Legislative Update: 4/30/2014
Boehner Makes Fun of Republicans for Refusing to Take up Amnesty
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made fun of his fellow House Republicans for not wanting to take up amnesty legislation last week while speaking at a local Rotary Club meeting. “Here’s the attitude. Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,” Boehner said. “We get elected to make choices,” he added. “We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to…They’ll take the path of least resistance.” (See Cincinnati Enquirer, Apr. 24, 2014; see a video of the Speaker’s comments here)
The Speaker then attempted to dial back his comments after they received wide attention, claiming yesterday that he was not actually mocking his GOP colleagues. “There was no mocking,” he told reporters after a closed door meeting at the Republican National Committee headquarters. (Politico, Apr. 29, 2014) “You all know me. You tease the ones you love, alright? But some people misunderstood what I had to say, and I wanted to make sure members understood that the biggest impediment we have to moving immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass.” (The Hill, Apr. 29, 2014)
Boehner also used the opportunity to deny claims Gang of Eight Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made the previous day claiming that the House would indeed pass an amnesty bill this year. Senator Schumer said, “I want to let you in on a little secret. We are going to pass that bill and sign it into law this year,” Schumer said at the CUNY Citizenship Now immigration call-in in New York. (New York Daily News, Apr. 28, 2014) “We will have an immigration bill — it may not be exactly the Senate bill — on the floor of the House… We will come to an agreement. They will put that bill on the President’s desk for President Obama to sign into law.” (Id.) In response, according Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) who was in the closed-door meeting, Speaker Boehner claimed that there is “no secret conspiracy” to pass amnesty. (The Hill, Apr. 29, 2014)
Speaker Boehner’s “no secret conspiracy” comment also comes just days after several key House GOP Members have indicated that the chamber is heading toward passing an amnesty. Last week, GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers told local reporters that the House will take up an amnesty bill come August. (Spokesman Review, April 25, 2014) That same day, House pro-amnesty leader Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) told reporters “I think we finally have the policy right…I think we figured out a way to deal with the folks that are here in a way that is fair — fair, by the way, to those in the legal system…who are doing everything legally, and also deals with the folks that are here in a way that is fair and reasonable.” (Roll Call, Apr. 25, 2014) Finally, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) announced plans to introduce guest worker amnesty legislation in the next four to six weeks. (Dallas News, Apr. 25, 2014)
House Leader Says Amnesty by August
The House GOP’s number four leader, Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), told a local Washington newspaper last week that the House would be taking up an amnesty before the summer’s end. “I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August,” she said, and that the House could pass it before the general election. (Spokesman Review, April 25, 2014) Strikingly, McMorris Rodgers also suggested House Republicans would have to finesse the messaging on an amnesty bill to accommodate those who want stronger border security. “We’re going to have to push that this is a legal status, not amnesty,” she said. (Id.)
Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers’ timing comports to what many have been suspecting all along: that House Republican Leaders would wait until after the primary filing deadlines have passed to push amnesty legislation on the American people. Late last year the Texas-based Quorum Report reported that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was devising a plan to pass amnesty through the House of Representatives before the 2014 elections. (Quorum Report, Dec. 3, 2013) According to Breitbart News, the article claimed that “various Texas business interests have told Quorum Report that Boehner has been telling them that he will start holding immigration votes not long after the [GOP primary] filing deadlines has passed” in an effort to protect vulnerable Republican incumbents. (Breitbart.com, Dec. 4, 2013)
GOP Senators Warn Obama about Halting Deportations
In a letter to President Obama, 22 Republican Senators expressed “grave concerns” over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) review – and anticipated loosening – of its deportation practices. “[T]he changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders,” the letter charged. (Letter to Obama, Apr. 24, 2014) The Senators wrote the letter in response to Obama ordering DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to find a “more humane” way for his agency to handle deportations after pro-amnesty groups pressured Obama to halt all deportations. (New York Times, Mar. 13, 2014; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 19, 2014)
In their letter, the Senators also accuse the President of violating the Constitution by implementing backdoor amnesty programs under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion” rather than through legislation. “It is not the province of the Executive to nullify the laws that the people of the United States, through their elected representatives, have chosen to enact,” the letter reads. (Letter to Obama, Apr. 24, 2014) “These policies have operated as an effective repeal of duly enacted federal immigration law and exceed the bounds of the Executive Branch’s prosecutorial discretion.” (Id.) “Your actions demonstrate an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and residents,” the letter concludes. (Id.)
Obama has repeatedly told amnesty advocates that he lacks the authority to grant a broad amnesty on his own. For example, he told Spanish-language media outlets last month that he “cannot ignore [immigration] laws any more than I could ignore any of the other laws that are on the books.” (Associated Press, Mar. 13, 2014) Additionally, he told an illegal alien protestor who interrupted a speech last year: “if in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition.” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, 2013) Yet, the President made similar comments before enacting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (See FAIR’s report, “President Obama’s Record of Dismantling Immigration Enforcement” at 20, Feb. 2013)
The President’s effort to further reduce deportations comes amidst growing evidence that immigration enforcement is down during Obama’s presidency. (See LA Times, Apr. 1, 2014) Despite claims of record deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) statistics revealed a 10 percent drop in removals over the last year — from 409,849 (2012) to 368,644 (2013). (See ICE Press Release, Dec. 21, 2012; 2013 ICE Removals Report)
Last Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson met with 24 people representing different pro-amnesty groups, whom the Department called “key immigration stakeholders.” (DHS Press Release, Apr. 22, 2014) The meeting, according to a DHS press release, states it was “part of the on-going and inclusive review process” to assess how Secretary Johnson will administer immigration laws. (Id.) It was only the latest in a string of meetings with pro-amnesty “stakeholders” during Secretary Johnson’s review, which has been going on for months but was only just publicly announced last month. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 19, 2014)
Though DHS described these individuals as “leaders from business, law enforcement, and faith communities,” they were uniformly pro-amnesty and have generally been part of the same open borders groups that have been supporting the President’s immigration agenda. (DHS Press Release, Apr. 22, 2014) For instance, the single law enforcement officer present, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, stood with President Obama at a rally to support the Senate mass amnesty guest worker bill (S. 744) as the Senate brought it to a vote, even as the National Association of Sheriffs opposed amnesty. (See adriangarcia.com, Jun. 11, 2013; National Sheriff’s Position Paper on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Jun. 25, 2013)
Noticeably missing from the so-called “stakeholder” meeting were immigration enforcement officers, despite DHS’ insinuations that the feedback of those actually tasked with enforcement has been part of the review. Last Sunday, on ABC’s This Week, Secretary Johnson claimed that he was consulting with ICE officials “in a way that I’m not sure they’ve been consulted with in the past,” and that he has “consulted ICE leadership” on what the Administration’s priorities should be. (ABC News, Apr. 27, 2014) Not long before the meeting, a spokesman for DHS said that Johnson “has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review,” that included seeking input from within DHS. (Associated Press, Apr. 21, 2014)
The Department may have arranged this “stakeholder” meeting in preparation for an announcement in the near future that the “review” is finished and the Secretary is prepared to relax the Administration’s deportation policies even further. In his interview Sunday, Secretary Johnson stated that though he was “still in the midst of review,” he expected “to have something pretty soon.” (ABC News, Apr. 27, 2014) Though the review is still purportedly on-going, the Secretary hinted that it would involve refraining from deporting illegal aliens who have family members in America, saying that immigration laws need to “comport with American values,” one of which is “the sanctity of the family unit.” (Id.)
FAIR President Dan Stein blasted the Administration for its pretense of an open review process. He said: “No amount of staged meetings with narrow political interests and business lobbyists can alter the fact that President Obama has no constitutional authority to implement the policies these so-called stakeholders demand, as the president himself has conceded. Nor do these staged events obscure the fact that the voices of the true stakeholders in U.S. immigration policy — the American people — are being systematically excluded by a rogue administration determined to pursue its political goals at all costs.” (FAIR Press Release, Apr. 23, 2014)
California Legislature Considers Providing Health Care Coverage to Illegal Aliens
Today, the Senate Committee on Health in California will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill (“S.B.”) 1005, which would make sweeping changes to the state’s health care laws by providing illegal aliens with health care coverage. S.B. 1005 first creates a taxpayer-funded exchange to give health care insurance to illegal aliens. The bill then makes illegal aliens eligible for taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal benefits.
In order for the State of California to circumvent the provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) barring illegal aliens from enrolling in the state health care exchange, S.B. 1005 creates a new exchange solely for illegal aliens. To do this, S.B. 1005 requires the same executive board that governs the California Health Benefit Exchange established under Obamacare to facilitate the enrollment of individuals who are ineligible to purchase coverage through the Exchange because of their immigration status into qualified health plans. (S.B. 1005) To fund the exchange for illegal aliens, S.B. 1005 creates the “California Health Trust Fund for All Californians” and adds a surcharge to qualified plans. (Id.) Thus, by funding the new exchange with state money and surcharges on qualified plans, S.B. 1005 is able to avoid federal law’s prohibition. (Id.)
In addition, S.B. 1005 extends eligibility for full-scope Medi-Cal benefits to illegal aliens. (Id.) Federal law currently prohibits illegal aliens from receiving Medi-Cal, which is partly funded by federal money. S.B. 1005 gets around this prohibition by specifying that only California taxpayer money may be used in funding Medi-Cal coverage for illegal aliens.
By removing all immigration status requirements for eligibility to receive Medi-Cal benefits, S.B. 1005 will likely add thousands, if not millions, of new subscribers to the program, despite the program’s current budget crisis. In 2011, the Legislature was forced to slash Medi-Cal funding by 10 percent. (Los Angeles Times, 2013) Reportedly, the cuts will already reduce provider accessibility and services and the overall quality of healthcare for the millions of California residents already dependent on Medi-Cal. (Id.) S.B. 1005 will only further strain Medi-Cal by depleting the resources keeping it afloat and further reduce access to quality medical services for all Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal.
Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat who represents Long Beach and Southeast Los Angeles, sponsored S.B. 1005. “The purpose of the Health For All Act is simple — provide health care coverage to California’s remaining uninsured by expanding Medi-Cal and creating a new health exchange where the undocumented can purchase coverage,” Lara said in a statement. (Daily Caller, Feb. 18, 2014) Lara stated further that the fact that Obamacare expressly denies illegal aliens coverage “hurts the overall health of our communities, and does not reflect California values.” (Id.) Senator Lara did not comment, however, on how much S.B. 1005 will cost California taxpayers.
Assembly Member Tim Donnelly, a Republican who represents California’s 33rd District, has voiced strong opposition to S.B. 1005. “That they’re going to give free health care to people who are in the country illegally, I think is just nuts. And I think most Californians would oppose that, especially when you’re raising their rates and reducing the choices that they have.” (Bakersfield Now, Feb. 20, 2014) Donnelly added, “This is a bad idea every which way you look at it. And the argument that somehow it’s going to improve public health overall is specious.” (Id.)
If S.B. 1005 is approved by the Senate Committee on Health, it will be sent to the full Senate for a vote. S.B. 1005 must be approved by both the full Senate and House before it can reach Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature. A spokesman for Governor Brown declined to comment on whether the governor supports the bill. (South California Public Radio, Feb. 14, 2014)
Former DHS Inspector General Improperly Influenced by Political Appointees
Last week, a Senate investigation revealed that the former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General delayed releasing a report on Secure Communities to protect President Obama’s political appointees. (See Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, Investigation into Allegations of Misconduct by the Former Acting and Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (hereinafter “Senate Report”) at 4-5, Apr. 24, 2014; see also Washington Post, Apr. 24, 2014) Specifically, the Senate investigators found that acting Inspector General Charles Edwards delayed the report to shield Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton from potential questions during an upcoming Congressional hearing. (Senate Report at 4-7; see also DHS OIG, Communications Regarding Participation in Secure Communities, Mar. 27, 2012) Edwards delayed the report at the request of then acting DHS General Counsel John Sandweg, who was later himself appointed as acting Director of ICE.
The Senate investigation uncovered secret communications and improper influence from political appointees, including about work related to reports about ICE. Sandweg and Edwards frequently shared e-mails that OIG staff was unaware of. One such message was an e-mail about the date of an OIG report’s release in which Edwards asked Sandweg, “Which day is good?” (Senate Report at 7) Edwards directed the OIG report be released on the day Sandweg requested, and the date was after DHS Assistant Secretary John Morton would be testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security about ICE. (See id.at fn. 34; see also House Appropriations Committee hearing webpage, Mar. 8, 2012) Edwards sent an e-mail on the day after Morton’s hearing indicating that the OIG report had been sitting on his desk for a week. (Senate Report at 7)
However, timing was not the only way political appointees influenced the Inspector General’s Office handling the report. A whistleblower also told Senate investigators that Edwards, at the urging of senior DHS officials, directed that the OIG report be changed before the final draft was submitted to DHS for comment. (Id.) However, the Senate investigators did not publicly indicate what modifications were made to this Inspector General report, which investigated whether ICE clearly communicated to States and local jurisdictions the intent of Secure Communities. (See DHS OIG, Communications Regarding Participation in Secure Communities at 1, Mar. 27, 2012)
Senate investigators found that the relationships Edwards had with senior DHS officials were improperly close and negatively impacted Edwards’ duty to maintain the independence required by Federal law. (Id. at 2) (The Inspector General Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. Appendix § 2; see also Senate Report at 3) Edwards frequently e-mailed DHS officials and often provided updates on DHS audits and investigations, leaving senior OIG staff excluded from e-mails and unaware Edwards made such communications. (Senate Report at 5) Furthermore, Edwards often socialized with senior DHS officials outside of work over drinks and dinner. (Id.) Edwards even wrote to Sandweg, “Your friendship, support and advice means [sic] so much to me. There are many blessings to be thankful for this year, but one of the best is having a friend like you.” (Id.)
Edwards was appointed Deputy Inspector General in February 2011 and then served as acting Inspector General until December 2013, when Edwards was reassigned within DHS. (Associated Press, Apr. 24, 2014) Edwards’ reassignment occurred before he was set to testify before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. (Id.) After the publication of the Senate investigation’s findings, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson put Edwards on administrative leave. (Id.)