Legislative Update: 12/8/2015
San Bernardino Shooter Passed “Rigorous” Vetting Process
Last Wednesday, Tafsheen Malik, the Pakistan-born jihadist, along with her husband, Sayed Farook, killed 14 people and wounded 21 more in San Bernardino, California. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) subsequently discovered that moments before the attack Malik pledged her allegiance to ISIS in a Facebook post. (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2015) “Based on the information and the facts as we know them, we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” announced David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. (Yahoo News, Dec. 4, 2015)
The tragedy in San Bernardino further demonstrates the vulnerability of our immigration system to exploitation by terrorists. Malik initially entered the United States last year under a K-1 fiancee visa in order to marry Farook. (The Hill, Dec. 4, 2015) Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a foreign national may enter the country on a K-1 visa to marry the American citizen sponsor within 90 days of arrival. (INA § 101(a)(15)(K); INA § 214(d)) After getting married, Farook sponsored Malik for legal permanent resident status and she received a conditional green card this summer. (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2015) At each step in the process, Malik was subjected to “rigorous” criminal and national security background checks to make sure she did not pose a threat to the American public. (Id.) Alarmingly, the “rigorous” background checks that Malik passed without raising any red flags are the same kind of checks the tens of thousands of Syrian migrants the Obama administration is seeking to resettle in the U.S. will be subjected to.
In response, Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch seeking the immigration records of the San Bernardino shooters. (See Sessions and Cruz News Release, Dec. 3, 2015) “We are dealing with an enemy that has shown it is not only capable of bypassing U.S. screening, but of recruiting and radicalizing Muslim migrants after their entry to the United States,” Cruz and Sessions wrote. (Id.) The letter also addresses an outstanding request for the immigration histories of 72 individuals in the U.S. believed to be connected to terrorism. (Breitbart, Dec. 3, 2015) After over three months without an answer, Sessions and Cruz pressed the senior Obama administration officials on their previous inquiry and the San Bernardino shooters—arguing that an answer is expected immediately. (Id.) “Congress is days away from consideration of an omnibus year-end funding bill that would set the U.S. on an autopilot path to approve green cards, asylum, and refugee status to approximately 170,000 migrants from Muslim countries during the next year,” the senators wrote. (National Review, Dec. 3, 2015) “The security task involved is immense, and Congress must have the requested information if lawmakers are to act as responsible stewards of American immigration policy.” (Id.)
GOP Leadership Likely to Cave on Syrian Refugee Resettlement
House Republicans had strong words for their leadership last week amid reports that they will abandon the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, a bill that purports to tighten screening requirements for refugees from Syria and Iraq. (Breitbart, Dec. 2, 2015; See FAIR’s Summary of the American SAFE Act) “The bill to bolster the Syrian and Iraqi [refugee] vetting process passed with a veto-proof majority and is supported by a vast majority of Americans,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who introduced the bill with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX). (Breitbart, Dec. 2, 2015) “It would be a shame to bow to the wishes of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the White House, leaving our country vulnerable to foreign terrorism.” (Id.)
The bill, which has yet to be voted on in the Senate, passed the House with a large bipartisan majority just days after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2015; Roll Call Vote #643) It seeks to require the approval of top national security officials before the Obama administration can resettle refugees from Syria and Iraq. (Id.) However, as some Republican lawmakers have acknowledged, the bill fails to completely stop or defund the current refugee resettlement program and cedes all responsibility to an already untrustworthy administration to verify whether any refugees present a national security risk. (Id.) Despite its shortcomings, the bill is fervently opposed by President Obama, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has threatened that Senate Democrats will filibuster it. (Id.)
Now, House GOP leaders are looking to abandon the American SAFE Act and cave to Congressional Democrats who only want to fix security gaps in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). (Breitbart, Dec. 2, 2015; The Hill, Dec. 1, 2015) Currently, visitors from 38 approved countries are allowed to take advantage of reduced-screening and visit the U.S. for 90 days without a visa. (See FAIR’s Visa Waiver Program Issue Brief) Despite the overwhelming support from lawmakers for the American SAFE Act, it is not expected to be included in the omnibus spending bill that Congress must pass by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Instead, the omnibus will likely have language that reforms the VWP while leaving refugee resettlement unaddressed. (Breitbart, Dec. 2, 2015)
Several Republican lawmakers were outspoken in their opposition to the approach of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his lieutenants. (Id.) Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) said he wasn’t “surprised” that Ryan bowed to Democrats, rather than put up a fight. (Id.) He also added that the original vote was a “show vote” and that the entire refugee program needs to be defunded to truly address the issue. (Id.) Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) further stressed that House GOP leadership must address both refugee resettlement and the VWP, saying, “This should not be an either or question. Both should be addressed in a timely manner. We should concern ourselves first and foremost with the safety and security of the American people.” (Id.)
Babin is the author of a FAIR-supported letter, signed by 74 of his colleagues, which calls on House GOP leadership to include specific reforms, security measures, and oversight requirements for refugee resettlement in the must-pass omnibus spending bill. “More than 70 of my colleagues joined me in calling for an immediate suspension in the refugee program to give us time to put in place security measures that the Administration has failed to implement,” Babin said. (Breitbart, Dec. 2, 2015) “We must restore Congressional authority and ensure that Congress has a final sign-off on any Administration proposed Security measures.” (Id.)
ICE Director Saldaña Admits Dramatic Decline in Criminal Alien Deportations
Testifying last week before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the Obama administration’s lax interior enforcement policies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña admitted a dramatic decline in criminal alien deportations. (Video of the hearing available here)
True immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, presented Saldaña with deportation numbers he obtained from ICE. “In [fiscal year] 2011, your agency, ICE, removed 150,000 criminal aliens from the interior, in fiscal year 2012 it dropped to 135,000, in fiscal year 2013 it dropped to 110,000, in fiscal year 2014 to 86,000, in fiscal year 2015 we believe the number is only around 63,000,” the senator said. (BGov Transcript, Dec. 2, 2015) When asked if she agreed with the numbers, Saldaña said that “they sound about right.” (Id.) Sessions noted that the deportation numbers reflect a dramatic reduction, “You’re actually removing less than half as many criminal aliens as you were in just 2011.” (Id.)
When pressed by Sessions to explain precisely why criminal alien deportations are down over the last four years, Saldaña cited effective enforcement along with a public awareness campaign warning prospective aliens that they would be turned away at the border. She also argued that her agency was doing all it could to deport criminal aliens. “ICE will continue to do the best job we can, within the bounds of existing law, to accomplish our mission, make strategic use of our resources, and improve efficiency and reporting,” she said. (Id.) Sessions was not satisfied, noting that her agency’s budget for deportation was increased from $2.6 billion in 2011 to $3.4 billion this year, and that the government even returned part of that allotment. (Id.)
Summing up the hearing, Sessions said the decline in removals “demonstrated the failure of our system, when the one area that we were promised was going to be aggressively pursued was criminal aliens, and that is plummeting also. So there’s nothing really working effectively.” (Id.) Sessions was referring to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration from November 2014 that ordered federal authorities to focus on deporting only “serious” criminals. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2014)However, under the President’s narrow criteria, most immigration law violators, including many criminal aliens, are allowed to remain in the country because the Obama administration will not enforce the law against illegal aliens who do not meet an enforcement “priority.” (FAIR Legislative Update, June 30, 2015)
There are currently around 179,000 criminal aliens with final orders of removal at large in the United States. (Senator Grassley Opening Statement)The total number of criminal aliens is estimated to be around 2 million. (See Jessica Vaughn Testimony)
Texas Sues Feds for Planning Refugee Resettlement in State behind Closed Doors
On December 2, 2015, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (hereafter “Commission”) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, including the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (hereafter “federal government”), as well as the International Rescue Committee, for allegedly violating federal law by failing to consult with the State regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees within Texas. (Complaint, Dec. 2, 2015)
Following the brutal attacks in Paris, France and Beirut, Lebanon last month that left hundreds dead and wounded, more than half of the nation’s governors, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, spoke up to oppose President Obama’s plans to resettle upwards of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in 2016. (FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2015) Texas is the first state to initiate legal action against the federal government in opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees and failure to communicate with the states as required by law.
In its complaint, the Commission claims that the federal government is planning to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas without meeting its statutory requirement to consult regularly with the State. (Complaint, Dec. 2, 2015) Generally, federal law requires cooperation between federal, state, and local governments, as well as private non-profit voluntary agencies, when it comes to the resettlement of refugees admitted to the United States. The law specifically states that such consultation “shall” take place “regularly (not less often than quarterly)” and that it should concern “the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees among the states and localities before their placement…” (See 8 U.S.C. § 1522(a)(2)(A))(emphasis added) Federal law further requires the federal government to take into account the recommendations of the state to the maximum extent possible. (Id. § 1522(a)(2)(D))(emphasis added).
Nonetheless, the Commission alleges that the federal government refused to fulfill its requirement to consult with it. The Commission requested that the federal government temporarily halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State until officials receive “requested information and our concerns with screening procedures have been appropriately addressed.” In spite of this request, the federal government responded by reporting that it plans to resettle the refugees in Texas without delay, regardless of state officials’ concerns. (Complaint, Dec. 2, 2015)
Additionally, the Commission’s complaint alleges that the International Rescue Committee, a local non-profit agency that contracted with the State to provide refugee cash and social assistance, is refusing to cooperate with it in violation of both federal law and its contractual obligations. Specifically, the Commission alleges that, “The Committee announced its intent to continue to work with the federal government to resettle Syrians in Texas and is following instructions from the Federal Defendants to not provide information to the Commission or consult with the Commission in advance of resettling Syrian refugees in Texas.” (Id.) In addition to federal law requiring consultation between the International Rescue Committee and the State of Texas, the contract negotiated between them, requires the Committee to provide “full access to the client records, books, and supporting documents,” pertaining to refugee resettlement. (Id.)
Many governors, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, echoed concerns by federal intelligence sources regarding the significant vulnerabilities in the refugee vetting process, and doubts that the federal government could ensure suspected terrorists are excluded from the refugee program. (FAIR Fact Sheet, November 2015) In a letter to President Obama, Governor Abbott wrote, “Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be a part of terroristic activity. As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.” (Id.) As recently as October, Michael Steinbach, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, explaining “the concern is in Syria, the lack of our footprint on the ground in Syria, that the databases won’t have information we need. So it’s not that we have a lack of process, it’s that there is a lack of information.” (Complaint, Dec. 2, 2015)
Furthering Texas’ calls for concern, in February 2014, the Obama administration weakened security standards for admission into the country. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security John Kerry and Jeh Johnson announced that they would be allowing aliens that are known to have provided “material support” to individuals or organizations that engage in terrorist activity into the United States if that support was either “limited” or “insignificant.” (FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 12, 2014) Under current law, “material support” for terrorists includes a host of serious actions, including providing “a safe house, transportation, communications, funds…false documentation or identification, weapons (including chemical, biological, or radiological weapons), explosives, or training…” (See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(iv)(VI))
The Commission seeks a statement from the court declaring that the federal government and the International Rescue Committee have breached their legal and contractual duties to the state with regard to refugee resettlement and a permanent injunction requiring the defendants to fulfill such duties. (Complaint, Dec. 2, 2015) Twelve Syrians were expected to arrive in Dallas and Houston yesterday, and an additional nine are expected to arrive in Houston later this week. (ABC13 News, Dec. 7, 2015)
FWD.us to Spend $10 Million Promoting Pro-Amnesty Candidates in 2016
The pro-amnesty advocacy group funded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other top Silicon Valley executives is planning on spending up to $10 million promoting likeminded candidates during the 2016 elections. (Politico, Dec. 1, 2015) In plans shared with Politico, Zuckerberg said FWD.us will launch a “multi-pronged campaign” that targets presidential battleground states and certain House seats held by Republicans. (Id.) The decision to get involved in the 2016 elections is unsurprising considering the prominent role Zuckerberg played lobbying for the Gang of Eight mass amnesty bill. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 30, 2015; FAIR Legislative Update, May 6, 2013) Despite the tech executives spending millions of dollars promoting amnesty since 2013, Congress has refused to pass legislation and it remains widely unpopular with the American people.