Legislative Update: 9/06/2016
Trump Doubles Down on Immigration Enforcement in Key Speech
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used a prime time speech last week to attempt to clarify his position on immigration. Over the last few weeks, speculation mounted that Trump was “softening” his immigration stance after several comments made by the candidate and his inner circle seemed to contradict his official immigration plan. In an hour-long speech in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump delivered a detailed 10-point policy that made clear he would enforce the law if elected president. Notably, the speech was given just hours after Trump made an impromptu visit to Mexico for a face-to-face meeting with Mexico’s president.
From the outset, Trump emphasized that blanket legalization of the illegal alien population is not an option. “There will be no amnesty,” Trump declared. (Transcript of Trump Immigration Speech) “Our message to the world would be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.” (Id.) “We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration.” (Id.) “When politicians talk about immigration reform they usually mean the following: amnesty, open borders, lower wages, immigration reform. [It] should mean something else entirely. It should mean improvements to our laws and policies, to make life better for American citizens,” Trump said. (Id.) “But if we’re going to make our immigration system work, then we have to be prepared to talk honestly and without fear about these important and very sensitive issues.” (Id.)
Trump spent a significant portion of the speech covering various components of enforcing the law. “In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced,” the GOP nominee told the crowd. (Id.) Trump added, “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have a country.” (Id.) “As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities. But unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.” (Id.) Specifically, Trump explained that within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he is “going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America.” (Id.) Additionally, Trump stated that he will cut off funding to sanctuary cities, end “catch and release” policies, reinstate the successful Secure Communities program and restore 287(g) agreements, impose sanctions on employers that hire illegal labor, and build the wall along the Southern border with Mexico. (Id.)
Throughout the speech, Trump referenced several high profile incidents of American citizens losing their lives at the hands of illegal aliens. “Countless Americans who have died in recent years would be alive today if not for the open border policies of this administration….” As Trump concluded his speech, he brought onto the stage the family members of about a dozen victims and gave each of them an opportunity to briefly tell the crowd about their loved one and how they were killed by an illegal alien. (Id.)
Lastly, Trump called for an overhaul of our legal immigration system. “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. Sometimes it is not going to work out. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us,” Trump said. (Id.) He further emphasized the need for an ideological test for admitting immigrants and refugees to ensure that people we allow into the country share the general values of America. (Id.)
To watch the entire speech, click here.
Obama Administration Quadruples Syrian Refugee Admissions in Fiscal Year 2016
Last Monday, the Obama administration admitted its 10,000th Syrian refugee into the United States, meeting its self-imposed quota for Fiscal Year 2016 one month early. (CNN Politics, Aug. 29, 2016) After reiterating that the 10,000-refugee figure was a base target, rather than a ceiling, a State Department official indicated that the administration will continue to resettle Syrian refugees at the current pace for the remaining six weeks of the fiscal year. (Id.)
It comes as no surprise that the Obama administration met its target early, as this milestone avoided a potentially embarrassing situation. In order not to “undermine its influence,” the administration redoubled its efforts to reach its “pledge” to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in Fiscal Year 2016. During the first 8 months of the fiscal year 2,805 refugees were admitted. (See State Department Refugee Processing Center Data) Yet, from June through August, 2016, the administration admitted nearly 8,000 refugees. (Id.) In late September, President Obama will convene a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly to highlight “the continued leadership of the United States on humanitarian issues.” (See Statement on Syrian Refugee Admissions, Aug. 29, 2016) At that meeting he is expected to push other countries to increase their humanitarian efforts, as well as the number of refugees they accept for resettlement. (Id.)
Despite claims that the vetting process for these Syrian refugees was tough and robust, the administration rushed the very process that is supposed to ensure the safety and security of the American people in order to meet its self-imposed goal. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 12, 2016) Specifically, the vetting process has been fast-tracked from 18 to 24 months to just three months. (Id.) Even in light of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and renewed promises by ISIS to infiltrate Western nations, the administration continues to admit thousands of Syrian refugees by way of this shortened, inadequate vetting process. (Id.)
Recently admitted refugees have been put in 231 towns and cities, mostly near friends and relatives, or in medium sized cities where jobs are plentiful and housing is affordable. (New York Times, Aug. 31, 2016) Michigan and California are the states that have accommodated the most Syrian refugees. (See NBC News, Aug. 30, 2016) Despite their respective governors’ objections, Arizona and Texas have taken the next highest numbers of refugees, followed by Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, and New York. (Id.) On the other hand, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming have not yet had any Syrian refugees placed in their states. (Id.)
The U.S. has resettled four times more refugees in Fiscal Year 2016 than in Fiscal Year 2015, during which only 1500 refugees were admitted. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Sept. 15, 2015) According to National Security Advisor Susan Rice, this year’s number of refugees is a “meaningful step that we hope to build upon.” (SeeStatement on Syrian Refugee Admissions, Aug. 29, 2016) Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, President Obama will inform Congress of his desired refugee resettlement level for Fiscal Year 2017 before the end of September, however, the actual number admitted will largely depend on whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected as president.
Nine Latin American Countries Urge the U.S. to End Special Immigration Policies for Cubans
In a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry last week, a group of Latin American foreign ministers urged the United States to review its preferential immigration policies that encourage Cuban nationals to illegally migrate to the U.S. (Ecuadorian Embassy Press Release, Aug. 29, 2016) The letter was a joint initiative by nine Latin American countries including Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. (Id.)
The foreign ministers expressed concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policies across the region. “The 1966 U.S. Public Law 89-732, known as the ‘Cuban Adjustment Act’, and the policy commonly known as ‘wet foot/dry foot’ have encouraged a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans who, risking their lives, pass through our countries in order to reach the U.S.,” the letter reads. (Id.) They go on to add that these policies have created a serious humanitarian crisis for Cuban nationals seeking to reach the United States. (Id.) “These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.” (Id.)
Specifically, the Cold War-era Cuban Adjustment Act allows Cuban citizens or nationals who reach the United States, regardless of whether they have done so legally or illegally, to remain and adjust to permanent resident status after one year. According to the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, all Cubans intercepted at sea en route to the U.S. are repatriated (“wet feet”), while those who step on American soil (“dry feet”) are eligible for preferential treatment under the Cuban Adjustment Act. In addition, under the Refugee Education Assistance Act, Cubans are the only immigrant group with immediate access to federal benefits because they are presumed to be refugees.
The foreign ministers’ concerns are not unfounded. As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to normalize, a feared end to the special immigration status and generous benefits bestowed on Cubans is driving a new wave of illegal Cuban migration. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 43,159 Cubans entered the United States last fiscal year, an amount nearly double that of the previous year. (Pew Research Center, Aug. 5, 2016) The influx shows no signs of slowing, as 46,635 Cubans have entered the country in the first ten months of the current fiscal year – already surpassing full Fiscal Year 2015’s total. (Id.)
After acknowledging receipt of the letter, the Obama administration made it clear that it does not plan on changing the migratory status of Cubans even though diplomatic relations are being reestablished with the island nation. (Washington Examiner, Aug. 30, 2016) “We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. (Id.) “The Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and ‘wet foot, dry foot’ remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.” (Id.)
Even though the administration is uninterested, there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to reform the Cuban immigration policies that are unfair relics of a bygone era. Congressmen Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX) have introduced legislation to ensure that Cubans are treated under the same immigration policies as citizens of other counties with which the United States has diplomatic relations. FAIR’s bill summary of H.R. 4847, the Correcting Unfair Benefits for Aliens (CUBA) Act of 2016, can be found here.
California Legislature Passes Bill to Let Illegal Aliens Decide on Enforcement
The California Legislature passed a measure this week to heighten its status as a sanctuary state. Assembly Bill 2792 (AB 2792) would place the fox in charge of the henhouse, so to speak, by requiring law enforcement to provide an alien in custody, prior to an interview with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with a written consent form. (AB 2792 § 3) The consent form must explain the purpose of the ICE interview, inform the alien in custody that it is voluntary, and the alien must be allowed to decline to be interviewed by ICE. (Id.) Essentially, under AB 2792, ICE may only have access to an alien in law enforcement custody if the alien gives ICE permission.
Additionally, AB 2792 requires local governing bodies to hold at least one public community forum a year to provide information to the community about their law enforcement agency’s policy regarding ICE access to aliens in custody. (Id.)The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to receive and consider public comment on such policy. (Id.) Accordingly, the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association have both formally opposed the bill. (Senate Committee Analysis)
AB 2792 is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s (D) desk. Governor Brown will have until September 30 to consider the bill. Under the California Constitution, if he does not sign or veto AB 2792 by that date, AB 2792 will automatically become law. A two-thirds vote is needed in both the state Senate and Assembly to override a veto.