Legislative Update: 10/30/2013
House GOP Leadership Sends Mixed Messages on Immigration Agenda
With the Government re-opened and Congress moving on to different issues, Republican Leaders in the House of Representatives are now sending mixed messages regarding their plans to address immigration in 2013. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hinted that he still wants a vote on immigration legislation this year. When asked if immigration could be brought to the House floor for a vote in 2013, he replied: “I still think that immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I am hopeful.” (Reuters, Oct. 23, 2013)
Later that day, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) stated on the House floor that GOP leadership expects to move immigration legislation before the year’s end. “There are plenty of bipartisan efforts underway and discussions between members on both sides of the aisle to try and address what is broken about our immigration system,” Cantor said in an exchange with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). (Hoyer-Cantor Exchange, Oct. 25, 2013) “The committees are still working on this issue, and I expect us to move forward this year in trying to address reform and what is broken about our system.” (Id.) (emphasis added)
Additionally, pro-amnesty Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) reiterated that Speaker Boehner is plotting a way to pass immigration reform. “We have meetings one to two times per week and I can tell you that there is a plan to bring immigration to the floor,” Franks said, referring to closed-door meetings between Boehner and himself. (KTAR News, Oct. 25, 2013)
However, “leadership ally” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) dismissed the idea that the House will deal with immigration before the next fiscal fight is resolved. “I don’t even think we’ll get to that point until we get these other problems solved,” Cole said, citing the need for Congress to pass a budget by mid-January and raise the debt ceiling again by early February to avoid another government shutdown. (The Hill, Oct. 25, 2013) “We’re not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let’s just chew gum for a while,” Cole said. (Id.) According to The Hill, GOP leadership aides say that House Leadership has not ruled out bringing up immigration, but does not currently have a plan to vote on immigration in the remaining legislative days of 2013. (Id.)
Whether the House takes up immigration in 2013 or not, there is still a strong likelihood that the House will address immigration at some point over the next few months. Speaker Boehner has stated that he wants an immigration bill to pass (although he has been vague about what he specifically supports), and House members confirmed just last week they are still drafting several immigration bills. (See, e.g., The Washington Post, June 26, 2013; Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2013) However, it remains unclear whether Speaker Boehner will publicly promise that he will not send any bills passed by the House to conference committee with the Senate amnesty bill (S.744). Until the Speaker makes that commitment, any immigration measure that leaves the House, small or large, could turn into a massive, Obamacare-like amnesty bill.
Obama Renews Commitment to Pass Amnesty in 2013
In a speech last week, President Obama renewed his amnesty push, calling for House Republican leaders to take up immigration before the year’s end. “We should pass immigration reform. It’s good for our economy. It’s good for our national security. It’s good for our people. And we should do it this year,” he said. (See Transcript of President Obama’s Speech, Oct. 24, 2013)
Flanked by representatives from special interest groups, President Obama told Congress it must adopt policies that are fair to illegal aliens living in the U.S. “It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead. It’s not smart; it’s not fair…” the President declared. (Id.)
In response, National ICE Council Union President, Chris Crane, who represents over 7,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, urged Congress to ensure current immigration laws are enforced before passing new ones. “We urge lawmakers to stand with law enforcement, because this White House will not. No new legislation will succeed if America does not first address the problem of [President Obama] lawlessly ignoring the laws enacted by Congress,” said Crane. (See ICE Union Response to Obama Speech, Oct. 24, 2013)
Despite Crane’s plea for Congress to uphold the rule of law, national pro-amnesty union bosses continued to cheer on the President. “We commend President Obama for renewing his commitment to passing immigration reform this year and urging Republicans in the House to act quickly,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (See AFL-CIO Press Release, Oct. 24, 2013) Likewise, International Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Rocio Sáenz, said she was “inspired” by President Obama’s comments. “We are very encouraged and inspired by the President’s remarks today in which he outlined the many reasons why Congress should pass commonsense immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship this year…Importantly, President Obama said that Congress has time to get it done. Now it is up to House Republican leadership to move a bill to the floor for a vote.” (See SEIU Press Release, Oct. 24, 2013)
Although amnesty advocates hailed the President’s speech, critics pointed out that the President’s renewed push for amnesty comes just as the media is beginning to focus on the implementation of Obamacare. In fact, the President’s call to action came at the exact time the House Energy and Commerce Committee was holding a widely publicized hearing on the Administration’s failure to oversee the website implementing the president’s signature healthcare program. (See CNN, Oct. 25, 2013; see alsoWashington Post, Oct. 24, 2013) The House of Representatives now has less than 20 working days left this calendar year in which to take up immigration.
Rep. Issa to Propose Amnesty Bill
According to a recent interview with inside-the-beltway publication Politico, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) plans to introduce a new bill that will grant amnesty to illegal aliens. (Politico, Oct. 23, 2013) Although details about its provisions are limited, the bill reportedly grants illegal aliens legal status for six years, giving them the ability to seek a green card or citizenship. (Id.) The legislation would have separate categories for illegal aliens who wish to participate in an agricultural guest worker program and for those who have U.S. citizens as relatives. (Id.) It would also allow illegal aliens to travel to their native countries. (Id.)
Discussions about Rep. Issa’s legislation have been conducted behind closed doors as the Congressman tries to rally support for his bill. In fact, Rep. Issa has asserted that a “number” of lawmakers are in talks to support his upcoming amnesty bill, but has declined to mention their names. (Id.) Congressman Issa has also held meetings with unnamed “stakeholders” to receive feedback on the bill. (The Hill, Oct. 22, 2013)
In response, President of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (a union representing over 7,000 ICE agents, officers, and personnel) Chris Crane, urged Rep. Issa (who also chairs the powerful House Oversight Committee) to investigate the Administration’s abuse of federal immigration law. (Breitbart News, Oct. 24, 2013) Crane said, “I would urge House lawmakers in the strongest possible terms, including House GOP oversight Chair Darrell Issa, to investigate the whistleblower accusations of ICE officers and other immigration agents prior to the introduction of any legalization bill.” Mr. Crane also asked Rep. Issa to seek input from his officers. “I would also urge Mr. Issa and any House lawmaker writing a legalization plan to first consult with these law enforcement whistleblowers.” (ICE Letter, Oct. 24, 2013) Crane added, “It’s just ridiculous how people up on the Hill are approaching this by ignoring the review of the law in a common-sense basic approach that we need to take.”
Several members of Congress, including Rep. Issa, are drafting immigration bills. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), once GOP leader of the House Gang of Eight, is reportedly still working on an amnesty bill. (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2013) Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have been reportedly crafting their own version of a DREAM Act for months. (FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 7, 2013) In addition, Chairman Goodlatte said he expects at least four new immigration bills to be approved by the Judiciary Committee, as well as a fifth to be voted through another committee. (News Leader, Oct. 23, 2013)
Rubio: Piecemeal Approach to Immigration “Preferred Option”
During an interview Friday with CNN, Senator Marco Rubio — amnesty champion and chief author of the Senate Gang of Eight amnesty bill (S.744) — said that approaching immigration through a series of smaller bills is his “preferred option.” (CNN’s New Day, Oct. 25, 2013) Only a day later, Rubio went a step farther, telling blogger Matthew Boyle that the House of Representatives should not take up individual immigration bills as a “ruse” to get to a conference committee. (Breitbart, Oct. 26, 2013)
Senator Rubio, who defended the Senate amnesty bill on the floor until the very last vote, was clearly working hard to define his position. “I still want to solve immigration,” he insisted. “I think it’s an important issue for the country to deal with. But I don’t think that we should not do anything because we can’t do everything. That was my original position and continues to be my preferred option because I just think we’re going to get a better result that way,” Rubio said. (CNN’s New Day, Oct. 25, 2013)
As for the drawbacks of the “comprehensive” approach Rubio championed only four months ago, Senator Rubio suggested it was not realistic to expect Congress to pass a massive 1,200-page bill. “I think when you try to do anything big in Washington, it ends up running into headwinds. Now that’s the direction the Senate went. I wanted to influence that process so I got involved in it. But I continue to believe that a series of sequential individual bills is the best way, the ideal way, to reform our immigration system,” said Rubio. (Id.)
After Rubio’s CNN interview on Friday, Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio elaborated on the Senator’s position. According to Conant, Rubio does not oppose going to a conference committee, but wants any bicameral negotiations to be limited to what the House passes. (Politico, Oct. 28, 2013) “At this point, the most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” spokesman Alex Conant said. “Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail, because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill.” (Breitbart, Oct. 26, 2013)
What Rubio’s statements mean for the future of amnesty legislation is uncertain. Rich Lowry of National Review wrote Monday, “I’m not sure it has ever happened before that an architect of major legislation in the Senate has basically opposed its passage in the House. But that’s where Marco Rubio is. The politics of this aren’t great for Rubio: He has already, rightly, taken a political hit for crafting and promoting the Gang of Eight bill (which probably wouldn’t have gotten out of the Senate without his spirited support); now he is going to take another hit, understandably, for his inconstancy. But his stance marginally strengthens opponents of a conference, and we need all the help we can get. (NRO, Oct. 28, 2013)
New York Senator Introduces Bill to Ignore Federal Immigration Law
On October 21, New York State Senator Jose M. Serrano introduced a bill that would bar state and local law enforcement agents (including prisons) from handing over criminal aliens to federal immigration agents upon request. The bill, SB 5960, prohibits state and local law enforcement from detaining any person otherwise eligible for release whose “only violation of the law” is a violation of federal immigration law unless certain conditions exist.
In contrast, SB 5960 would only permit state or local law enforcement officers to detain an illegal alien otherwise eligible for release if he or she has been convicted of a violent felony or convicted within the last five years of a specified misdemeanor. Any person merely charged with a violent felony or a misdemeanor would not qualify.
Federal regulations provide that once ICE issues a detainer for an alien in state or local custody for an independent offense, jail officials should maintain custody for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) to allow ICE agents time to pick up the alien. (See 8 C.F.R. 287.7(d)). ICE officials say ignoring ICE detainers endangers public safety and is unconstitutional as the federal government has the sole discretion as to who can reside in the United States. (Former ICE Director Morton Letter, Aug. 23, 2012; Former ICE Director Julie Myers Wood Statement, Sep. 24, 2013).
Moreover, the Obama Administration has significantly restricted the circumstances under which federal agents may pursue aliens in the custody of state and local law enforcement. In December, 2012, ICE issued a new detainer policy to requesting the detention of an alien only where (1) the officer has reasonable belief that the alien is subject to removal from the U.S. and (2) the alien:
- has a prior felony conviction or charge,
- has three or more prior misdemeanor convictions,
- has prior misdemeanor conviction or charge involving a listed serious or violent crime,
- has been convicted of illegal entry,
- has illegally re-entered the country after a previous removal,
- has an outstanding order of removal,
- has been found by an immigration officer or judge to have knowingly committed immigration fraud, or
- otherwise poses a significant risk to national security, border security, or public safety. (ICE Memo, Dec. 21, 2013).
The fact that ICE may only issue detainers requesting custody of aliens in the most severe circumstances demonstrates the public safety risk posed by SB 5960. In short, if the New York Legislature adopts SB 5960, New York law enforcement officials will be required to release most criminal aliens back onto the streets instead of turning them over to federal authorities for removal.
California recently enacted a similar measure to limit the conditions upon which law enforcement officers can honor ICE detainers (AB 4, “The Trust Act”). The Obama administration has previously sued states that have enacted laws to enforce federal immigration laws, such as Alabama South Carolina and Arizona, claiming that federal preemption precludes states from becoming involved in any aspect of immigration enforcement. The Obama administration, however, has yet to bring an action against any state or local government that endorses sanctuary or non-cooperation policies that blatantly impede the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws.
USCIS Ombudsman’s Conference Pushes Amnesty
At its annual conference last Thursday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ombudsman devoted its keynote panel to promoting President Obama’s amnesty agenda. In particular, the keynote panelists represented organizations who would likely provide legal services to illegal aliens in the event of an amnesty, including: the National Council of La Raza, City University of New York Citizenship Now, Immigration Advocates Network, National Immigration Law Center, and Kids in Need of Defense.
The pro-amnesty panelists spent the morning discussing how their organizations could ensure that implementation of any upcoming amnesty should include as many illegal aliens as possible, and they emphasized how they were already using the DHS policy memo known as “DACA” in the broader amnesty push. In particular, the panelists saw DACA as a key focus for amnesty proponents. For instance, Charles Kamasaki, Executive Vice President of La Raza, referred to it as a test run for a modern legalization program. Kamal Essaheb, an attorney from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), explained how involved his and other such organizations are in the implementation of DACA, which he described as particularly “exciting” because it is not based on a statute (in other words, unlawful).
Another theme of the panel was how to profit from the experience of the 1986 amnesty. For the panelists, “success” in immigration “reform” should be measured by how many illegal aliens are legalized (whether a law effectively stops future illegal immigration was not discussed). Charles Kamasaki explained how the 1986 amnesty offered many practical lessons to maximize the number of illegal aliens who are ultimately naturalized. He emphasized that “outreach” to the potentially eligible population was more important than providing them services and noted the value of having a sympathetic media and a lack of organized opponents during the legalization period.
As President Obama’s Thursday speech coincided with the keynote panel, the Ombudsman temporarily interrupted one of the panelists in order to screen the speech live. Notably, the conference mirrored the president’s stated theme of listening to diverse interests across the country, but just as in Obama’s case, such diversity was one-sided. The stakeholders represented consisted of those who stand to gain financially from passing an amnesty bill, such as illegal aliens, “Big Business,” and immigration lawyers. Those who stand to lose, such as American workers and law enforcement, were simply left unmentioned and without a voice.