FAIR Legislative Update May 9, 2011
Obama to Give Immigration Speech Tuesday
News sources report that President Obama will give a speech on immigration Tuesday during his trip to El Paso, Texas. (Sun-Times, May 8, 2011) The speech will focus on how the President believes we can fix our broken immigration system so that it meets “America’s 21st century economic and security needs.” (Id.)
The speech will come on the heels of several White House meetings devoted to immigration. Three weeks ago, the President invited business interests and pro-amnesty supporters to discuss how to move forward on amnesty legislation. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 25, 2011) Two weeks ago, the President did the same with celebrities from the Hispanic community. (See FAIR Legislative Update, May 2, 2011) And last week, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and certain pro-amnesty groups, such as America’s Voice. (Associated Press, May 3, 2011) In that meeting, members of the CHC prevailed upon the President to engage in selective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws by granting deferred action and using other administrative remedies that would enable illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. (Id.)
While President Obama was careful not to tell the CHC that he would pick and choose when and where to enforce U.S. laws, the White House issued a statement which read: “[The Obama] Administration will continue to work toward improving our enforcement practices so that we are not using our limited resources on those potentially eligible [to stay], but rather tightening our efforts so that the Department of Homeland Security more effectively and sensibly focuses on criminals….” (White House Readout, May 3, 2011) When asked whether Homeland Security would consider taking different approaches on deportation or other issues, two senior White House officials said the department was considering a range of actions. (Associated Press, May 3, 2011) Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-amnesty group America’s Voice, described last week’s meeting as “better than expected,” and said that the Obama and administration officials committed “at a minimum” to forming new policies regarding interpretation of current law. (Roll Call, May 3, 2011)
As many states respond to the demand of American citizens to crack down on illegal immigration, Illinois is trying to avoid from immigration enforcement of any kind. Last week, not only did the Illinois Senate pass a state version of the DREAM Act, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced the state would withdraw from the Secure Communities program. (Chicago Tribune, May 5, 2011)
Since November 2009, the Illinois state police have been a participating in the Secure Communities. (Memorandum of Agreement) Through Secure Communities, individuals who are arrested and booked by Illinois State Police have their fingerprints checked against FBI criminal records as well as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration records. (ICE: Secure Communities) If the fingerprints result in a hit, both the local law enforcement agency and the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office are notified and then ICE determines whether to place a detainer on the alien to begin the deportation process.
But in last Wednesday’s letter from Governor Quinn to ICE, Quinn stated that the Illinois State Police will no longer participate in the Secure Communities program because he objects to low-level criminal aliens being deported through the program. (Office of the Governor Letter, May 4, 2011) Quinn wrote: “less than 20 percent of those who have been deported from Illinois under the program have ever been convicted of a serious crime.” (Id.) The Governor’s statement suggests that he prefers to release illegal aliens who have committed serious, violent crimes back into Illinois communities in order to protect illegal aliens who have committed lesser crimes from being deported.
DHS, however, has since stated that despite the Governor’s protests, Illinois State Police will still be required to share fingerprints with ICE. (Huffington Post, May 6, 2011) ICE Press Secretary Barbara Gonzalez reported that John Morton, Director for ICE, was traveling to Illinois to meet with Illinois officials to discuss how to improve the program. (Id.)
As if Governor Quinn’s attempt to thwart the deportation of criminal aliens was not enough, the Illinois Senate last week passed through its own version of the DREAM Act. (Chicago Tribune, May 5, 2011; SB 2185) SB 2185, which passed the Illinois Senate by a vote of 45-11, requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to establish an Illinois DREAM Fund Commission to provide scholarships for children of immigrants. (SB 2185) The Fund will be created completely from private contributions. (Id.) The bill is now headed to the House. (Chicago Tribune, May 5, 2011)
In a settlement reached last week, Weld County, Colorado must now pay $295,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for attorneys’ fees. (Greeley Tribune, May 4, 2011) The ACLU sued Weld County in 2009 claiming that the law enforcement had illegally seized tax records during the county’s attempt to combat the growing problem of identity theft by illegal aliens. (The Denver Post, May 3, 2011) The payment to the ACLU comes at a time when most states in the nation, including Colorado, are being forced to cut budgets in all areas. (Greeley Tribune, May 4, 2011)
In 2008, as part of “Operations Numbers Game,” police in Weld County raided the office of a local business known as Amalia’s Tax and Translation owned by Amalia Cerrillo of Greeley, Colorado. (The Denver Post, May 3, 2011) The business catered specifically to Spanish-speaking clients. (Id.) The investigation, conducted by Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, was the result of specific information leading back to Ms. Cerrillo’s business. “Back then, we thought we were doing the right thing, and we still believe were doing the right thing because of the issue with identity theft. There are a lot of victims out there.” (Greeley Tribune, May 2, 2011)(To read more about the history of the case, see FAIR’s Legislative Update, April 20, 2009)
During the raid on Cerillo’s tax preparation business, the police examined approximately 5000 records of her clients’ tax filings. Of those, police discovered that 1,338 of those to be suspects of criminal impersonation or identity theft. (Greeley Tribune, May 4, 2011) The police conducted the raid operating under a search warrant signed off by Weld district Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow. (Greeley Tribune, May 2, 2011) “The sheriff and district attorney have a responsibility to hold people accountable and abide by the laws. They went into it with all the best intentions, believing they were following the law,” said Barbara Kirkmeyer, chairwoman of the Board of Weld County Commissioners. (Greeley Tribune, May 4, 2011) Approximately 142 cases charging suspects with the crimes of criminal impersonation and identity theft moved forward through the courts before a public defender in once case persuaded a judge to suppress the tax evidence seized. (Greeley Tribune, May 2, 2011)
The ACLU’s case was based on the argument that Operation Numbers Game violated those 5,000 tax clients’ Fourth Amendment rights. (Id.) The Fourth Amendment guarantees all persons protection from unreasonable search and seizure. (United States Constitution Bill of Rights) Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in favor of the ACLU. (Greeley Tribune, May 2, 2011) Weld County District Attorney Buck noted that “three Supreme Court justices agreed it was a valid search. We didn’t think this was a test of law.” (Id.)
Despite the settlement, Sheriff Cooke still feels the support of his community. “Law enforcement get criticized a lot for being reactive, and we were being proactive trying to stop the ID theft and impersonation cases, and we got shot down,” he said. “Back when all this started happening, even after we got shot down by a local judge, the support from the community has been very good. A lot of community members would tell me, ‘You guys did the right thing.’ I think the community understands and overwhelmingly still supports us.” (Id.)
Last week, a House subcommittee hearing revealed the smuggling along the southern border is so severe, federal prosecutors decline to prosecute many cases. This news was the focus of a hearing, held by the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, which examined the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) cooperation with state and local law enforcement officials on immigration.
At the hearing, witnesses testified that due to massive illegal activity, federal prosecutors in districts along the Southwest border decline to charge drug smugglers and illegal border crossers unless the amount of narcotics and/or aliens smuggled into the country reaches a certain threshold. Cochise County, Arizona Sheriff Larry Dever testified: “There are policies in place that establish thresholds for quantities of drugs and numbers of illegal aliens before consideration for prosecution can be entertained.” In at least one federal district in Texas, Sheriff Dever continued, prosecutors will not file charges against those caught smuggling less than 750 kilograms of marijuana. And, in cases of smuggling illegal aliens, those caught smuggling fewer than six will not be prosecuted, and those crossing individually have seven chances before being charged with a misdemeanor, he said.
Subcommittee Ranking Member, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) then questioned Ronald Vitiello, Deputy Chief, U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the thresholds. “Give me your understanding of what the threshold is [in border states]” and what is the policy for those caught with drugs at checkpoints, he asked. Failing to provide Rep. Cuellar with a direct answer, Deputy Chief Vitiello replied that policies are “locally-based” in the various U.S. Attorneys Offices. However, a 2010 Associated Press article corroborates Sheriff Dever’s statements regarding the smuggling threshold. (The San Diego Union-Tribune, Apr. 27, 2010) That article states that until recently, Arizona prosecutors refused to initiate charges against drug runners illegally crossing the border with less than 500 pounds of marijuana. (Id.)
Sheriff Dever claimed the prosecutorial threshold was part of what he dubbed the federal government’s “Turn Back South” policy. The “Turn Back South” policy, according to his testimony, includes federal inaction at both the “prosecutorial and judicial level,” as well as the turning back of “people who are detected [illegally crossing the border] but not caught.” His testimony regarding the policy comes at a time when DHS Secretary Napolitano continues to claim that the border is more secure than ever because border apprehensions are at a low-point. (CNSNews, Apr. 5, 2011)
On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Florida Senate passed a watered-down immigration enforcement bill and watched it die as the House failed to take it up in the hours before the State’s legislative session ended Friday. (Associated Press, May 6, 2011) As SB 2040 (formerly SPB 7066) made its way through the various Senate committees, lawmakers slowly stripped it of its mandatory E-Verify provision. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 21, 2011; see also SB 2040 Bill History, May 6, 2011) Instead, the final version of the bill virtually eliminated any mention of the employment eligibility verification provision. (See SPB 7066 as introduced § 3, Mar. 9, 2011; SB 2040 as passed, May 4, 2011) As passed, SB 2040 merely requires staff of state-run “one-stop career centers” to verify employment eligibility of those it refers to employers. (SB 2040 § 1) Although Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) attempted to put mandatory E-Verify back in the bill through an amendment, the Senate voted against it last Tuesday.
Florida Senate Budget Committee Chairman, J.D. Alexander (R), was one of the chief opponents to restoring the E-Verify requirement. (NY Times, May 4, 2011; Sunshine News, May 4, 2011) Chairman Alexander, who also serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Alico, a Florida agricultural company (cited as one of the region’s largest employers of illegal aliens in a 2005 study), prayed with protesters and spoke out against the bill. (Sunshine News, May 4, 2011) “Floridians don’t want to do it: they don’t want to go out and pick blueberries,” Alexander said on the Senate floor Tuesday. (NY Times, May 4, 2011) “You can’t get anybody to come do this stuff. The same thing if it’s construction or hotels. Americans don’t want to do it.” (Id.)
The open-borders lobby also fought to derail the bill, taking much of the credit for its demise following a Spanish-language radio campaign accusing the bill’s author, Sen. Anitere Flores (R), of betraying the Hispanic community. (Miami Herald, May 6, 2011) Jorge Mursuli, President of the pro-amnesty group Democracia USA who helped run the ads along with America’s Voice stated, “Prior to our ads, the thinking was this is a done deal … The bill was barreling through the Legislature.” (Id.) However, Florida Governor Rick Scott, who issued an executive order requiring state agencies to use E-Verify, vowed to continue fighting for an immigration enforcement bill in the next legislative session: “We’ve got to get ready for the next session and let everybody we elect know that it’s important to us.” (Miami Herald, May 6, 2011)