FAIR Legislative Update November 1, 2010
On the Univision program “Al Punto,” which aired Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor during the lame duck session of Congress, regardless of the outcome of the elections. (The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2010) According to The Hill, the show’s host, Jorge Ramos, repeatedly asked Reid whether the vote would happen, win or lose. “The answer is yes,” Reid said. “I have the right to do that, you know, I have the right to bring that up any time I want, that’s why I brought it up the first time,” he said. “I am a believer in our needing to do something. … We all support the DREAM Act. I just need a handful of Republicans to help me.” (The Hill, Nov. 1, 2010)
Senator Reid is locked in a neck-and-neck race to keep his Senate seat against Republican candidate Sharron Angle. Recently, one of Ms. Angle’s television ads – referring to Reid’s long-time support for amnesty – characterized Reid as “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.” (The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2010) That label, said Reid, was “totally without fact our (sic) foundation.” (Id.)
According to federal court documents, Diana Tejada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Press Secretary of Hispanic Media, admitted to receiving payment in exchange for fraudulently marrying a Lebanese man in 2003 so he could obtain a green card (legal permanent residence). (Fox News, Oct. 25, 2010) Ms. Tejada’s husband, Bassam Mahmoud Tarhini , was charged with two felony counts in 2009 and held in jail and at an immigration detention center. He pled guilty to the felony charge of entering a fraudulent marriage to evade immigration laws in November 2009, and was deported in March 2010. (Id.)
Fox News, which originally broke the story, reports that Mr. Tarhini entered the U.S. in 2000 on a student visa to attend Oklahoma City University, where Ms. Tejada was also a student. They married in September 2003, and two months later, Tejada submitted an affidavit sponsoring her husband’s green card application. Ms. Tejada signed numerous affidavits fraudulently representing her marriage along with a signed obligation to support Tarhini. In 2005, Tejada moved to Washington, DC to work for the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic-based organization country. In October 2008, she began working for Senator Reid. A month later, in November 2008 she admitted that her marriage was fraudulent, arranged for the purpose of getting a green card for her husband. (Id.)
Federal officials, however, never charged Ms. Tejada. “We did not charge the woman, and of course we don’t discuss the reasons we don’t charge people,” said a U.S. Attorney spokesperson. Jeffrey Byers, Mr. Tarhini’s attorney, could not provide reporters with much more insight: “I don’t honestly know the reason why they chose to prosecute Bassam and not her.” (Id.)
Although Ms. Tejada appeared as a spokesman for Senator Reid only a few weeks ago, his office now says that she is no longer employed there. A spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader said the office had not been aware of these charges against Tejada prior to the Fox Newsreport. “Our office was not previously aware of these allegations and, following an internal investigation, the staffer at issue is no longer with our office.” (Id.)
Last week, the Pew Hispanic Center released new data showing that since the official end of the “Great Recession,” immigrant workers gained jobs while native workers lost jobs. (Pew Hispanic, Oct. 29, 2010) Specifically, the Pew Hispanic Center found that from June 2009 to June 2010, the unemployment rate for foreign born workers dropped 0.6 percent, while rising 0.5 percent for native born workers. Interestingly, the unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics decreased from 11.0 percent in the second quarter of 2009 to 10.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010. At the same time, the unemployment rate for native-born Hispanics increased from 12.9 percent to 14.0 percent.
Although unemployment for foreign born workers has dropped over the past year, Pew’s data shows that, as a group, they still have experienced a significant loss of jobs and a 4.5 percent drop in wages. The authors suggest that one reason for these changes is that immigrant workers traditionally have had greater mobility and – especially in the case of illegal aliens – are willing to accept lower wages and reduced work hours. Most notably, the Pew report suggests that immigration (not distinguishing between legal and illegal) is sensitive to business cycles and that it appears that the economic recovery, modest as it may be, is attracting immigrant workers back to the U.S. (Id.)
Two-thirds of Border Patrol supervisory agents (called “agents-in-charge”) report that the Border Patrol’s access to much of the land along the southwest border is limited due to federal land management laws and regulations, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week. (GAO -11-38, Oct. 2010) The GAO reports that this web of laws and regulations has resulted in delays and restrictions in the agents’ ability to patrol and monitor these lands.
According to the report, roughly 40% of land along the southwest border is owned by the federal government and is thus subject to a myriad of environmental and management laws. (Id. at 4) These laws, which include the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act, are all administered by the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture. (Id. at 16-19) Pursuant to these laws and regulations, the Border Patrol must obtain permission or a permit from agencies within these Departments before agents can maintain roads and install surveillance equipment on such land. (Id. at 13)
As a result, the GAO reports that agents-in-charge for many Border Patrol stations have been unable to obtain a permit or permission to access certain areas in a timely manner because of how long it takes for land managers to conduct required environmental and historic property assessments. Land management agencies are concerned that the Border Patrols’ heavy equipment and all-terrain vehicles cause damage to the pristine territory and endangered wildlife. (Id. at 11) Meanwhile, the Border Patrol is concerned for the danger presented by illegal alien and especially drug cartel traffic. In fact, the GAOreports that certain portions of these federal lands are so dangerous that the government has posted warning signs and even closed portions to the public. (Id. at 48-49)
While the missions of the Border Patrol and land management agencies can conflict, the GAO also states that the Border Patrol can help protect natural resources on federal land by deterring illegal alien traffic. Federal land managers have documented thousands of miles of illegal alien trails and thousands of pounds of trash, “littering landscapes that have more wildlife and plant species listed under the Endangered Species Act than any other geographic region in the continental United States.” According to a 2009 report by the Department of the Interior, “endangered species and their habitats are potentially being irreversibly damaged” from illegal border crossings. (Id. at 11)
Although some Border Patrol agents-in-charge say the security of their jurisdiction is not affected by the land management laws, the GAO concludes that certain land management laws present challenges to the Border Patrol’s operations. “With limited access for patrols and monitoring, some illegal entries may go undetected. This challenge is exacerbated as illegal traffic shifts to areas where Border Patrol has previously not needed, or requested access.” Adding to the problem, is that management agencies have not always been able to timely complete required assessments and that their method of doing so may slow down the Border Patrol’s access to these regions along the border. (Id. at 51)