Legislative Update: 3/8/2016
Trump Flip-Flops on H-1B Workers
Less than a week after securing the endorsement of true immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump unexpectedly reversed his position on H-1B workers. Responding to a question about the H-1B visa program — which is frequently used by companies to hire science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) foreign workers — at the latest Republican debate, Trump declared, “I’m changing. We need highly-skilled people in this country.” (See Fox News, Mar. 3, 2016; video of Trump’s comments available here) When pressed by Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly if he is “abandoning the position on your website,” Trump replied, “I’m changing it and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.” (Id.)
Trump’s latest comments on H-1Bs contradict his official immigration platform. In that document (which remains unchanged), Trump states, “We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program.” (Trump Immigration Plan; see also FAIR’s Analysis of Trump’s Plan) Trump’s immigration plan also notes that the H-1B visa does not require companies to hire Americans first, adding that “we need companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed.” (Id.) Further emphasizing his criticism of the H-1B program on his official immigration platform, Trump says “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.” (Id.)
Interestingly, Trump’s flip-flop on H-1Bs came a week after Sen. Sessions held a hearing highlighting the plight of thousands of American workers being displaced by H-1B foreign workers. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 1, 2016) During that hearing, Leo Perrero testified about being laid off from Disney and being forced to train his H-1B replacement despite receiving outstanding performance reviews. (Id.) Additionally, leading experts detailed the loopholes in the H-1B law that allows companies to legally replace American workers with foreign H-1B workers. (Id.)
Shortly after the debate, Trump’s campaign sought to dismiss claims that the GOP candidate had changed his position on H-1Bs. “Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” read a statement on Trump’s campaign website. (Trump Press Release, Mar. 3, 2016) “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions,” Trump declared. (Id.)
Judiciary Chairmen Demand Answers After Illegal Alien Drunk Drivers Avoid Deportation
Last Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sent a joint letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson regarding the administration’s policy that allowed three illegal aliens charged with drunk driving to go free. (Grassley and Goodlatte Letter, Mar. 2, 2016) In the letter, the lawmakers express concern that the administration’s watered down policies, which were a result of the changes made to enforcement priorities in November 2014, resulted in criminal drunk driving offenders who pose a public safety threat avoid deportation and be released back into American communities. (Id.; see House Judiciary Committee Press Release, Mar. 2, 2016) Specifically, the Johnson Memos, which replaced the already limited Morton Memos of 2011, further narrowed the administration’s enforcement priorities by requiring a conviction prior to initiating removal proceedings. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2014) The chairmen charged that these unilaterally established enforcement priorities send a “message to the American people that this administration has decided that their safety and security are far less important than ensuring that illegally present aliens with no regard for the law will remain in this country without any legal consequences whatsoever.” (Grassley and Goodlatte Letter, Mar. 2, 2016)
Sen. Grassley and Rep. Goodlatte’s letter criticizes the administration’s handling of several illegal aliens the Obama administration failed to remove. (Id.) In August 2013, Esmid Valentine Pedraza was reportedly arrested by ICE pursuant to the administration’s policy and placed in removal proceedings for his DUI conviction in Alameda County, California. (Id.) Despite the fact that Pedraza is in the United States illegally and his criminal conviction made him an enforcement priority under the Morton Memos since he was arrested in 2013, ICE released Pedraza on a $2500 bond. (Id.) On February 24, 2016, Pedraza was arrested in San Francisco, California for the murder of Stacey Aguilar. (Id.) ICE has requested to be notified if Pedraza is released, so that it can arrange to take him into custody to pursue “possible follow-up immigration enforcement action.” (Id.) ICE completely failed in its primary mission “to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration.”
Besides Pedraza, ICE also reportedly released Jose Munoz Aguilar after taking custody of him pursuant to an ICE detainer. (Id.) Aguilar was arrested by police in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 7, 2016, after he consumed 10-12 alcoholic drinks and crashed a car into Chelsea Hogue and Meghan Lake, causing injuries to both women and Hogue to go into a coma. (Id.) Aguilar was able to get out on bond on February 10 and transferred to ICE custody pursuant to a detainer. (Id.) Reports indicate that ICE released Aguilar from custody the following day. According to ICE, he was released because he “had no significant misdemeanor or felony conviction record,” and as such, “[h]e does not meet ICE enforcement priorities.” (Id.)
A final case highlighted by Sen. Grassley and Rep. Goodlatte involved Eswin Mejia. While drag racing on January 31, 2016 with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, Mejia struck Stacy Root’s vehicle, killing her. (Id.) Mejia, who had twice previously failed to appear in court on state charges, was charged with felony motor vehicle homicide, was released on bond and has since disappeared. (Id.) State authorities reportedly contacted ICE numerous times to notify the agency of Mejia’s elevated flight risk and requested that ICE take custody of him, but ICE denied the request. An ICE spokesman stated that ICE did not lodge a detainer on Mejia because his arrest for felony motor vehicle homicide “did not meet ICE’s enforcement priorities.” (Id.)
DHS has until March 16, 2016 to provide more information about these offenders and explain ICE’s rationale in releasing these dangerous illegal aliens. (Id.)
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced last Tuesday that the House will vote on a resolution to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging President Obama’s authority to grant executive amnesty to millions of illegal aliens without congressional approval. (Speaker Ryan Press Release, Mar. 1, 2016)
In a closed-door meeting, Ryan informed his House Republican colleagues of the decision to vote on filing an amicus brief in U.S. v. Texas, the 26-state lawsuit challenging Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration. (Politico, Mar. 1, 2016; see FAIR’s U.S. v. Texas Resource Page) The high court agreed to hear the case in January and will decide whether to uphold the injunction blocking the DAPA and expanded DACA amnesty programs until the case is litigated on the merits. (FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 19, 2016) The Court is expected to hear arguments in April and issue a ruling in June — just months before the 2016 presidential election. (Id.)
Ryan explained that an attempt to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire chamber is an “extraordinary step” and something that “has never been done before.” Below are his full remarks on the upcoming vote:
“In the coming weeks, we will be taking our next step to stop the president’s executive overreach. The House will vote on whether to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court opposing the president’s executive amnesty. This is a very extraordinary step. In fact, it has never been done before.
“But this executive amnesty is a direct attack on the Congress’s Article One powers under our Constitution. This is a question between Article One and Article Two.
“The president is not permitted to write law — only Congress is. The House will make that very, very clear, and we will do so as an institution on behalf of the American people on behalf of representative self-government.”
The House decided to act only after the Supreme Court asked the parties to present arguments on a question beyond the three raised by the government in its petition for certiorari. (Politico, Mar. 1, 2016) The Court asked the parties to brief and argue whether DAPA and expanded DACA “violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3.” (FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 19, 2016) The Take Care Clause mandates that the president “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed” and House Republicans believe Obama breached his constitutional duty. (Id.)
The resolution is expected to pass when the House votes on it in the coming weeks.
Immigration Legislation in the States
February was a busy month for true immigration reformers in the states. In particular, several states focused on much needed anti-sanctuary legislation. Here is the latest on key bills making their way through the various legislatures.
Virginia General Assembly Passes Detainer Compliance Bill
The Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 481, critical detainer compliance legislation, on Thursday, March 3. The bill prohibits law enforcement from releasing any criminal alien subject to an immigration detainer, except for the purpose of transferring the criminal alien to federal custody or another facility. (HB 481 at §1A) The measure passed the Virginia Senate by a 21-19 vote and the Virginia House of Delegates by a 68-29 vote. Governor Terry McAuliffe must sign HB 481 before it can become law.
Georgia Senate Passes Immigration Enforcement Legislation
The Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 269 (SB 269) on Friday, February 26, to strengthen immigration enforcement in the state. Specifically, SB 269 strengthens existing law by conditioning the receipt of state funding on local governments’ certifying to the state that they are in compliance with state law forbidding sanctuary policies, as well as state laws requiring the verification of work authorization of new hires using E-Verify and the confirmation of eligibility for public benefits with the SAVE system. (SB 269 at §§1-2) The Senate overwhelmingly passed the legislation, 49-2. SB 269 is now awaiting approval by the Georgia House of Representatives.
The Georgia Senate also approved a second immigration bill on Monday, February 29. (AJC, Feb. 29, 2016) Senate Bill 6 (SB 6) would stop illegal aliens granted deferred action under President Obama’s executive amnesty from receiving standard driver’s licenses in Georgia, and instead requires deferred action recipients to receive “driving safety cards” or “special identification cards.” (SB 6 at §2a) Licenses or identification cards under the proposal will also indicate that the card holder does not possess lawful status. (Id.) The Georgia Senate approved SB 6 by a 37-17 vote. (AJC, Feb. 29, 2016)
Iowa Anti-Sanctuary Legislation Pending in House of Representatives
In February, the Iowa House Committee on Public Safety passed House File 2276 (HF 2276), anti-sanctuary legislation that prohibits the state and localities from enacting any ordinance, policy, or procedure that limits or restricts enforcement of federal immigration law. (HF 2276 at §§1-3) The bill also prohibits the state and localities from enacting policies that would limit the gathering or sharing of immigration status information between law enforcement and federal officials. (Id.) The House of Representatives must approve HF 2276 by March 11 in order for the measure to advance to the Iowa Senate.
Anti-Sanctuary Legislation to be Considered by Maryland Committee
The House Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to hear two critical anti-sanctuary measures, House Bill 1292 (HB 1292) and House Bill 1298 (HB 1298), on Thursday, March 10. These measures require Maryland correctional facilities to provide the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with at least 10 days’ notice of the release of an illegal alien from custody. (HB 1292; HB 1298) If approved by the Committee, HB 1292 and HB 1298 must be approved by the full House of Delegates before it can be considered by the Maryland Senate.
Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest updates on legislation in the states…