Legislative Update: 5/31/2016
UAM and Family Unit Apprehensions Surpass 2014 Surge Levels
The latest statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reveal yet another significant increase in the number of unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) and family units crossing the southwest border. (See CBP Apprehension Statistics) The statistics, released last week, show that 5,219 UAMs — many coming from Central America — were apprehended crossing the southwest border in April, almost double the number recorded in April 2015. (Id.) Additionally, some 5,616 family units were apprehended during the same time period — also nearly double the number from April 2015. (Id.) The new statistics arrive alongside newly obtained figures from the Senate subcommittee on immigration, which revealed that the Obama administration has spent at least $18.5 million to fly UAMs to locations inside the United States, often to stay with relatives who are also in the country illegally. (Fox News, May 27, 2016)
Alarmingly, UAMs and family unit apprehensions in the current fiscal year have eclipsed the numbers recorded at the same point in 2014. (See CBP Apprehension Statistics) In that year, nearly 140,000 UAMs and family units surged across the border at record rates, overwhelming the federal government’s ability to respond. (Washington Times, Sept. 3, 2014) Currently, 70,684 UAMs and family units have been apprehended crossing the southwest border, compared to 62,621 at the same point in 2014 – an increase of 13 percent. (See CBP Apprehension Statistics)
In a statement, CBP acknowledged the current surge, but said efforts are underway to address it. “We continue to work aggressively to address the underlying causes of this migration, to deter future increases, to further secure our border and ensure safe, orderly processing, and to support broader regional efforts to provide avenues for protection of vulnerable populations in Central America,” an agency official said. (Washington Times, May 23, 2016) However, the Obama administration has repeatedly refused to actually address the underlying causes of the illegal migration from Central America, notably the fact that UAMs and family units who cross the border know they will get to stay in the U.S. once they arrive. Specifically, once Central American UAMs and family units are apprehended at the border, they receive papers setting court dates and are then released into the U.S. (FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 1, 2015) These documents are known as “notices to appear,” but illegal aliens refer to them as “permisos,” or free passes, because they give permission to stay in the country while they await their appearance in already backlogged immigration courts. (Id.) Testifying before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing late last year, Chris Cabrera of the National Border Patrol Council stated that “[these documents] are now known as the ‘notice to disappear’ — 80 percent, 90 percent of those folks will not show up for that hearing.” (See Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015; FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 27, 2015) The decisive solution to the crisis at the border, according to Cabrera, is for illegal border crossers to be “detained, adjudicated, and repatriated.” (Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015)
Senator Kirk Trying to Use NDAA as Amnesty Vehicle Again
Pro-amnesty Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is trying to sneak amnesty into the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill meant to fund our troops. For the second straight year, Sen. Kirk has introduced an amendment — modeled off of Rep. Jeff Denham’s (R-CA) ENLIST Act — that requires the Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to issue green cards (legal permanent resident status) to certain illegal aliens just for enlisting in the military. (See FAIR Legislative Update, June 16, 2015) Specifically, the Kirk amendment makes all illegal aliens with work authorization through President Obama’s unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligible for military service. And, because of an Executive Order still in effect from the Bush administration, these amnestied illegal aliens are immediately eligible to become U.S. citizens once they receive their green cards. (See FAIR’s Military Amnesty Policy Statement) The amendment also makes aliens with two years of lawful status eligible to enlist, meaning aliens who were lawfully admitted for a temporary basis (e.g., student visa) could circumvent the proper procedure established by the Immigration and Nationality Act in order to get a green card and U.S. citizenship.
Senator Kirk’s amendment reflects a complete disregard for our military eligibility criteria. Federal law prohibits illegal aliens from enlisting in the U.S. military; only U.S. citizens, nationals, and legal permanent residents are eligible to enlist. (10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(1)) The law does contain a narrow exception that allows the Secretary of Defense to approve individuals who are otherwise not qualified to enlist if “such enlistment is vital to the national interest.” (10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(2)) This exception, however, is seldom used. Most recently, the Bush administration used this provision in 2008 to launch the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, but limited eligibility to legal nonimmigrants (i.e., legal, temporary aliens) with health care backgrounds or certain language skills to fight in the War on Terror. (See 74 Fed. Reg. 7993 (Feb. 23, 2009))
Remarkably, Sen. Kirk is trying to slip his amnesty amendment in the NDAA this year even though it was intentionally kept out of last year’s defense authorization bill. In fact, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain — and Gang of Eight leader — John McCain (R-AZ), who has jurisdiction over the NDAA, called last year’s effort inappropriate. At the time, Sen. McCain said, “We’re not doing anything on immigration on the NDAA.” (The Hill, May 5, 2015) He added, “The defense bill is for defense, not for Dreamers.” (Id.)
FAIR blasted Sen. Kirk’s attempt to use the NDAA as a vehicle for amnesty. “This is an attempt to hold funding for our military hostage, basically to amnesty, which could not pass on its own. It’s unseemly,” charged FAIR’s Ira Mehlman. (PoliZette, May 27, 2016)
The Senate starts debating the NDAA on June 6. It is unclear whether Sen. Kirk’s amnesty amendment will receive a floor vote.
Stay tuned to FAIR as details emerge…
Judiciary Committee Closes Loopholes in Visa Vetting Process
The House Judiciary Committee passed by a 14-10 vote last Wednesday key legislation by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) that would close gaps in the visa screening process and ensure that immigrants are properly vetted so they do not pose security risks to the United States. (Law360, May 25, 2016)
In light of the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks, Congress began to scrutinize the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa or be interviewed, face-to-face, by a U.S. consular officer. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 26, 2016, INA § 217(a)) Last December, in an effort to tighten the VWP, Congress included language in its omnibus spending bill from Rep. Candice Miller’s (R-MI) bill, H.R. 158, which bars nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Sudan, or individuals who have been to those countries in the last five years, from traveling to the U.S. without a visa. (Id.) An announcement by the Obama administration to use its so-called “waiver authority” to get around the tighter restrictions caused Congress to exercise its oversight authority. A March hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee further raised red flags when Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth testified that “ICE is unable to ensure that the Visa Security Program is operating as intended” and that the present system is a national security risk because individuals intending to harm us may be admitted. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 22, 2016)
The Visa Integrity and Security Act, H.R.5203,takes a number of steps to strengthen visa security and curb fraud. (House Judiciary Committee Press Release, May 25, 2016) During his opening remarks, Rep. Forbes highlighted FAIR’s support of the bill and mentioned that he would include FAIR’s letter in the report. H.R. 5203 expands a critical visa vetting program to ensure all visa applicants receive additional screening including DNA testing for those applicants seeking to join relatives in the United States. The government must also search social media and other publicly available information on the Internet to determine if a visa applicant is a security threat. (Id.) Finally, this legislation takes away some of the discretion visa screening officers by requiring visa applicants to completely answer all of the questions on the form as well as substantiate their eligibility or their visas will be denied. (Id.)
H.R. 5203 attempts to fix the flaw in the visa application screening process that leaves the U.S. dangerously susceptible to terrorist attacks. The clearest example is Tashfeen Malik, who orchestrated the San Bernadino attacks. (See Rep. Forbes Press Release, May 24, 2016) Malik was approved for a fiancé visa and granted entry into the U.S. despite her incomplete application and social media posts that endorsed radical jihad and expressed disdain for America. (Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2015)
During the same markup, the Committee passed Rep. Mimi Walter’s (R-CA) H.R. 3636, The Oversee Visa Integrity with Stakeholder Advisories Act by voice vote. This bill, H.R. 3636, improves the visa program by providing transparency and curbing fraud.
The O- Visa is a nonimmigrant for individuals who possess extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.(INA § 101(a)(15)(O); see U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
With the passage of these two bills, the House Judiciary Committee has acted to prevent efforts to manipulate our immigration system and to protect our national security. House GOP leadership should follow suit and promptly bring these bills to the floor for a vote.
Louisiana Committee Fails to Advance Anti-Sanctuary Bill
Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee voted on May 24 to suspend House Bill (HB) 1148 from advancing to the Senate floor, effectively killing the bill for the year. (4WWL, May 25, 2016) HB 1148 prohibits state and local agencies and employees from instituting sanctuary policies that impede the enforcement of immigration law. Sanctuary policies are written or unwritten ordinances, resolutions, executive actions, or initiatives that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring, acting on, or reporting on an individual’s immigration status. Some go so far as to completely obstruct any law enforcement or local government cooperation with federal immigration officials whatsoever.
To enforce the prohibition against sanctuary policies, HB 1148 also prohibited state or local governments from borrowing state money for new infrastructure projects if the state Attorney General determined that the jurisdiction had a sanctuary policy in place. (HB 1148 § 1) Additionally, HB 1148 prohibited state money from being spent on the enforcement or implementation of a sanctuary policy in Louisiana. (Id.) Before voting to kill the measure, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended HB 1148 to remove the funding restrictions, thus gutting the bill of any method to ensure state and local governments comply with the measure. (Times-Picayune, May 24, 2016)HB 1148 ultimately did not receive enough votes from the Committee to progress to the full Senate for consideration, despite passing the House of Representatives earlier this month with a 69-26 vote. (Id.)
Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has taken a strong stance against sanctuary cities, was a strong supporter of HB 1148 and issued a statement following the Senate committee’s decision to kill the bill. (Office of Attorney General, May 24, 2016) “I am extremely disappointed that the Governor and politicians who are aligned with him chose to confer criminal illegals more rights than their constituents, the citizens of Louisiana, enjoy. Today’s action shows that the Governor and his DC-style politics jeopardize the safety of our citizens,” wrote Attorney General Landry. (Id.)
Last month, Attorney General Landry also wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, questioning the Department of Justice’s role in implementing New Orleans’ sanctuary policy. (ImmigrationReform.com, May 10, 2016) New Orleans’ recently adopted sanctuary policy was instituted as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The new policy prohibits its law enforcement officers from even inquiring into the immigration status of any individual. (New Orleans Consent Decree)
Unless the Senate Judiciary Committee A takes action to reconsider HB 1148, the measure is unlikely to move again this session. The Louisiana Legislature must adjourn the 2016 legislative session no later than June 6.