Legislative Update: 1/13/2015
After a flurry of negotiations behind closed doors, House Republicans emerged on Friday with a plan that funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the remainder of the fiscal year and undoes President Obama’s executive amnesty. The strategy, agreed to during a special GOP conference meeting, involves two steps: first, the introduction of a DHS appropriations bill, and second, the introduction of several amendments. These include three amendments that, if adopted, will defund the executive amnesty and two “sense of Congress” amendments that simply send a message to the President. (See The Hill, Jan. 9, 2015)
The first step occurred on Friday when the House Appropriations Committee released a full FY2015 spending bill (H.R. 240) for the Department of Homeland Security that increases funding to immigration-related agencies. Although H.R. 240, as introduced, does not include any policy language, it does allocate more money to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Specifically, the bill appropriates $5.96 billion to ICE, a $689.4 million increase compared to current levels, and specifically allocates more than half the money to fund 34,000 detention beds (maintaining the current requirement) and to increase family detention space by 3,732 beds. Additionally, H.R. 240 fully funds E-Verify.
Under H.R. 240, CBP’s budget grows to $10.7 billion, an increase of $118.7 million over FY2014. The additional funding maintains the number of Border Patrol agents at 21,370 and increases the number of Customs and Border Protection officers to 23,775.
Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) praised the bill, calling it “a responsible bill that makes the most out of each dollar — making the necessary investments to harden our borders, protect against terrorism, and respond and recover from natural disasters — while finding ways to save wherever possible.” (CQ Today, Jan. 9, 2015)
The second step — voting on the defunding amendments — is scheduled to happen today or tomorrow, with the final floor vote expected to quickly follow. One amendment is based on Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) bill from the 113th Congress the House passed last summer that bars the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty program. (Blackburn Amendment; see FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 5, 2014) Another amendment, authored by Reps. Rob DeSantis (R-FL) and Martha Roby (R-AL), mandates that criminal aliens with domestic violence or child sex offenses are the highest civil immigration enforcement priorities. (DeSantis-Roby Amendment)
The third amendment includes Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s (R-SC) amendment from December and a portion of the Repeal Executive Amnesty Act (H.R. 191) authored by Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Lou Barletta (R-PA), and Lamar Smith (R-TX). (Aderholt-Mulvaney-Barletta Amendment) The Mulvaney language defunds President Obama’s November 2014 executive amnesty, known as the Johnson Memos; while the Aderholt-Barletta-Smith language also defunds Obama’s previous executive amnesty, known as the Morton Memos. Additionally, the Aderholt-Mulvaney-Barletta amendment amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit the fees collected by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from being used to grant any Federal benefit to amnestied illegal aliens.
Although House GOP leadership limited the Aderholt-Mulvaney-Barletta amendment to one provision of H.R. 191 (Section 201), the Repeal Executive Amnesty Act is far more reaching in scope. H.R. 191 not only defunds all of President Obama’s executive amnesties but it prevents future administrations from implementing amnesty by executive fiat. Additionally, H.R. 191 significantly curbs the President’s ability to abuse parole, requires DHS to issue detainers and remove criminal aliens, closes a loophole in current law to allow for the prompt processing of unaccompanied alien minors, and reforms asylum provisions that prevent fraud. (See FAIR’s Issue Brief on H.R. 191)
FAIR applauded the introduction of the Repeal Executive Amnesty Act. “The Repeal Executive Amnesty Act is an important first step by the new Congress to restore the rule of law in immigration policy and reaffirm the core principle that our immigration laws exist to serve and protect the interests and security of the American people,” declared Dan Stein, president of FAIR. (FAIR Press Release, Jan. 7, 2015) “FAIR urges the leadership of both houses of Congress to act swiftly to approve this measure to rein in the president’s abuse of power in immigration policy and stand up for the vital interests of the American people,” Stein concluded. (Id.)
H.R. 240 is expected to pass the House with all the amendments attached. However it is uncertain whether the bill will be able to garner the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. (See Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 2015) To reach sixty, Republicans will need to six Democratic Senators to vote in favor of it. DHS funding is set to expire on February 27. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 16, 2014)
Mexican Government Will Help Its Citizens Qualify for Obama’s Amnesty
Last Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with President Obama in the Oval office, where he heaped praise on President Obama’s executive amnesty. Calling it “intelligent and audacious” and “an act of justice,” Nieto promised that his government would help Mexican citizens living illegally in the United States obtain documents to qualify for it. (Washington Times, Jan. 6, 2015; White House Press Release, Jan. 6, 2015)
During the meeting, President Nieto said that a “very big majority” of the illegal aliens that stand to benefit from amnesty are Mexican citizens but are “now part of the U.S. community.” (White House Press Release, Jan. 6, 2015) He assured the President that the Mexican government will help Mexicans qualify for the executive amnesty program by providing them documents showing that they have been living illegally in the United States since 2010 and providing them their birth certificates without requiring them to return to Mexico. (Id.)
The Mexican economy stands to benefit from facilitating President Obama’s executive amnesty, because of the flow of remittances. In 2013, the Pew Research Center estimated that Mexican migrants, who overwhelmingly live in the United States, sent $22 billion dollars in remittances to Mexico. (Pew Research, Nov. 15, 2013) If millions of illegal aliens from Mexico now become able to compete with American citizens for higher paying jobs after President Obama gives them work permits, the remittances flowing from the U.S. economy to Mexico may well increase in value.
After the meeting, President Obama praised the Mexican government, thanking Mexico for its “strong efforts” along its own southern border and its “efforts to eliminate the scourge” of violence and drug cartels. (White House Press Release, Jan. 6, 2015) Mexico, he said “is one of our closest allies, neighbors, and friends.” (Id.)
A Rasmussen poll published the day after the meeting in the Oval Office shows that the American electorate does not share President Obama’s appreciative view of the Mexican government. (Rasmussen Reports, Jan. 7, 2015) Just 14% of likely U.S. voters believe that the Mexican government wants to stop its citizens from illegally entering the U.S., and only 10% believe that the Mexican government has been aggressive enough in its efforts to stop illegal drug traffickers. (Id.) When informed that U.S. taxpayers gave $265 million in foreign aid to Mexico in 2013, 53% indicated that this aid should end until the Mexican government does more to stop Mexicans and others from illegally crossing the U.S. southern border. (Id.)
A government audit released last week reveals that the Obama Administration made inaccurate claims about the drone program. Furthermore, the Administration did not operate the drone program to cover as much geographic area, for as long, and in conjunction with other technology as law enforcement planned. Last Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) published these findings in their report entitled “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program Does Not Achieve Intended Results or Recognize All Costs of Operations.” (DHS OIG, Report, Dec. 24, 2014)
Through the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses drones carrying video cameras to conduct surveillance of U.S. borders. (Id. at 3) CBP began the UAS program in 2004 to provide real-time information to U.S. Border Patrol agents about suspected illegal border crossings by people on foot or in vehicles. (Id. at 3)
OIG criticized CBP for operating the UAS program in a geographic area smaller than DHS publicly reported. In its report, the OIG found that CBP focused on 100 miles of the Arizona border and 70 miles of the Texas border during fiscal year 2013, instead of the 1,993 total miles of the southwest border. (Id. at 7) Although these UAS operations focused on less than 1% of the southwest border, the Obama Administration claimed that DHS “expanded unmanned aircraft system coverage to the entire Southwest Border.” (See DHS Annual Performance Report at 21 (emphasis added)).
OIG also found that the Obama Administration did not operate the drone program in the way DHS had planned. OIG found that CBP operated drones for 80% less time than the periods in DHS goals. In fiscal year 2013, CBP logged only 5,102 flight hours, but in its 2010 UAS Concept of Operations, CBP anticipated UAS would reach 23,296. (Report at 5; see also DHS OIG, UAS report, May 2012) Furthermore, OIG found only six instances where drones responded to unattended ground sensor alerts in the entire 2013 fiscal year, despite CBP’s goal sensor alert responsiveness. (Id. at 6)
In addition, OIG reported that CBP did not meet its goals for Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER), a surveillance tool that CBP can mount on two of its drones. (Id. at 3) CBP attributes the detection of 18,239 suspected illegal border crossers and smugglers in fiscal year 2013 to VADER. (Id. at 18) However, OIG found that if CBP used VADER as originally planned, CBP would capture more data to analyze and detect more illegal border crossings. (Id. at 14)
For example, DHS originally planned to use VADER over the Southwest borders of three states (Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico) to find border crossers, as well as surveillance gaps, such as common entry points, times of entry, commonly used trails, and areas where people have broken through the border fence. However, OIG found that CBP did not produce VADER analytical reports that identified the surveillance gaps. (Id. at 14) Furthermore, CBP restricted VADER operations to a single border patrol station’s area of responsibility in one state in March 2013. (Id. at 7, 19) Because the modification had resulted in average flight lengths dropping from 164 to 71 kilometers and the number of average daily detections falling from 12,968 to 5,456, OIG recommended that CBP reverse this change. (Id. at 14)
Ultimately, OIG reported that it was not possible to determine the extent UAS increased apprehensions of illegal border crossers. (Id. at 6) According to OIG, this is because CBP has not established “verifiable performance measures” for the use of drones. (Id. at 4) For fiscal year 2013, CBP attributed 2,161 apprehensions for the Tucson sector in Arizona and 111 apprehensions for the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas to drones. (Id. at 6) While OIG found that these were a small percentage of the number of apprehensions CBP reported for that sector and time period, the Obama Administration’s reported apprehension statistics are, however, misleading. (See id. at 5; Jessica Vaughan, Deportation Numbers Unwrapped, Oct. 2013)
Illinois Governor Issues Executive Orders to Shield Illegal Aliens from Enforcement
Last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued two executive orders that would require the state to use taxpayer-money to help illegal aliens apply for President Obama’s executive amnesty and help shield illegal aliens not qualified for the amnesty from detection by federal immigration officials. (Chicago Tribune, Jan. 5, 2015)
Specifically, Executive Order 15-01 requires the Illinois Governor’s Office of New Americans to provide resources to illegal aliens, including the creation of a taxpayer-funded liaison in state agencies to coordinate the state’s efforts assisting those applying for amnesty. (Executive Order 15-01) Executive Order 15-01 also directed Illinois’ ten Welcoming Centers, which were created to assist new citizens and refugees, to provide resources, including taxpayer-funded multilingual interpreters and translators, to illegal aliens applying for the executive amnesty. (Id.)
Through Executive Order 15-02, Governor Quinn prioritizes the interests of criminal aliens over general public safety. Specifically, the Executive Order ties the hands of law enforcement by prohibiting all state law enforcement officers from stopping, arresting, or searching a person based solely on immigration status or an administrative warrant in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) national crime information center database. (Executive Order 15-02) Executive Order 15-02 goes further to prohibit law enforcement from complying with a detainer or administrative warrant or from communicating an illegal alien’s release date or contact information to federal immigration officials. The Order also prohibits Illinois Department of Corrections from considering the existence of an immigration detainer or administrative warrant when determining an alien’s eligibility for taxpayer-funded educational, rehabilitative, or diversionary programs.
Throughout his term, Governor Quinn has worked to make Illinois accommodating to illegal immigration. “Illinois is committed to supporting President Obama’s immigration action and helping eligible residents apply for federal administrative relief,” Governor Quinn said. (Illinois Government News Network, Jan. 5, 2015) Governor Quinn, however, did not attempt to justify why the state should shield illegal aliens not eligible for President Obama’s executive amnesty from future enforcement of immigration law.
Governor Quinn also did not comment on how much the Executive Orders will cost Illinois taxpayers or affect public safety. Anti-cooperation policies like Executive Order 15-02, however, often waste both federal and state law enforcement resources and create safe havens that facilitate criminal activity, especially in regard to drug- and gang- related crimes, human trafficking, and identity theft. To be successful in deporting criminal aliens, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) needs the assistance of state and local law enforcement agencies, both in terms of notification of a pending release and a compliance with detainers. Local agencies that do not cooperate with ICE are often forced to simply release criminal aliens back onto the streets. Executive Order 15-02 sets the judgment of federal authorities aside in expense of public safety.
Both executive orders went into effect on January 5, 2015, the same date they were filed with the Secretary of State. (Executive Order 15-01; Executive Order 15-02) Governor Quinn leaves office on January 12 after losing his bid for reelection to Republican Bruce Rauner. (Daily Journal, Jan. 5, 2015) A spokesman for Rauner declined to comment on whether the governor-elect supports the orders. (Id.)