Legislative Update: 1/8/2014
The House of Representatives returns this week with many wondering how the lower chamber will address immigration during the final year of the 113th Congress. Because Congress operates on a two-year cycle, any bills not signed into law by the end of 2014 are effectively discarded.
Although Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declared that the House will not conference with the mass Senate amnesty bill, S. 744, he has refused to reject amnesty and has stated that he wants to pass “immigration reform” legislation. (Politico, Nov. 13, 2013; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 20, 2013) Just a week after the “no conference” announcement, Boehner emphatically replied “absolutely not” when asked, “Is immigration reform dead?” (The Hill, Nov. 21, 2013; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 25, 2013) “I’ve made clear going back to the day after the last election in 2012 that it’s time for Congress to deal with this issue. I believe that Congress needs to deal with this issue,” Boehner insisted. (Id.) The Speaker also recently hired amnesty Gang of Eight Senator John McCain’s former chief of staff to be his immigration advisor, a move signaling that he intends to address the immigration issue in 2014. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 11, 2013)
Currently, there are several immigration bills passed by House committees in 2013 that could be called to the floor at any time. First, the House Homeland Security Committee approved Chairman Michael McCaul’s (R-TX) border bill, H.R. 1417, co-sponsored by longtime amnesty advocate Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). However, the “Border Security Results Act” merely repeats the Senate amnesty bill’s weak border provisions. For example, H.R. 1417 does not require that the Department of Homeland Security (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.)
Additionally, the Judiciary Committee passed four immigration bills. On the enforcement side, the committee approved immigration subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) SAFE Act (H.R. 2278) which enhances interior enforcement and strengthens national security, and Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) E-Verify bill (H.R. 1772). However, the committee also passed Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act) (H.R. 1773) which grants amnesty to illegal aliens currently working in agriculture as long as they continue to perform agricultural work, and Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) “SKILLS Visa Act” (H.R. 2131) which increases the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) temporary visas and creates STEM green cards by repealing the visa lottery.
Last fall, Goodlatte also revealed that his committee is working on more immigration bills that were not introduced in 2013 and are expected to be this year. During an interview with NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi, Goodlatte announced that the House GOP is drafting “bills related to the children brought here illegally by their parents, related to a legal status for people who are not lawfully here today, a larger group, related to reform of our refugee and asylum programs, and related other [non-agricultural] guest-worker programs.” (See Kojo Nnamdi Show Transcript, Sept. 10, 2013) Alarmingly, the Republican version of the DREAM Act, called the “KIDS Act,” which grants a path to citizenship for illegal aliens currently in the U.S. who claim they were brought to the country unlawfully as minors, is being written by Goodlatte and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) despite both having voted against the DREAM Act in 2010 when it last came to the House for a vote. (See Roll Call Vote 625; see also FAIR Legislative Update, July 15, 2013)
Nonetheless, House GOP leadership continues to be vague about which, if any, immigration bills will come to the House floor in 2014 and the timing of those votes. In a January 3 letter to House Republicans setting the chamber’s agenda, Cantor lists immigration at the end as one of “several outstanding issues [that] may be brought to the floor over the next few months.” (Cantor Memo, Jan. 3, 2014)
Moreover, according to inside-the-beltway publication Politico, Speaker Boehner informed House Republicans this morning during a closed-door meeting that he is currently drafting a list of “principles” for immigration reform. (Politico, Jan. 8, 2014) The Politico article suggests that Boehner plans on releasing his ideas for immigration reform during the House GOP’s legislative retreat later this month. (Id.)
Stay tuned to FAIR for details…
Congressional Leaders Say Expect Immigration on House Floor in 2014
In a new memo designed to set the legislative agenda for 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) indicated that immigration was one of “several outstanding issues” the lower chamber plans to address this year. (New York Times, Jan. 1, 2014)
More specifically, Cantor told his GOP colleagues that immigration legislation “may be brought to the floor over the next few months.” (Cantor Memo, Jan. 3, 2014) Cantor underscored the issues of appropriations, Obamacare, the Farm bill, and foreign policy with Iran as matters high on the agenda. He then listed immigration as an “additional matter” to be addressed along with other issues such as trade.
Despite Cantor’s vagueness about how the House will address immigration in 2014, two Senators who appeared on last Sunday’s program, This Week, were optimistic that the House would pass immigration legislation this year. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “I think we can pass some meaningful reform.” (The Hill, Jan. 5, 2014) Paul indicated that passage was likely “if the Democrats are willing to come halfway” about their stance when voting privileges for amnestied illegal aliens would start. (Id.) Gang of Eight member Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “I think that it’s likely we will get immigration reform this year.” (Id.) Schumer said a 2014 amnesty law was likely after the December 2013 deal for the Ryan-Murray budget because Speaker Boehner showed that he would not let amnesty opponents “run the show.” (Id.)
On Thursday, January 2, 2014, the California Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing illegal alien Sergio Garcia to practice law in California. (In re Sergio C. Garcia on Admission, S 202512, Supreme Court of California, 2014) The Court based its ruling on a California statute signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown this fall that expressly permits the California Supreme Court to admit illegal aliens to the practice of law. (See CA Assembly Bill No. 1024)
The Court reasoned that the passage of California’s new law AB 1024 removed all barriers for illegal aliens as a class to practice law in California. As a general rule, federal law prohibits illegal aliens from receiving most public benefits, including the ability to receive a professional license. (See 8 U.S.C. 1621(a)-(c)) However, the law also provides for an exception that allows illegal aliens to receive a certain benefit under state law if the state legislature expressly passes a law allowing for such. (Id. at 1621(d)) Here the Court determined that because the state had enacted AB 1024, affirmatively allowing illegal aliens to practice law in California, Garcia should be licensed even though he is an illegal alien.
The Court rejected arguments that, regardless of whether state and federal law allows illegal aliens to receive such licenses, those who continually violate the law by their presence are unfit to swear an oath upholding it, reasoning that unauthorized presence in the country is a civil rather than criminal violation. The Court also noted the President’s policy of “Prosecutorial Discretion” makes enforcement of the law against illegal aliens such as Garcia “extremely unlikely.” (In re Garcia at 21-23)
Despite the Court’s decision to allow Garcia to receive a law license, the court indicated that it would still be illegal for an employer to hire Garcia. Referring to the federal statute that prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens (INA Section 274A), the decision reads: “This court’s granting of a law license to undocumented immigrants would not override or otherwise affect the federal limitations upon the employment of undocumented immigrants,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote. (Id. at 26) “Nonetheless, for a number of reasons we conclude that existing federal limitations on the employment of undocumented immigrants do not justify excluding undocumented immigrants from admission to the State Bar.” (Id.)
Garcia had been seeking admission to the California bar since 2009, and sees his case as precedent setting, saying “I can finally fulfill my dream and also leave behind a legacy so that an undocumented student 20 or 30 years from now will take it for granted that they can be an attorney.” (The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2014) Indeed, Garcia is likely to be the first of many, and possibly not only in California. Though it is the only state so far to grant such licenses, activist illegal aliens are also pursuing law licenses in New York and Florida. (NY Daily News, Oct. 15, 2013; CNN, Jan. 3, 2014)
Advocates of immigration enforcement have voiced strong opposition to the Court’s decision. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) criticized the Court immediately, declaring that the ruling “unravels the fabric of American society by ignoring the distinction between citizens and non-citizens” and “makes all three branches of the government in California complicit in the furtherance of unjustified amnesty for illegal immigrants.” (Rep. Smith Press Release, Jan. 2, 2014)
Even some amnesty supporters disapprove of allowing illegal aliens to practice law. Discussing the case in September, longtime amnesty proponent Ruben Navarrette, a CNN contributor and nationally syndicated columnist commented: “How is Garcia supposed to uphold ‘the laws of the United States’ when he is, by his mere presence in this country, in violation of federal law? …If Garcia had more respect for the profession that he is seeking to join, he might have second thoughts about whether he is eligible to join it. Yet, he seems to feel entitled to a law license and everything that comes with it.” (CNN, Sept. 6, 2013)
On January 28, the Maryland State House Judiciary Committee is slated to consider House Bill 29 (HB 29), the so-called “Maryland Law Enforcement Trust Act.”
Specifically, HB 29 prohibits state and local law enforcement from honoring all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers for any alien otherwise eligible for release from custody. An ICE detainer is essentially a notification to state or local law enforcement agencies that ICE seeks custody of a particular alien for the purpose of removal. However, if state law orders state and local officials to ignore ICE detainers, they have no choice but to release criminal aliens — many of whom have no right to be in the United States — back onto the street in spite of their immigration status and the crimes they committed.
Moreover, HB 29 prohibits state and local law enforcement officials from inquiring into the immigration status of any individual arrested, or from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual for the purpose of investigating immigration violations or executing ICE administrative warrants to apprehend. It also severely restricts federal immigration agents’ access to interview any inmate in state and local custody by requiring the inmate be given the opportunity to have counsel present, the inmate sign a written consent form, and the interview does not take place prior to the inmate’s first appearance in court.
If this bill advances, it would impede state and local law enforcement from working with the federal government to enforce immigration law. In an August 23, 2012 letter to FAIR, former ICE Director John Morton stated that jurisdictions that ignore ICE detainer requests are undermining public safety in their communities.