Legislative Update: 10/16/2013
USCIS Union Leader Calls for Agency Reform Before House Considers Amnesty
Kenneth Palinkas, president of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Council, a union representing over 12,000 USCIS employees, issued a statement last week warning Members of Congress that they need to first fix the abuses within the Administration before passing immigration reform. Passing amnesty and increasing guest workers “without first confronting the widespread abuses at USCIS would be to invite disaster,” his statement reads. (Examiner, Oct. 9, 2013).
In particular, Palinkas is concerned that proposals reportedly being developed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and pro-amnesty Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in an effort to conference with the Senate are being done so without consulting with USCIS officers to hear their concerns. (Id.) “Why aren’t USCIS officers being consulted on this ‘compromise’ offer?” Palinkas asked. (Id.) USCIS is the agency in charge of processing all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications, including those from illegal aliens that would result from an amnesty.
Explaining how USCIS’s “institutional mission has been corrupted by politics,” Palinkas described how the Obama Administration has adopted a “get-to-yes” approach to processing immigration applications, in which the agency pressures personnel to approve benefits despite fraud or ineligibility. Palinkas described how members of his union are ordered to abide by approval quotas that emphasize “clearing applications more than vetting them.” (Daily Caller, Oct. 10, 2013.) He even revealed that USCIS personnel are given administrative orders requiring them to give immigration benefits to those who are not legally eligible for them. (Id.)
In short, said Palinkas, USCIS has “become an approval machine,” saddled with “pressure to rubber-stamp applications.” (The Blaze, Oct. 10, 2013.) All this stems from a management culture “that sees illegal aliens and foreign nationals, not US citizens and taxpayers, as the customer.” Ultimately, Palinkas said, USCIS was failing “to protect taxpayers from abuses of the welfare system by those granted immigration benefits.” (Id.)
Mr. Palinkas’ statements support a 2012 Inspector General Report that revealed that nearly 25 percent of USCIS officers surveyed reported that a supervisor has asked them to approve applications that should have been denied. (OIG-12-24 Report at p. 16.) An overwhelming number, 90 percent, said they felt they didn’t have sufficient time to complete interviews of those who seek benefits. (Id.; see also Sen. Grassley Press Release, Jan. 6, 2012) (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 9, 2012.)
Committee Cancels Hearing on Bill Key to House Amnesty
Last week, the House Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee postponed its markup of H.R. 3141, the “Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013.” The reason given for cancelling Wednesday’s hearing to amend H.R. 3141: the government shutdown.
However, according to FAIR’s sources, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) is having difficulty maintaining rank-and-file support for her bill. This is because the bill undermines current law by phasing-in and only requiring partial implementation of the biometric exit system that is already mandated by current law at all air, sea, and land ports of entry. (See 8 U.S.C. 1365b)
FAIR opposes this bill for the same reasons. Specifically, H.R. 3141:
- Requires only partial implementation of the biometric exit program at land ports of entry. The bill only requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to have a fully operational biometric exit program at pedestrian-only land ports of entry within three years, while merely putting into place a pilot program for vehicular outbound traffic. As such, by creating a distinction between pedestrian and non-pedestrian land traffic, H.R. 3141 eliminates a requirement that all land ports of entry contain a biometric exit component.
- Contains zero enforcement mechanisms to ensure the Department of Homeland Security implements the biometric system as required. Given that Congress first required an exit system in 1996 — over 17 years ago — there is nothing in this bill that would prevent the Department from ignoring the requirements of the legislation as it (and its predecessor agency) has done in the past.
- Gives the Secretary of Homeland Security 6 months just to submit to Congress a plan to establish a biometric exit data system that complies with preexisting law (8 U.S.C. 1365b), something that should already be in place.
- Gives the Secretary two years from enactment to establish a biometric exit system at the 10 busiest U.S. international airports and seaports, and does not require full implementation at all air and sea ports until five years. (Click here to read the full summary of H.R. 3141).
Despite its inherent flaws, Rep. Miller’s bill is perceived by many House insiders to be one of the vehicles GOP leaders use to get to a conference committee with the Senate. When the Senate and House pass different bills, they must resolve the differences in the legislation through a “conference committee.” After the conference committee reaches agreement on identical bill language, the newly-agreed upon legislation goes back to each chamber to vote for final passage.
In particular, FAIR’s sources say House leaders are contemplating combining H.R. 3141 with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul’s (R-TX) “Border Security Results Act” (H.R. 1417) before it goes to the House floor. Similar to H.R. 3141, H.R. 1417 is weaker than current law, and is nothing more than a repeat of the Senate amnesty bill’s inadequate border provisions. H.R. 1417 does not even require that DHS actually obtain situational awareness or operational control of any part of the border; it merely requires DHS to submit a plan for doing so. (Id.)
Pro-Amnesty Groups Pedaling Sham Polls to Pressure House GOP
Last week, the open borders lobby conducted polls in three California districts represented by pro-amnesty Republicans in an attempt to pressure House GOP leadership to enact “comprehensive” immigration reform. The polls, conducted October 7 and 8 in the districts of California GOP Reps. Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes, and David Valadao attempt to show the GOP would benefit politically from passing amnesty legislation. (Politico, Oct. 10, 2013)
According to the polls (conducted on behalf of pro-amnesty groups like America’s Voice and the California affiliate of the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) National Network), more than 70 percent of likely voters in each of the pro-amnesty California Republican’s district support a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal aliens in the country. (Id.) “It just affirms that people want action,” said Lynn Tramonte, the deputy director of America’s Voice. (Id.) “They want Congress to work together, not work against each other and immigration could potentially be a comeback issue for the two parties.” (Id.)
However, upon closer inspection of the polls, the questions were based on a false characterization of S. 744, the 1,200 page amnesty bill passed by the Senate in June. One question describes the bill as “legislation that would significantly increase border security, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status.” (Magellan Strategies poll) Another asks, “Would you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that ensure undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before they can be eligible for citizenship?” (Id.)
In fact, FAIR’s analysis of S. 744 demonstrates that such phrasing of the bill’s impact is completely inaccurate. Instead, S. 744 grants amnesty to illegal aliens with a criminal record, including gang members; does not require amnestied illegal aliens to learn English; and only requires the payment of taxes “assessed” which is not the same as paying back taxes. Moreover, the so-called “border surge” Corker-Hoeven amendment does not secure the border and maintains the amnesty first, enforcement later (if ever) approach contained in the 1986 amnesty. Additionally, so-called “DREAMers,” individuals who claim to have been brought to the country unlawfully as minors, and illegal alien agricultural workers would be eligible to receive a green card after only five years making them eligible for citizenship in far less time than “wait[ing] a minimum of thirteen years” as characterized by the poll. (See Magellan Strategies poll)
Arizona Requires Proof of U.S. Citizenship for State Voter Registration
On Monday, October 7, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne issued an opinion to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, affirming that Arizona law requires registrants to provide proof of citizenship to vote in state and local elections. The opinion is intended to give guidance on how to conduct the 2014 elections.
In 2004, Arizona voters approved a state law that requires proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. (AZ Prop. 200 (2004)) Last year, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Arizona is prohibited from asking for evidence of citizenship from those choosing to register using a federal form under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). (Gonzales v. Arizona, No. 08-17094 (9th Cir. 2012)) Arizona appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court, and in June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down that part of Proposition 200. (Arizona et al. v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. et al., 133 S. Ct. 2247 (2013)) The Supreme Court held that the NVRA “precludes Arizona from requiring a Federal Form applicant to submit information beyond that required on the form itself.” The federal form requires no proof of citizenship, but merely requires registrants affirm by signing the form that they are U.S. citizens.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Arizona applied to the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) for a state-specific requirement that potential registrants, using the federal as well as the state form, furnish evidence of citizenship. (42 U. S. C. §1973gg –7(a)(2)) To date, the EAC has failed to issue a state-specific requirement for Arizona. In August, Arizona Secretaries of State Bennett and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the EAC to change the federal voter registration forms in order to compel proof of citizenship. (The Kansas City Star, Aug. 21, 2013) The lawsuit is pending.
Arizona is permitted to require evidence of citizenship if a registrant uses Arizona’s state form, which the state has done. In 2014, Arizona will have two separate voter rolls — one for those using the state form and another for those using the federal form that have not provided evidence of citizenship. The latter will not be permitted to vote in state or local elections or to sign petitions, although they will be permitted to vote in federal elections.