” sectors from the bill.
True immigration reformers offered numerous other amendments, but those failed. For example, Sen. Grassley offered an amendment that required that the border be under “effective control” for at least six months before DHS could process amnesty applications. Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered an amendment that: (1) required the border be secured before an amnesty could take place, (2) tripled the number of border patrol agents, (3) quadrupled the number of drones and cameras, (4) completed the border fence, and (5) implemented the biometric entry-exit system (US-VISIT). Sen. Lee introduced an amendment requiring Congress to certify the border as secured before any illegal aliens could be amnestied.
To view a listing of all of Thursday’s amendments, click here. The Senate Judiciary Committee continues amending the bill Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Examines Gang of Eight Bill
Last Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the border security provisions (Title I) of the Gang of Eight’s “comprehensive” immigration reform bill (S.744)
There was bipartisan agreement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to improve its border security efforts. “We do not have a secure border today,” said Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-OK). (CQ Transcript May 7, 2013) Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) credited DHS with improving the border, but stated that the Department must “do a much better job of measuring its performance at [the] borders.” (Id.) Voters want “an absolute commitment to making sure [securing the border] happens,” added Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). (Id.)
Although the Gang of Eight bill grants illegal aliens amnesty (“registered provisional immigrant” status) immediately after the Secretary of DHS submits plans to secure the border, the bill requires certain goals be met before the Secretary can begin giving those aliens green cards. These include a requirement that 90% of all border crossers be apprehended in “high risk” sectors. In the hearing, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher testified that the current apprehension rate in “high risk” sectors ranges from 80 to 85 percent — short of the 90 percent required by the bill (note, the bill was amended in last Thursday’s markup to require all sectors achieve the 90 percent apprehension rate goal). (Id.)
Through Chief Fisher’s testimony, the hearing brought to light a key problem of border security that the Administration has yet to solve: how to determine the total number of illegal border crossings. Under questioning from Coburn, Chief Fisher conceded that the apprehension rate he cited does not take into account the number of illegal crossings that agents do not detect — a key component to calculating an apprehension rate in the Gang of Eight bill. (Id.) The apprehension rate “is going to have to be determined in finite terms,” Coburn instructed. (Id.) “If in fact the American people can’t trust that the border is controlled, you are not going to be able to pass this bill.” (Id.)
Ranking Member Coburn also wondered why 90 percent control is an acceptable standard. “The political reality is the American people want to know,” because when they hear the border is 90 percent secure “that means 10 percent of it isn’t,” Coburn said. (Id.) Assistant DHS Secretary David Heyman, who also testified before the panel Tuesday, replied that it is important not to focus on “just one number.” (Id.) The 90 percent mark is a “strategic goal” and an “A grade,” added Chief Fisher. (Id.)
Because Title I delegates substantial authority to the DHS Secretary, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) argued that this committee should have the opportunity to mark up the legislation after the Judiciary Committee finishes its amendment process. Senator Coburn agreed. “I think we made a mistake,” said Coburn. (Id.) “We should have asked for a sequential referral because so much of it is going to impact the agency that’s under this committee.” (Id.) Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) added, “We’re going to explore that with the Democratic and Republican leadership. We need to find out for sure what the situation is there.” (Id.)
Thus far, the Senate Gang of Eight bill is only scheduled to be amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Stay tuned to FAIR for details…
Colorado Taxpayers Get the Shaft as its Legislature Grants Financial Aid and In-State Tuition Rates to Illegal Aliens
Over the past decade, the Colorado legislature rejected six times the ASSET bill, legislation that allows illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at Colorado colleges. However, this year, the Colorado ASSET bill (SB 33), entitled the “Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow” Act, passed the Senate in February and the House in March. On April 29, Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB 33 into law.
The Governor’s signing of SB 33 took place at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. The same university that approved the unsubsidized tuition cut for illegal aliens just last year by a vote of 7-1 of the college’s board of trustees. (FAIR Leg. Update, June 19, 2012).
In order to qualify for the in-state tuition, SB 33 requires an illegal alien to: (1) attend a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduating or obtaining a general education diploma (GED); (2) be admitted to a Colorado post secondary institution; and (3) submit an affidavit stating that he/she has applied for lawful presence in the United States or will apply as soon as he/she is able to do so.
An estimated 1,500 illegal aliens graduate high school each year in Colorado. (Denver Post, Mar. 6, 2013).
Previously, Colorado law required illegal aliens in Colorado, like out-of-state citizens and legal aliens, to pay out-of-state rates at state colleges and universities. Out-of-state rate are three times higher than the in-state tuition rate now available to illegal aliens. So with the passage of SB 33, an illegal alien attending the University of Colorado Boulder is now eligible for the reduced tuition rate of $5,880 per semester for an undergraduate engineering degree while a United States citizen or legal alien from outside Colorado will be required to pay $16,551 per semester for the same degree. (See Undergraduate In-State and Out-of-State Rates, Fall 2013-2014 semester).
Upon signing SB 33, Governor Hickenlooper said, “Part of it is just the symbolic aspect in how kids believe that their education matters and that they’re gonna get the same chances as other kids they grew up with, all along.” (University Herald, May 9, 2013).
For the first time in ten years since it has been introduced in Colorado, the ASSET bill received Republican support in the Senate from Sen. Hill (R-Colorado Springs), Sen. Crowder, (R-Alamosa) and Sen. Brophy (R-Wray). Sen. Crowder reportedly believes the bill would cost taxpayers, but said that it was worth it. (Huffington Post, Apr. 29, 2013). According to the initial fiscal analysis of SB 33, the state will spend $930,000 the first year of its enactment and $1.4 million the following year, in part because it includes immigrant students in the College Opportunity Fund. Illegal aliens already cost Colorado taxpayers about $1.4 billion per year, which includes K-12 education at the tune of $805 million.
Advocates of SB 33 allege that the ASSET bill will benefit Colorado because the illegal aliens will be eventually contributing to the state’s economy. However, lawmakers opposed to the measure argued that the law gives illegal aliens false hope since employers are prohibited by federal law from hiring or employing the unauthorized aliens after they have graduated.