Legislative Update: 2/19/2014
Democrats Vow to Bring Amnesty Bill to House Floor
House Democrats announced last week they plan to force House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring to the floor mass amnesty legislation through a process known as a “discharge petition.” (Washington Times, Feb. 13, 2014) The 1,000+ page House amnesty bill (H.R. 15) is virtually identical to the Senate Gang of Eight bill (S. 744), but without the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment, and with the McCaul-Jackson Lee border bill (H.R. 1417) in its place. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 9, 2013) H.R. 15 currently has 197 co-sponsors, including three Republicans: Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao of California, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. (See USA Today, Oct. 30, 2013)
The announcement by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) came during the House Democrats’ annual strategy retreat. Representative Hoyer named amnesty as just one of many issues House Dems would like to force to the floor via discharge petition. (See MSNBC interview with Rep. Hoyer, Feb. 13, 2014)
A discharge petition is a way for any group of Representatives in the House to force legislation to the floor when House Committees will not act on it. Once a petition to “discharge” a bill receives a number of signatures equal to a majority of members in the House the bill is eligible for a vote and placed on the House calendar. (See House Rules Committee website, Feb. 14, 2014) Discharge petitions allow House members to circumvent chamber rules requiring a piece of legislation first be passed through the primary committee of jurisdiction before it can be put before the full House of Representatives for a vote. (Id.) This literally means that the committee has been “discharged” of its responsibility to hear the bill. (Id.)
Senate Gang of Eight leader and longtime amnesty proponent Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has endorsed launching a discharge petition to get H.R. 15 to the House floor. “The idea that’s begun circulating, to do a discharge petition on immigration reform in the House, is a good one and I would urge House Democrats to take it up,” said Schumer. (Politico, Feb. 13, 2014) “It’s clear a majority of the House supports immigration reform. A minority faction has scared Republicans out of acting even though large parts of the Republican base, including business and religious groups, support the bill, making a discharge petition an appropriate remedy,” he continued. (Id.)
Republicans, on the other hand, have expressed skepticism that such a petition would attract the number of signatures required to succeed. In fact, Speaker Boehner’s office dismissed the idea completely. “This scheme has zero chance of success — a clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed. That’s why we will continue to work on step-by-step, common-sense reform,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman. (Washington Times, Feb. 13, 2014) Even Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who supports granting legal status to illegal aliens, said there was “zero” chance that he or Republicans sharing his position would sign such a petition. (NY Times, Feb. 13, 2014) “It means you’re putting a thumb in the eye of the speaker, not just in this issue but any issue,” he said. “You’re essentially handing control of the floor to the minority party.”
Republicans control the House of Representatives by a 232-199 margin (there are currently four vacancies).
House Republican Leaks Amnesty Proposal
Last week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), leaked an outline of his amnesty bill to a pro-amnesty immigration attorney. (See breitbart.com, Feb. 10, 2014)
Based on the one page outline, Issa’s plan is similar to previous amnesty proposals, including the Senate amnesty bill, S.744, which Speaker Boehner has refused to move through the House. (See Rep. Issa Amnesty Outline, handwritten notes not in original) Representative Issa’s plan allows illegal aliens to apply for a newly created nonimmigrant visa that authorizes illegal aliens to work, giving them time to obtain a green card and eventual U.S. citizenship. Additionally, illegal aliens may be sponsored by their employers for the special visa. The visa is good for one year and renewable for up to six years. However, the outline does not say what happens after six years, casting doubt that legalization would ever be revoked for an amnestied illegal alien unable to obtain a green card during that time.
To be eligible for the visa, illegal aliens must “come forward” and register with the Department of Homeland Security, be present in the U.S. before January 1, 2013, and prove that they have been continuously present in the country. Illegal aliens also must be able to “economically support” themselves and dependents. Although the outline states that amnestied illegal aliens are ineligible for public welfare benefits while holding the special visa, they will eventually be eligible for a number of government entitlement programs once they receive a green card. Illegal aliens in deportation proceedings or convicted of a “crime” are ineligible for the special visa.
Illegal aliens who do not meet these criteria will still receive special treatment. For example, the plan gives illegal aliens a “window” of time to depart voluntarily (at their own expense), indicating that the plan waives the statutory three and 10-year bars. Under these bars, illegal aliens are usually prohibited from returning to the U.S. for either three or 10 years after they depart, depending on the amount of time they were in the country unlawfully. (INA 212(a)(9)(B))
Additionally, Rep. Issa’s proposal grants a reprieve to businesses who have utilized illegal labor. In exchange for sponsoring illegal alien employees for the special visa, “employers will be exempted from liability for past employment of the illegal aliens.” (emphasis in original) Remarkably, despite the fact that approximately 20 million Americans are unemployed or looking for full-time work, Rep. Issa claims amnesty is needed because “businesses need immediate access to a legal workforce.”
While Rep. Issa’s proposal endorses amnesty for millions of illegal aliens, a goal of Speaker Boehner, it does not meet the same “standards” contained Boehner’s immigration principles. First, Issa’s plan makes no mention of border security and immigration enforcement while Boehner’s principles at least contain a token claim that amnesty will not happen “before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented.” (Compare House GOP Immigration Principles; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 5, 2014) Next, Issa’s outline grants amnesty through the creation of a new visa program, which directly contradicts the Speaker’s promise that there “will be no special path to citizenship” for illegal aliens. (Id.) Finally, Issa’s plan does not require illegal aliens to pay “significant” fines and back taxes, or learn English and civics as called for in the Speaker’s document. (Id.)
Interestingly, this is not Rep. Issa’s first attempt at crafting amnesty legislation. In fact, Rep. Issa authored H.R. 3651 back in 2003, an amnesty bill titled the “Alien Accountability Act,” which is the exact title of the outline he leaked last week. (Compare H.R. 3651) The legislative language of H.R. 3651 is nearly identical to the provisions called for in the outline. It is unclear how a decade’s old amnesty bill is the answer to the GOP’s supposed immigration problem in 2014.
Amnesty Groups Threaten “Relentless” Protests
Several pro-amnesty groups are organizing aggressive protests targeting House Republicans over the next two months. (Politico, Feb. 10, 2014; Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10, 2014) Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), America’s Voice, CASA in Action, and the Campaign for Community Change are working together to plan “relentless and constant confrontations that will escalate” until Congress passes amnesty legislation. (Politico, Feb. 10, 2014; FIRM Press Release, Feb. 11, 2014)
The amnesty groups’ leaders hope that targeting 20 districts held by Republicans will result in the election of new pro-amnesty Members of Congress. America’s Voice founder Frank Sharry promises that “we will fight until we get a Congress that will pass” amnesty. (FIRM Press Release, Feb. 11, 2014) Kica Matos, director for Immigrant Rights & Racial Justice at the Campaign for Community Change said, “We’re going to basically throw down and bring the full weight of immigrant and Latino votes to bear.” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10, 2014) Matos revealed that some of the targets include Congressmen Mike Coffman (R-CO), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Steve King (R-IA). (FIRM Press Release, Feb. 11, 2014) The groups are also focusing their activism on seats held by retiring Representatives Buck McKeon (R-CA), Gary Miller (R-CA), and the late Bill Young (R-FL). (Id.)
The coalition of amnesty groups adopted this new, hostile strategy just within the last week. After Boehner’s February 6th remarks expressing distrust of the President’s willingness to enforce any immigration legislation, the FIRM executive committee reversed its prior decision to publicly support Republicans who advocated for amnesty. (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10, 2014) Matos, who is also a spokeswoman for FIRM, explained the new direction by saying “Now, with Speaker Boehner casting doubt that he can actually deliver immigration reform, FIRM is switching tactics from persuasion to punishment.” (USA Today, Feb. 12, 2014) She added, “We decided to pivot from this idea to do everything we could to move legislators forward to do what we can to punish legislators who get in the way.” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10, 2014)
Pro-amnesty Members of Congress told their colleagues to anticipate activists engaged in immigration protests. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) said, “I would expect that we will see thousands upon thousands of individuals from all backgrounds coming to this Congress in the summer and finally saying ‘enough is enough.’ Be prepared.” (Examiner, Feb. 12, 2014) Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said, “You’re going to find a lot of folks — not just immigrants, not just advocates of immigrants — but a lot of Americans, a lot of businessmen and women, a lot of farmers saying to members of Congress… ‘Get this done.’” (The Hill, Feb. 12, 2014) Finally, referencing a visit illegal alien activists paid Speaker Boehner last fall while he was eating in a Washington, D.C. diner, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) declared, “Mr. Speaker, you are not going to be spared. Kids will keep showing up to interrupt your breakfast…” (Id.)
Obama Prioritizes DACA Applicants over Legal Immigrants
According to a recent report by the New York Times, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been prioritizing the processing of applications for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over those of individuals attempting to enter the country lawfully.
The DACA program, which grants legal status and work authorization to illegal aliens who claim to have been brought to the U.S. as minors, has tripled the visa wait time for the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens who are trying to immigrate to the country lawfully, says the news outlet. (New York Times, Feb. 8, 2014) Until recently, a U.S citizen could obtain a green card for an immediate relative in five months or less, but after the Administration instituted DACA in 2012, USCIS diverted its attention to DACA recipients and the typical wait lengthened to 15 months. (Id.)
By the end of 2013, USCIS had approved roughly 500,000 illegal aliens for the DACA program. (Id.; See also USCIS’s DACA Quarterly Report, Feb. 6, 2014) Meanwhile, wait times for petitions by U.S. citizens for green cards for immediate relatives increased, with over half a million becoming “stuck in the pipeline.” (New York Times, Feb. 8, 2014) For example, U.S. citizen Andrew Bachert has been waiting since August to be reunited with his Australian national wife and two teenage children, who are still waiting in Australia for a visa. (Id.) Though some immigration lawyers suggested she skirt the system and enter America through a 90-day tourist visa, she decided she would rather wait abroad than lie to U.S. customs officials about how long she intended to stay in country. (Id.)
The Obama Administration commented that while it is aware of the problem, the wait times will not be reduced anytime soon. Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS, claimed the agency had seen “a temporary increase in processing times” for the citizens’ green card applications because of the deferrals program and “the standard ebb and flow” of visas. (Id.) Moreover, according the New York Times, agency officials realized there was a problem last year and tried to speed up processing times by spreading application adjudications out to multiple processing centers. Though agency officials apparently reported they reduced the wait time from 15 to 10 months, they said they would not be able to reduce the wait times back to five months before this summer. (Id.)
This delay in green card approvals represents just one more example of the Obama Administration’s determination to put the needs of illegal aliens above those of U.S. citizens. For more information, see FAIR’s Obama’s Record of Dismantling Immigration Enforcement.
Fremont Residents Reaffirm Ordinance Prohibiting Landlords from Renting to Illegal Aliens
Residents of Fremont, Nebraska voted last Tuesday to keep Ordinance 5165, which prohibits landlords from renting to illegal aliens. The Ordinance was originally adopted in 2010 as a citizen-initiated ballot initiative. This time, however, residents supported the Ordinance by an even larger margin: sixty percent of the ballots cast, 3,850 to 2,610, versus the 57% in 2010. (Fremont Unofficial Final Report; JournalStar.com, Nov. 13, 2013)
The Fremont City Council forced the special election at taxpayer expense in an effort to overturn the Ordinance, which had been opposed by business interests, represented by the Greater Fremont Development Council and the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, and some members of the City Council, who themselves are owners of rental properties. (JournalStar.com, Nov. 13, 2013; Fremont Tribune, Oct. 29, 2013; Miami Herald, Feb. 11, 2014) Fremont City Council President Jennifer Bixby, who made the motion to force residents to once again vote on the measure, said in defense of her actions, “I just think this Ordinance certainly has kind of divided our community for a handful of years now, and it’s not about legal or illegal, in my opinion. Right now it’s about whether it’s Fremont, Nebraska’s job to do the federal government’s position, what they should be doing for the nation as far as immigration policy.” (JournalStar.com, Nov. 13, 2013)
On Tuesday, Fremont residents disagreed. “I think more towns need to do this given that the federal government isn’t doing its job,” said Matt Kwiatkowski, a Fremont resident who voted in favor of the Ordinance. (Miami Herald, Feb. 11, 2014) “The mayor and city council need to listen to the people,” said John Wiegert, an activist who helped put the Ordinance on the ballot in 2010. “The people have spoken twice.” (Id.) Councilwoman Bixby now claims the Council will respect the voters’ decision on the Ordinance. (ABCNews, Feb. 12, 2014)
Remarkably, the Fremont City Council initiated a second ballot initiative despite the fact that the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently upheld the legality of the Ordinance. (Eighth Circuit Opinion). The plaintiffs in that suit, a combination of tenants without lawful status, landlords, and employers, represented by the ACLU and MALDEF, challenged the Ordinance arguing it is preempted by federal law and violates the Fair Housing Act. (Id.) Now that the residents of Fremont voted to keep the Ordinance on the books, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit must decide whether to appeal the Eighth Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court. (Fremont Tribune, Jan. 17, 2014)
The police will start enforcing the Ordinance 30 days after the election results are certified by the City Council. (Id.) The Council could certify the election results as early as its next meeting on February 25. (Id.)