Legislative Update: 2/3/2015
Senate Begins Work on DHS Funding Bill Today
The Senate begins work today on the House-passed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that defunds President Obama’s executive amnesties (H.R. 240). Today’s procedural vote at 2:30 pm is a motion to proceed to debate the bill and requires 60 votes to advance — known as a cloture vote. With Republicans controlling 54 seats, at least six Democratic Senators must join all Senate Republicans to begin consideration of the bill.
Democratic Leadership in the Senate is already attempting to block debate on the bill due to its defunding provisions. Last Tuesday, all Senate Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demanding that the Senate pass a “clean” Homeland Security funding bill, one that does not limit the President’s ability to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in immigration matters. (Letter to McConnell, Jan. 27, 2015) Declaring that Senate Democrats are “united” on the strategy, Appropriations Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said, “We’ll do it one big step at a time. Right now we intend to try to defeat the motion to proceed to the bill as a way of saying ‘Come up with a clean bill.’” (CQ Today, Jan. 29, 2015) However, by demanding the DHS appropriations bill be stripped of any defunding language, Democratic leaders are making at least seven Democratic Senators support the executive amnesty after previously voicing opposition to it.
President Obama is vowing to veto a DHS funding bill that undoes his executive amnesty programs. “The president will join the Democrats in Congress in vehemently opposing that dangerous view and calling for a clean funding bill to ensure we are funding our national security priorities in the face of cybersecurity and security threats abroad,” said a White House official. (The Hill, Jan. 29, 2015)
Additionally, all three former DHS secretaries are calling on the Senate to pass a bill that fully funds President Obama’s amnesty programs. In a letter to McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Obama’s former secretary Janet Napolitano joined with former Bush secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff wrote, “The President has said very publicly that he will oppose any legislative effort to undermine the executive actions that he has taken on immigration.” (See CQ Today, Jan. 29, 2015) They went on to urge the Senate “not to risk funding for the operations that protect every American and to pass a clean DHS funding bill.” (Id.) The support of the former DHS secretaries is unsurprising. Janet Napolitano played an instrumental role in dismantling immigration enforcement while Ridge and Chertoff have long advocated for amnesty. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 11, 2013)
However, Senate Republicans appear to doubt that Democrats are unified in this strategy. “It’s hard for me to believe that they would actually block a DHS appropriations bill,” Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said. (CQ Today, Jan. 29, 2015) “Then they would be responsible for the consequences of that.” (Id.) Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) added, “I think we should do everything we can to persuade at least a half a dozen Democrats that they should join us to get this done.” (Politico, Jan. 27, 2015) “Sometimes you don’t know how these legislative battles go if you don’t have them, and we intend to have this one,” he added. (Id.)
Now all eyes shift to Majority Leader McConnell. Despite previously vowing to stop President Obama’s executive amnesty programs, McConnell recently began backpedaling from the defunding strategy. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 27, 2015) Funding for DHS runs out on February 27.
Lynch Claims Executive Amnesty Is Constitutional, Illegal Aliens Have “Right” to Work
Last week, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch testified that she supported the President’s executive amnesty. (C-Span video, Jan. 28 2015, Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jan. 28, 2015) She also declared that illegal aliens have as much right to work in this country as American citizens and lawfully present residents. (Id.)
Ms. Lynch tried to avoid answering most questions on immigration. One key question from Republican Senators was whether she believes the President’s executive actions on immigration are legally justified. Indeed, this question was her very first, posed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jan. 28, 2015) At first, she sidestepped a direct answer, by claiming that the legal justification offered by the Office of Legal Counsel for the executive actions seemed “reasonable” and that she did not believe it provided “legal amnesty” because it was not “permanent.” (Id.) Finally, however, after hours of questioning, she replied to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), in his second round, “I do believe” the executive actions are legal and constitutional. (Id.) Indeed, during the hearing, Ms. Lynch refused at least 15 times to give direct answers on this issue to questions posed by true immigration reformers Senators Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and David Vitter (R-LA). (Id.)
Ms. Lynch also dodged a number of questions from Republican Senators regarding the limits of prosecutorial discretion. (Id.) For instance, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), himself a former prosecutor, posed a question regarding speeding and asked, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, whether giving certain drivers a permit to drive beyond the speed limit would be a “usurpation of the system by which our laws are made.” (Id.) However Ms. Lynch responded that she would not respond to such a question “without knowing more of the facts.” (Id.; see also, video clip)
Though Ms. Lynch was generally evasive regarding prosecutorial discretion, she clearly stated she believes illegal aliens have the right to work in the United States. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jan. 28, 2015) Senator Sessions, noting that current Attorney General Eric Holder claims that amnesty is a matter of “civil rights,” pressed Ms. Lynch on what rights she believes illegal aliens have. (Id.) When he asked which has more right to a job — a citizen, lawful immigrant, or illegal alien — Ms. Lynch answered: “the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here.” (Id.; see also, video clip) She then refused to state whether, as Attorney General, she would support discrimination lawsuits against employers who refuse to hire those illegal aliens who are beneficiaries of the President’s executive Amnesty. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Jan. 28, 2015) Instead, she merely responded that she had not “studied that legal issue.” (Id.)
For her nomination to reach the floor of the Senate, Ms. Lynch needs a majority of votes from members of the Judiciary Committee, which has eleven Republican and nine Democratic members. (Judiciary.gov) While Senators Sessions, Vitter, and Cruz have stated they will vote against her, Republican Judiciary Committee members Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have already offered support. (Politico, Jan. 29, 2015; Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2015; Breitbart.com, Jan. 28, 2015; Roll Call, Jan. 28, 2015) Senator Cruz stated that he considered Ms. Lynch’s views “dangerous” given her embrace of the President’s unconstitutional amnesty, and is pressuring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) not to bring her nomination to the Senate floor. (Roll Call, Jan. 28, 2015) A committee vote is not expected until late February. (Politico, Jan. 29, 2015)
Flawed Border Bill Stalls in the House
Last Monday, citing the inclement weather along the east coast, House GOP leadership unexpectedly pulled H.R. 399, Chairman Michael McCaul’s border bill, from the floor calendar. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 27, 2015) The move represented a sharp reversal from leadership, which only two weeks ago appeared to have the bill on the fast track for a floor vote.
However, House conservatives are saying it is their opposition to the bill — and not the weather — that is the reason GOP leadership pulled the bill. “What about the weather? We’re voting on legislation today and tomorrow,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) last week. (Breitbart News, Jan. 27, 2015) Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID) added, “I know there were several people who raised concerns with us moving forward this fast,” noting at least 40 members had voiced opposition. (CQ Today, Jan. 27, 2015) “It sounds like they’re going to wait on the Senate to work their will on the DHS funding bill, which is what we should have been doing all along,” Labrador continued. (Id.)
Now, the flawed border bill’s fate is uncertain. On Thursday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a memo to House Republicans setting the February agenda — an agenda that does not include the McCaul bill. (See Roll Call, Jan. 29, 2015) Indeed, the only potential immigration action on the House floor this month appears to be limited to Department of Homeland Security funding. “In the event the Senate passes something different than the House-passed bill, we will be discussing with the Conference the best way to continue to challenge the President’s unconstitutional amnesty,” the memo reads. (Id.) Yet, last Wednesday during an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, Speaker John Boehner insisted that the House will pass the McCaul bill. (Fox News, Jan. 28, 2015)
On the other hand, the House Judiciary Committee is going to consider several immigration enforcement measures over the next two weeks. First, the full committee is having a hearing this morning on the lack of interior enforcement of our immigration laws. “There are many issues plaguing our nation’s immigration system but the biggest problem is that our immigration laws are not enforcement,” declared Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). (House Judiciary Committee Press Release, Jan. 27, 2015) Then, the immigration subcommittee will work on four enforcement bills. Tomorrow, the immigration subcommittee will examine Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1772, which implements mandatory e-Verify. Next Wednesday, the subcommittee will examine Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) interior enforcement bill, H.R. 2278; Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX) bill, HR. 5143, that makes it easier to return unaccompanied alien minors; and Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) bill, H.R. 5137, that closes loopholes in the asylum process that the Obama administration has exploited to rubberstamp asylum applications. (House Judiciary Committee Press Release, Jan. 28, 2015)
Illegal Alien Released by ICE Arrested for Murder
On January 22, 2015, Mesa Police arrested Apolinar Altamirano, an illegal alien released from ICE custody, on suspicion of first-degree murder of a gas station clerk.
According to Mesa authorities, around 4:00 a.m. on January 22, Altamirano entered the Quik Trip gas station in Mesa, Arizona, dumped a handful of change on the store counter, and demanded cigarettes. (The Arizona Republic, Jan. 22, 2015) The clerk, 21-year-old Glenn Ronnebeck, tried to determine how much change was on the counter, but Altamirano said, “You’re not gonna take my money.” (The Arizona Republic, Feb. 2, 2015) Ronnebeck responded, “I can’t give you the cigarettes until I count the money,” according to Mesa Detective Steve Berry. (The Arizona Republic, Jan. 22, 2015) Then, Altamirano was seen on the gas station’s surveillance video firing a single lethal gunshot, stepping over Ronneback’s body, grabbing two packs of cigarettes, and leaving. (The Arizona Republic, Feb. 2, 2015)
A witness to the murder ran out of the gas station, flagged down a police officer driving down a nearby major road, and offered a description of the killer and his car. (ABC 15 Arizona, Jan. 23, 2015) Mesa police then located Altamirano’s car nearby (The Arizona Republic, Feb. 2, 2015), but Altamirano started to flee. After a 24 mile high-speed car chase to Phoenix (ABC 15 Arizona, Jan. 23, 2015), Mesa police forced Altamirano’s vehicle to spin out and stop. (Arizona Republic, Jan. 22, 2015) At 5:30 p.m., Mesa police arrested Apolinar Altamirano for first-degree murder, armed robbery, burglary, unlawful flight, and misconduct involving weapons. (The Arizona Republic , Jan. 22, 2015) Meanwhile, Ronnebeck was pronounced dead inside the Quik Trip store. (ABC 15 Arizona, Jan. 23, 2015)
After Mesa police arrested Altamirano for murder, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was forced to acknowledge that they actually had custody of him nearly two years ago, placed him into removal proceedings, but then released him after only four days. In 2012, Altamirano pled guilty to second degree burglary. (The Arizona Republic, Feb. 2, 2015) When the court notified ICE that Altamirano was an illegal alien, ICE assumed custody on June 3, 2013. However, on June 7, 2013, Altamirano posted a $10,000 bond and ICE released him. (Id.)
According to ICE:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) assumed custody of Mr. Altamirano on January 3, 2013, following his conviction by the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, for Facilitation of Burglary in the Second Degree.
After reviewing his immigration and criminal history, which showed only this conviction, ICE determined that under applicable law, Mr. Altamirano was eligible for bond. Mr. Altamirano posted a $10,000 bond on January 7, 2013. Mr. Altamirano’s removal case was still pending with the immigration courts at the time of his most recent arrest. (Id.)
However, ICE’s statement only tells part of the story. According to court records, when Altamirano committed that burglary, he told the home-owner he had ties to the Mexican mafia. (Id.) Furthermore, before sentencing, an Arizona probation officer wrote that Altamirano was “involved in criminal activity” and expressed concerns about his “possible involvement with drug sales.” (Id.)
The Obama Administration’s willingness to release Altamirano demonstrates the leniency with which it treats not only illegal aliens, but illegal aliens convicted of serious crimes. Altamirano’s 2012 conviction was for burglary in the second degree (a misdemeanor) and he did not have a conviction or charge of a felony on his criminal record. Yet, under the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement “priorities,” ICE did not treat Altamirano as a threat to public safety. (See DHS, Morton Memo, Dec. 21, 2012 (requiring ICE to take custody only if the alien has been convicted or charged with a felony, was convicted of at least three misdemeanors, or has certain very specific types of misdemeanor convictions or charges); see also DHS, Prosecutorial Discretion Memo, Nov. 20, 2014 at p. 3 (further weakening the criteria for custody and detention)).
Even after ICE released Altamirano, growing evidence demonstrated that Altiminaro was a threat to public safety. Altamirano’s current rap sheet contains a felony and continued lawbreaking. (CBS 5 Arizona, Jan. 23, 2015) On January 9, 2015, Mesa police removed Altamirano from the Mesa, Quik Trip store for trespassing. (Id.) Then, on January 19, Altamirano was charged with harassment for violating the terms of a protective order. (Id.) Moreover, law enforcement knew that Altamirano was a convicted felon prohibited from possessing firearms. (Id.)
Even if an ICE agent pointed to the evidence in the record showing that an illegal alien like Altamirano was convicted of a felony, was prohibited from possessing handguns , and violated a judge’s order (or had been suspected of narcotics trafficking and gang membership 2012), Obama’s current policies now allow higher-level DHS managers to cite vague “compelling and exceptional factors” which will override the input of a field agent with more knowledge of the particular circumstances of each case. (See DHS, Prosecutorial Discretion Memo, Nov. 20, 2014 at p. 3)
The Altamirano case has drawn concerns from state law enforcement officials as well as criminal justice experts. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich questioned whether the Obama Administration’s immigration policies endanger public safety. He asked, “If someone like this can remain in this country even though he’s here illegally and committed crimes, you have to ask yourself: what is the Obama administration [sic] doing?… Why are they allowing people like this to stay in our communities and be threats to our wives, families, children, husbands and fathers?” (Fox News, Jan. 28, 2015) Similarly, a former State Department officer who has reported to the Justice Department on the use of immigration enforcement in suppressing transnational gangs said of the Altimirano case, “There’s no logical reason for ICE to let people like that out of custody instead of sending them home… “If they had kept him in custody they could have deported him [..] efficiently.” (The Arizona Republic, Feb. 2, 2015)
New Polls Find Majority of Americans Dissatisfied with Immigration Politics and Policy
A new Paragon Insights poll conducted January 22-25, 2015 found that registered voters oppose the president’s executive actions 58 percent to 36 percent. Approximately 86 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Independents are in opposition. Interestingly, fifty-seven percent of lower income voters (under 50k) oppose the president’s actions, with 40 percent strongly opposing. Even young voters (18-29) are fairly evenly split, with 49 percent supporting and 42 percent opposing.
The Paragon Insights poll also found that 53 percent of registered voters support Congress stripping federal funding of the president’s executive amnesty and 71 percent support Congress strengthening the prohibition on employers hiring illegal aliens.
Not only is the president’s decision to unilaterally shield illegal aliens from deportation unpopular, a new poll finds that the president’s policy to expand immigration is also unpopular. A recent Gallup poll shows the extent of dissatisfaction Americans (adults 18 and over) have with the current level of immigration, both legal and illegal. Sixty percent said they were dissatisfied versus 33 percent who were satisfied. The share of those dissatisfied is up 6 points from last year. Of the 60 percent dissatisfied, only 7 percent wanted more immigration while 39 percent said there should be less and 14 percent wanted those levels to remain the same.
There were other important findings from the Gallup poll that do not deal with immigration directly but are noteworthy because they are affected by immigration policy. For instance, most Americans were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth is distributed in the U.S (67 percent dissatisfied). Fifty-seven percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the quality of public education in the nation, and 70 percent were dissatisfied with the nation’s efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness.
While immigration is not the sole cause of these problems, it is an exacerbating factor. Immigration flows play a role in growing income inequality by lowering the earnings of American workers. As the number of immigrant students in public schools continues to increase, so too is the cost to teach those who do not speak English. This diverts resources away from American students.
California DMV Policy Lets Illegal Aliens Get Away with ID Theft
As California DMVs are flooded with illegal alien applicants following the implementation of Assembly Bill (“A.B.”) 60, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) issued a new policy instructing its investigators to ignore cases of identity theft committed by illegal aliens applying for the new driver’s licenses. (CBS, Jan. 29, 2015; Breitbart, Jan. 27, 2015) The policy was put into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, a few days prior to the enactment of A.B. 60. (Id.)
California’s Department of Justice website clearly states that in California, “all forms of identity theft are crimes.” Despite this, the California DMV policy orders DMV investigators to ignore evidence of identity theft by illegal alien applicants “who may have attempted to obtain or been issued a license or ID card previously through submission of false information.” (Breitbart, Jan. 27, 2015) The policy instructs investigators to overlook cases where the past identity theft was committed only to obtain an identification card or driver’s license, but not cases where the cards were later used in the commission of other crimes. (Id.) It is unclear how DMV investigators will be able to rule out the latter. (Id.)
California’s refusal to prosecute illegal aliens who’ve committed identity theft highlights the state’s willingness to accommodate illegal immigration over the welfare of its own citizens and legal residents. Generally, identity theft is prosecuted as a felony in California. (Penal Code section 530.5 et. seq.) A source from the California DMV advised that cases where United States citizens are caught committing identity theft while applying for a driver’s license are generally not disregarded and are often turned over to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. (Breitbart, Jan. 27, 2015) A spokesperson from the California DMV added that DMV investigators are continuously searching for “inconsistent information” and are “constantly looking for cases” of identity theft. (Id.)