Legislative Update: 2/2/2016
The attorney representing Francisco Sanchez, the illegal alien who shot and killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco on July 1, has asked the judge to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against his client. (Associated Press, Jan. 29, 2016) Sanchez, who has seven prior convictions and has been deported five times, admitted to killing Steinle during a jailhouse interview. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 8, 2015) Despite the confession, Sanchez’s attorney claims the shooting was an accident and therefore lacks the intent element required for a second-degree murder charge. (Associated Press, Jan. 29, 2016) The judge canceled a hearing scheduled January 29 in order to consider the motion to dismiss the charges. (Id.) Attorneys will now argue the issue on March 24; if the judge dismisses the second-degree murder charge, the prosecutor is allowed to refile a lesser charge against Sanchez. (Id.)
Kate Steinle’s death brought national attention to dangers posed by sanctuary cities — State and local jurisdictions with policies intended to impede the enforcement of immigration law by federal immigration officials. Outrageously, Sanchez was in San Francisco law enforcement custody months before the killing but was released onto the streets by the sheriff who ignored an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer request because of the sanctuary policy. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 8, 2015) In response, the House of Representatives quickly passed H.R. 3009, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which denied certain federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 28, 2015) Disappointingly, the Senate failed to follow suit when Senate Democrats blocked the anti-sanctuary city bill, with Barbara Boxer — Kate Steinle’s senator — casting the vote that officially killed the bill. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 27, 2015)
Overwhelmed by Border Surge, HHS Gives Unaccompanied Alien Minors to Human Traffickers
Last Thursday, a Senate subcommittee released the results of a six-month investigation into the federal government’s policies and procedures for placing unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) with adult sponsors. (Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Staff Report, Jan. 28, 2016) The investigation was launched after a federal indictment revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) placed a number of UACs in the hands of human traffickers who forced them into slave labor conditions. (Id.) “What I can say with confidence is that HHS’s policies expose unaccompanied minors to an unreasonable risk of trafficking, debt bondage, and other forms of abuse at the hands of their sponsors. That must change,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. (Statement of Chairman Rob Portman, Jan. 28, 2016) It is estimated that HHS has placed about 90,000 UACs — mostly from Central America — with adult sponsors in the U.S. over the last two years. (Id.)
Once UACs are apprehended at the border, they are screened, processed, and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (See FAIR UAC Fact Sheet) Within 72 hours, they must be turned over to HHS and placed into a temporary immigration shelter. From there, HHS attempts to place the UAC with an adult sponsor — who may also be in the country unlawfully — to care for them temporarily, pending the resolution of their case in immigration court. Federal law requires HHS to ensure that UACs are protected from trafficking and other forms of abuse. (Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Staff Report, Jan. 28, 2016) However, the Subcommittee’s investigation revealed that HHS’s policies and procedures are inadequate to protect the UACs that are in the agency’s care. (Id.) Additionally, the investigation found that many UACs fail to appear in immigration court and effectively disappear into the country, as HHS cedes all power and responsibility over the UAC once they are transferred to the care of a sponsor. (Id.)
With immigration courts facing a backlog of over 400,000 cases, and the federal government unable to guarantee the safety of UACs once they arrive, the underlying policies that created the UAC surge must be addressed in order to truly solve the problem. In addition to President Obama’s executive amnesties and non-enforcement agenda, the UAC surge is fueled by a loophole in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 that prevents the government from promptly returning illegal aliens from Central America. (P.Law 110-457) The last opportunity to address the loophole was through the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, H.R. 2029, passed in December 2015. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 22, 2015) Disappointingly, the omnibus omitted language the House approved in 2014 authored by Reps. John Carter (R-TX), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Jack Kingston (R-GA) — and endorsed by FAIR — that would have closed the TVPRA loophole (Section 235) and made all UACs subject to the same removal process as UACs from Mexico and other countries. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 5, 2014) Instead, the omnibus kept the loophole in place and merely allocated money to “carry out” Section 235 of the TVPRA, along with other trafficking statutes. (H.R. 2029, P.917)
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of Cubans fleeing the country increased 78 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2014 to 2015. (See Washington Times, Jan. 28, 2016) In FY2014, 24,278 Cubans left their homeland while 43,159 left in FY2015. (Id.) With commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba still prohibited, many are flying to Central American countries before beginning the journey north to the Texas border.
Outrageously, newly uncovered evidence reveals that Mexico and several Central American countries are conspiring to assist these Cubans in their journey to the U. S. southern border. Last November, the Nicaraguan government announced it would no longer allow Cubans to pass through the Central American country, resulting in nearly 8,000 Cubans being “stranded” in Costa Rica. (Id.) In response, officials from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico concocted a multi-phase plan to get the Cubans to the U.S.-Mexico border. (Id.) First, the Cubans will be flown from Costa Rica to El Salvador and bused through Guatemala into Mexico. (Id.) Once in Mexico, the Mexican government issues 20-day transit visas for the Cubans to reach the U.S. southern border. (Id.) The first flight out of Costa Rica occurred on January 12 and it is expected that 7,800 Cubans will reach the U.S. border by the end of May. (Id.)
This situation underscores the necessity in repealing the law that gives Cubans special treatment under our immigration laws. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban nationals who set foot on American soil — regardless of how they got here — are permitted to remain and adjust their status to permanent legal immigrants after one year. Some speculate that the Obama administration’s decision this summer to “normalize” relations with Cuba is fueling the surge of Cubans leaving their homeland in an attempt to take advantage of the preferential treatment granted under the Cuban Adjustment Act. (See FAIR Press Release, July 6, 2015) With foreign nations now actively assisting Cubans in their trip to the U.S., Congress must promptly pass legislation that repeals the Cuban Adjustment Act and treats Cubans the same as individuals from all other nations under our immigration laws.
According to Department of Justice (DOJ) data compiled and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), criminal prosecution of immigration offenses has declined significantly in the past year. (Breitbart, Jan. 26, 2016) In November 2015, there were 4,861 new immigration prosecutions, reflecting a 13.2 percent drop over the previous month. (Id.) Over the past year, that number is down 22.3 percent. (Id.) The data continues an alarming trend of declining criminal immigration prosecutions, as immigration prosecutions have declined 36.3 percent in the past five years, excluding cases filed in U.S. Magistrate Court (which handles petty offenses). (Id.)
TRAC also analyzed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data, which showed a massive drop in detainer requests issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Washington Examiner, Jan. 25, 2016) A detainer is a request sent by federal officials that asks local officers to maintain custody of a criminal alien for up to 48 hours so federal officials may obtain custody of the criminal alien. There were over 25,000 detainers issued in October 2010. That fell to 7,117 in October 2015, a remarkable 71.6 percent decrease. (Washington Examiner, Jan. 25, 2016) The drop in ICE’s use of detainers is due to the numerous actions that the Obama administration has taken to systematically dismantle immigration enforcement, from reducing the effectiveness of the Secure Communities program to eventually replacing it with the weak Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). (See FAIR Secure Communities Press Release, Apr. 27, 2012; FAIR PEP Press Release, Aug. 4, 2015)
The New Mexico House of Representatives passed House Bill (H.B.) 99 on January 27 to amend the state’s driver’s license laws. If enacted, H.B. 99 would create a tiered license scheme that would continue to grant illegal aliens driving privileges while bringing the state into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. (Washington Times, Jan. 27, 2016) The REAL ID Act, which Congress passed in 2005 in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks, prohibits the federal government from accepting any state’s driver’s license as proof of identity if individuals who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States are eligible to receive that license. (REAL ID Act)
Currently, New Mexico allows any resident to receive the same driver’s license regardless of their immigration status. H.B. 99 would change current law by creating two distinct licenses: 1) a license that meets REAL ID’s requirements to be accepted as identification for federal purposes; and 2) a license that does not meet REAL ID’s requirements to be accepted as identification for federal purposes, intended for applicants who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States. (H.B. 99)This system will allow the state to comply with the federal REAL ID Act while still granting illegal aliens driving privileges.
While some Republicans in New Mexico depict H.B. 99 as a step in the right direction, H.B. 99 merely replaces one bad policy with another. Granting illegal aliens driving privileges and other forms of public benefits encourages further illegal immigration to the region. Illegal immigration increases competition for jobs, depresses wages, and raises the cost of living for all New Mexicans. Additionally, New Mexico has experienced substantial fraud as a result of granting illegal aliens driving privileges and official state-issued forms of identification. During an audit between August 2010 and April 2011, investigators found that as much as 75 percent of foreign national license applications were fraudulent. (KRQE) During that same period, investigators also uncovered 37 percent of foreign national requests for appointments came from out-of-state, most from Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. (Fox News, Jan. 25, 2012)
The movement to completely repeal illegal alien driver’s licenses in New Mexico has seen wide support amongst state officials and constituents. A 2014 Albuquerque Journal poll revealed that 75 percent of New Mexicans support repealing the state’s current driver’s license law. (Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 11, 2015) Greg Fouratt, the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety, explained his support for repealing the current law, stating “New Mexico driver’s licenses have become a commodity for criminal rings across the country.” (Id.)
New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, who has long been an advocate for completely repealing the law allowing illegal aliens to receive a driver’s license, came out in support of H.B. 99. “We have a good compromise bill that solves the problem and stops giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and I hope the Senate Democrats will support it,” Martinez said. (International Business Times, Jan. 21, 2016) However, a spokesperson for the governor noted, “[Governor Martinez] is going to continue to stand with the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans, including Hispanics, who want to end the dangerous law of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.” (KRQUE News 13, Jan. 25, 2016)
The New Mexico House approved H.B. 99 39-30, largely on a party-line vote. The full Senate must vote on the bill before it can be sent to Governor Martinez for approval. It has until February 18 to approve the measure, when New Mexico’s 2016 legislative session adjourns for the year.