Legislative Update: 2/5/2014
House Republicans Unveil Amnesty Plan
Last Thursday at their annual retreat, House Republican leadership released its proposal for amnesty legislation. (House GOP Immigration Principles) The two-page proposal, remarkably similar to the Senate Gang of Eight’s outline released ahead of their mass guest worker amnesty bill, is in the form of six principles to guide the GOP in fixing our “broken” immigration system. (Compare Senate Gang of Eight Outline)
The first component of the proposal is a large-scale amnesty for the 12 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. Under the plan, illegal aliens will be granted legal status if they “come forward” and “admit their culpability,” undergo “rigorous” background checks, pay “significant” fines and back taxes, learn English and civics, and be able to financially support themselves. (House GOP Immigration Principles) According to the outline, “[c]riminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders” will be ineligible. The Gang of Eight made similar claims but it turned out they lied about criminal aliens and gang members not being eligible for amnesty as well as lied about the requirement to pay back taxes and learn English. Notably, the document makes no mention of ineligible illegal aliens being subject to deportation and even refers to illegal aliens as “Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law,” which further demonstrates the pro-amnesty influence in drafting these principles.
In addition to this one-size-fits-all amnesty provision, the House GOP plan calls for a direct path to citizenship for illegal aliens allegedly brought to the U.S. as minors, or so-called “DREAMers.” In fact, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is reportedly crafting House leadership’s own version of the bill (along with Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)), known as the Kids Act, and although he has yet to release legislative language, the principles reveal that they will be granted citizenship through an expedited process that would only require them to graduate college or serve in the Armed Forces.
Regarding enforcement, the Republican plan only offers a generic goal of “securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.” Interestingly, like the Senate bill, the workplace enforcement section does not specifically mention the proven E-Verify program, which raises the possibility of them gutting the existing program and developing a new one. Moreover, the plan declares that “[w]e must secure our borders now” but does not specifically call for any border fencing. The proposal also includes a cursory statement on implementing a biometric entry-exit system which has been required by law for over a decade.
In addition to granting amnesty and a generic nod to border and interior enforcement, the GOP plan also proposes to increase legal immigration. First, despite 20 million Americans being unemployed or underemployed, the principles remarkably claim that “[v]isa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers” indicating that GOP Leadership prioritizes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s desire for cheap foreign labor over the best interests of American workers. Second, the broad language appears to propose giving green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities in “high skilled fields,” even though they will compete directly with U.S. graduates. Finally, it appears that the plan will shift our green card system from a primarily family-based distribution to one that is more employment-based as well as repealing the green card lottery.
In sum, the House Republican immigration “principles” are noteworthy because they are virtually identical to core elements of the 1,200 page amnesty bill the Senate passed last year, despite the GOP document declaring that “we will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill.” (House GOP Immigration Principles) Additionally, the plan repeats the same mistakes of the 1986 amnesty. In the 1986 amnesty bill, Congress granted amnesty to illegal aliens and promised enforcement of the laws, yet the enforcement never came and the illegal alien population has since quadrupled. House Republican leadership, however, appears to be optimistic that their proposal will somehow work when others have failed. Just like Gang of Eight Senator Chuck Schumer said in 1986 when he spearheaded the last amnesty efforts, House GOP leaders promise that once their plan is implemented, “our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.” (Id.)
FAIR blasted the Republican principles for catering to special interests at the expense of the American worker. “The Republican principles call for illegal aliens to be allowed to ‘live legally and without fear in the U.S.’ of having the law enforced against them. This is clearly and undeniably amnesty. There is one way for illegal aliens to ‘get right with the law,’ and that is to obey the law,” charged Dan Stein, FAIR’s president. (FAIR Press Release, Jan. 30, 2014) “In short, the principles offered by the House leadership not only ignore the core interests of the American people, they willingly sacrifice those interests to satisfy the demands of powerful special interest groups.” (Id.)
#2 House Republican Pushes for DREAM Act
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) expressed his support for amnesty for so-called “DREAMERs” — illegal aliens who claim to have been brought to the U.S. unlawfully as minors — in an interview last Sunday on “Face the Nation.” (CBS News, Feb. 2, 2014) Cantor’s comments recycle the pro-DREAM Act talking points he has been pushing for the past year, failing to recognize that any amnesty — even one that only targets illegal alien minors — rewards law-breaking (by the parents in particular) and encourages future illegal immigration.
On “Face the Nation,” Rep. Cantor tried to justify his support for the GOP’s version of a DREAM Act by suggesting that denying illegal aliens citizenship is a punishment. (Id.) However, Rep. Cantor’s policy position misses several important points. First, illegal alien minors are increasingly coming to the U.S. unaccompanied and thus break our immigration laws themselves. Second, it is not a punishment if the government does not legalize or grant citizenship to illegal aliens who claim they arrived in the U.S. as minors. Instead it is merely the government withholding something to which these individuals were never entitled. Finally, granting citizenship to these illegal aliens does in fact reward them and their parents for breaking the law. (For more information, read FAIR’s Five Moral Arguments Against the DREAM Act.)
Majority Leader Cantor also failed to admit that amnesty in any form encourages more illegal immigration. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted that there was an increase in referrals of unaccompanied illegal alien children from the Department of Homeland Security in 2012; the four month period from March to July alone received 7,200 referrals, more than the referrals for the entire year 2011. (HHS, Dec. 20, 2012) Health and Human Services noted that this number of referrals in 2012 was double the referrals over the previous eight years, which had averaged 6,775 referrals per year. (HHS, Feb. 4, 2014) In 2013, the referrals, totaling 24,668, also increased. (Id.) Based on this increase, some groups anticipate the number of unaccompanied illegal alien minors entering the United States in 2014 to number around 60,000. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2014) The increased recent immigration can be attributed to the availability of administrative amnesty for certain illegal aliens who meet certain requirements through Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (See USCIS, Jan. 18, 2013)
Majority Leader Cantor’s “Face the Nation” comments come at the heels of his year-long push for a House DREAM Act. Cantor first expressed his support for a DREAM Act last February, despite voting against the DREAM Act as recently as 2010. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 11, 2013) It was reported last year that Leader Cantor was working with Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to craft the KIDS Act, House GOP Leaders’ version of the DREAM Act, but to date, neither Congressman has released or introduced text of such legislation. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 15, 2013)
Cantor’s support for the DREAM Act had a real influence on the House Leadership’s principles for immigration reform. In fact, the GOP draft principles copied two sentences verbatim from a March 2013 speech by Eric Cantor: “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home.” (See National Journal, Jan. 30, 2014; Bloomberg, Feb. 5, 2013) “I`ve always said we ought to be dealing with the things that we can agree on, which are the kids,” Rep. Cantor said, echoing language from the GOP principles. (See CBS News, Feb. 2, 2014)
GOP Immigration Principles Get Amnesty Lobby’s Support, Congressional Opposition
Since their release on Thursday afternoon, the House GOP principles on immigration have received praise from the White House, Senate Gang of Eight members, and pro-amnesty lobbying groups. At the same time, many Members of Congress have expressed concerns about the appropriateness of the current push for amnesty at this time, and the similarities of the principles to the Senate mass amnesty bill. Meanwhile, immigration and law enforcement officers asked to be consulted in discussions about immigration reform that had excluded them.
President Obama declared that he was “encouraged” by the principles and called the push for amnesty by House Republican leadership “progress.” (CNN, Jan. 31, 2014) The President added however, that he’s “not sure how wide the divide ends up being” between House Republicans and the White House if Speaker Boehner moves a bill based on those principles. (Id.)
In the upper chamber, those Senators who worked on the mass amnesty bill, S. 744, lauded the efforts of the House’s leadership, anticipating that legislation will follow. Gang of Eight Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the principles “leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept.” (Politico, Jan. 30, 2014) Fellow Gang of Eight member John McCain (R-AZ) said of the principles, “I think they’re fine.” McCain, whose former chief of staff Becky Tallent helped draft the principles in her new role as immigration advisor to Speaker Boehner, added “I will support everything they’re doing.” (The Hill, Jan. 30, 2014)
A number of lobbying groups who endorse amnesty quickly issued statements indicating they were pleased by the principles. America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry said, “We are encouraged that Republicans are gearing up to take action and glad they acknowledge that immigration reform has to include the 11 million” illegal aliens as part of a mass amnesty. (America’s Voice, Jan. 30, 2014) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement saying that the principles “mark important progress in ensuring immigration reform is a priority this year” (U.S. Chamber, Jan 30, 2014)
On the other hand, many Members of Congress responded to the principles by challenging the fact that House GOP leaders are even considering pushing anything other than immigration enforcement in an election year. Representative Steve Daines (R-MT), a first-year Congressman running for an open Senate seat in 2014, said that “the worst thing we could do for his race would be to take up immigration.” (The Hill, Jan. 29, 2014) Representative John Fleming (R-LA) said, “On a political basis, this is a suicide mission for Republicans. Why would we want to change the topic for a very toxic problem Democrats have with Obamacare?” (Roll Call, Jan. 30, 2014) A similar point was made by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who declared, “Anyone pushing an amnesty bill right now should go ahead and put a ‘Harry Reid for Majority Leader’ bumper sticker on their car, because that will be the likely effect if Republicans refuse to listen to the American people and foolishly change the subject from Obamacare to amnesty.” (Breitbart News, Jan. 30, 2014) Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and Tom Price (R-GA) were also among the many Members who spoke at the GOP retreat in opposition to acting on these immigration principles. (Roll Call, Jan. 31, 2014)
True immigration reformer Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) criticized the House principles as a “repackaging of the tired Gang-of-Eight-style formula that has been proposed, rejected, and re-proposed for years.” (Senator Sessions Press Release, Jan. 30, 2014) Sessions explained that, like S. 744, the Senate mass amnesty bill passed in 2013, the principles document “provides the initial grant of amnesty before enforcement; it would surge the already unprecedented level of legal lesser-skilled immigration to the U.S. that is reducing wages and increasing unemployment; and it would offer eventual citizenship to a large number of illegal immigrants and visa overstays.” (Id.)
Prior to the principles’ release, two law enforcement unions expressed concerns that their input was not being taken into consideration. National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council President Kenneth Palinkas (the head of the major union representing USCIS personnel) sent a letter to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “urg[ing] House Republicans, as strongly as possible, to include the concerns of USCIS personnel.” (Washington Times, Jan. 30, 2014; Daily Caller, Jan. 30, 2014) National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council President Chris Crane said that he was “alarmed to read that House Republicans are working with prominent amnesty proponents instead of reaching out and working with ICE officers.” (National Review, Jan. 28, 2014; Daily Caller, Jan. 28, 2014)
Obama Threatens Unilateral Action on Immigration
Fueling the deep-seated mistrust of the Obama Administration among rank-and-file GOP Members, President Obama threatened during an online chat last week to use executive action to stop the deportation of illegal aliens if Congress fails to pass amnesty this year.
President Obama’s threat came in response to a question asking him to what extent he could use his executive authority to grant a broad amnesty to all illegal aliens similar to his DACA initiative for so-called “DREAMers.” The individual inquired, “You have used your executive authority in the past to help the DREAMers, young people who were brought to this country as children and so I’m wondering what value is your executive authority to help deportations which have been ripping families apart until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform.” (See Roll Call Transcript, Jan. 31, 2014) President Obama responded, “If at some point we see that it’s not getting done, I’m gonna look at all options to make sure that we have a rational, smart system of immigration. But I’m going to do everything I can in these months to see if we can get this over the finish line….” (Id.)
The President’s threat to legislate from the oval office demonstrates why even those in support of amnesty do not see him as trustworthy when it comes to enforcing current or future immigration laws. “There is a trust gap that I think is the biggest obstacle that we have,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a long-time amnesty supporter and former member of the now defunct House “Gang of Eight” working group. (Politico, Feb. 1, 2014) He continued, “[President Obama’s] statement is not helpful. Other statements like that are not helpful.” (Id.)
Astoundingly, some amnesty proponents criticized President Obama for refusing to commit to granting amnesty outright. “We appreciate the recognition by the administration that they have untapped executive authority to assist immigrants,” said Ana Avendaño, AFL-CIO’s immigration director. (Id.) “But we continue to believe he should act immediately rather than continue to wait on a House Republican caucus that has literally taken 13 months to write one flimsy page of right-wing talking points.” (Id.)
President Obama’s statements are the latest in a series of remarks in which he flip-flops as to whether he can — or will — use his executive authority to unilaterally halt the deportation of all illegal aliens. Just a few weeks ago the President declared, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions…”(White House Press Release, Jan. 14, 2014; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 22, 2014) However, President Obama also asserted as recent as November that amnesty for illegal aliens would not happen “without passing laws in Congress.” (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 22, 2014)
Since taking office in 2009, President Obama’s Administration has used so-called “prosecutorial discretion” to undermine and impede deportations of illegal aliens. For more information, see FAIR’s timeline of President Obama’s dismantling of immigration enforcement.
Reps. Cantor, Ryan Charge President is Not Trustworthy on Immigration
During high-profile television appearances last Sunday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) made it clear that House Republicans do not trust President Obama to enforce our immigration laws. The comments come just days after the House Republicans debated the Speaker’s newly-released immigration principles (which endorse amnesty) at their annual retreat. At the retreat, House members voiced deep skepticism over the wisdom of working on immigration legislation when they cannot trust President Obama to fulfill his end of any bargain. (CBS News, “Face the Nation,” Feb. 2, 2014; ABC News, “This Week,” Feb. 2, 2014)
This widely-echoed distrust among House Republicans clearly made an impression on House leaders. In his interview on “Face the Nation,” Eric Cantor emphasized several times that distrust of Obama is holding back Republicans from action on immigration. According to Cantor, “robust discussion” at the annual retreat revealed “a lot of distrust of this administration,” and might be preventing Republicans from “seeing a way forward” on immigration. Cantor stressed President Obama’s selective enforcement of the laws in general, his recent statements that he will “do it his own way” if he can’t work with Congress, and his specific failures to secure the border. (For a full timeline, see FAIR’s report, “President Obama’s Record of Dismantling Immigration Enforcement,” Feb. 2013) Because of the level of distrust of President Obama among both Members of Congress and the American people, Cantor explained, that “border security” and “implementation of laws” have to happen “first.” However, other than rejecting S. 744, Cantor was vague about how an implementation first strategy could work. (CBS News, Feb. 2, 2014)
Like Rep. Cantor, Paul Ryan used his appearance on “This Week” to criticize President Obama for failing to enforce our immigration laws. Ryan, who may be the House Leadership’s most devoted proponent of amnesty, downplayed expectations of an immigration bill this year. When host George Stephanopoulos asked him about opening up a furious intraparty debate over the prospect of finding a compromise with Obama on an immigration bill, he said “the issue that all Republicans agree on [is that] we don’t trust the President to enforce the law.” When pressed for an answer on whether the House would send a bill to Obama’s desk this year, he said: “I really don’t know the answer to that question. That is clearly in doubt. It depends on whether they’re willing to actually secure the border, actually have interior enforcement and agree to not having an amnesty. If we can do that, where it’s security first, no amnesty, then we might be able to get somewhere.” (ABC News, Feb. 2, 2014)
Washington Senate Rushes DACA Financial Aid Bill through
Last Friday, January 31st, the Washington Senate by a vote of 35 to 10 pushed through a bill which offers state need grants to illegal aliens who have received deferred action under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Specifically, under Senate Bill (SB) 6523, an alien is eligible for the grant if he or she has:
- completed the full senior year of high school and obtained a high school diploma at a Washington high school, or has received the equivalent of a high school diploma in Washington;
- lived in Washington for at least three years immediately before receiving the diploma or its equivalent;
- continuously lived in the state of Washington after receiving the diploma or its equivalent and until such time as the individual is admitted to an eligible institution of higher education; and
- received DACA approval.
DACA-approved students already receive taxpayer-funded in-state tuition rates at Washington’s public universities and colleges. (Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2014) State need grants provide eligible students additional taxpayer-funded financial aid awards to further reduce the cost of tuition. (Washington Student Achievement Council, 2014)
SB 6523 appropriates $5 million of taxpayer money to the state need grant program to fund this new expenditure, thereby providing another state subsidy to illegal immigration in Washington. (Senate Bill 6523) Senator Bailey said the bill is “about making sure that we take care of the students that live in our state.” (Seattle Times, Jan. 31, 2014) Bailey did not comment, however, on how Washington can afford to pay for SB 6523 seeing that its higher education system is experiencing a financial crisis. For example, between fiscal years 2008 and 2013, Washington public colleges and universities were forced to increase tuition on average by more than 63.6%, eliminate hundreds of staff positions, freeze hiring and staff salaries, limit in-state resident enrollment, eliminate academic programs, increase class sizes, cut student support services, and make countless other subtractions. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2013; Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2012; Associated Press, Apr. 16, 2011)
To avoid challenge from the public, Senate supporters introduced and passed SB 6523 in one day. SB 6523 was introduced by Republican Senator Barbara Bailey, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, on Friday. Then, the Senate suspended normal order bypassing the committee process and public testimony, to take the bill directly to the floor. No one in the State of Washington had an opportunity to object or contact their state senator with concerns regarding the bill.
SB 6523 will now be sent to the House of Representatives where it will likely pass. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill, House Bill (HB) 1817, on January 13th, the first day of the 2014 legislative session.