Legislative Update: 9/16/2014
Pres. Obama Sets a New Deadline for Executive Amnesty: By the Holidays
In full damage-control mode, White House officials last week promised members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) that the President would announce his executive amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens “by the holidays.” (Associated Press, Sept. 11, 2014; Huffington Post, Sept. 11, 2014) White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, flanked by Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Munoz and White House General Counsel Neil Eggleston, made the promise to members of the CHC during a private meeting in the Capitol, held to calm anger among lawmakers that the President violated his promise to unilaterally grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens by the end of summer. (Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2014) President Obama announced last Saturday his decision to delay the executive amnesty until after the mid-term elections in order to protect Senate Democrats facing tough re-election battles.
According to those in attendance, the dialogue between CHC members and the White House officials was direct. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told reporters that the lawmakers did some “serious venting” inside the room. (Politico, Sept. 11, 2014) Another Democrat described the discussion as “frank and stern.” In particular, one Congressman asked Mr. McDonough what would happen if Democrats lose the Senate and lose House seats after Republicans successfully convince voters that Obama is a “dictator” who is abusing his executive authority. Mr. McDonough promised President Obama would still take action and that the action would be as “generous” as possible. (Associated Press, Sept. 11, 2014)
Afterwards, Congressman Luis Guiterrez (D-IL) told reporters that the exchange went “as well as can be expected.” (Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2014) “We were very, very clear that there are no more excuses, there are no more delays,” said Gutierrez. “I don’t care what senator is dangling in the wind, I don’t care what Republican proposal is being put forward, I don’t care what happens. We are moving forward. “
In contrast, Mr. McDonough was more guarded in his description of the meeting. “It was good to catch up with the caucus and underscore to them our continuing commitment to resolve the challenges with our broken immigration system and underscore to them that the President will act on this before the end of the year.” (Associated Press, Sept. 11, 2014)
Deportations Drop 20 Percent
New data released by the Associated Press last week shows that deportations in 2014 have dropped 20 percent since 2013, and are now at their lowest level since 2007. (Associated Press, Sept. 11, 2014) Specifically, the data obtained from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows that DHS deported 258,608 immigrants during the first 10 months of FY 2014. This represents a drop of 20 percent when compared to the same period in FY 2013 (320,167 deportations) and a 25 percent drop compared to the first ten months of FY 2012 (344,624 deportations).
In a statement, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) spokesperson noted that ICE still hasn’t released official data and said that officials are “still assessing a number of factors that inform ICE’s ability to remove individuals.” She added, “ICE remains focused on smart and effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminals and recent border entrants.”
House of Representatives to Vote on Government Funding Bill This Week
This week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill this week that would fund the government for three months. (The Hill, Sept. 11, 2014).
On September 9, the House Appropriations Committee released a continuing resolution that would continue funding for federal government programs at their current levels until December 11 of this year. (House Appropriations Press Release, Sept. 9, 2014; Continuing Resolution Draft) In a statement introducing the bill, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) explained that the Committee’s goal was to pass a “restrained” bill that would receive wide support in the House and Senate and that is “free of controversial riders, maintains current levels, and does not seek to change existing federal policies.” (House Appropriations Press Release, Sept. 9, 2014)
The funding levels this resolution extends were established by the FY2014 appropriations bill Congress passed in January of this year (HR 3547). H.R.3547 cut the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) discretionary spending by $336 million. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 22, 2014) More specifically, the bill cut the Office of Biometric Identity Management, salaries and expenses for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and the Justice Department’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), to which cuts were drastic. (Id.)
While the bill will maintain the level of funding set in the FY2014 appropriations bill, it has a provision allowing funding flexibility so that ICE and CBP can maintain current staffing levels, border security operations, detention space, and immigration enforcement activities. (House Appropriations Press Release, Sept. 9, 2014; Continuing Resolution Draft at p. 14-15) The Office of Management and Budget had asked for extra flexibility for immigration enforcement related agencies to meet the extra staffing needs created by the border crisis. (CQ News, Sept. 5, 2014)
While House action is expected this week, the precise timing of a vote is unclear. Initially, House Leadership hoped the continuing resolution would sail through both chambers of Congress to avoid a government shutdown when government funding runs out at the end of the current fiscal year, September 30. (FAIR Legislative Update, Sept. 9, 2014) However, the day after releasing the bill, the House postponed the vote at the urging of the White House in order to consider including language that would authorize the government to arm and train Syrian rebels. (National Journal, Sept. 11, 2014)
The Senate is expected to take up the continuing resolution as soon as the House passes it.
Lawmakers Demand Answers on Operation Streamline
Several Members of Congress are demanding answers from the Obama Administration about what appears to be the dismantling of an immigration enforcement program known as Operation Streamline.
Operation Streamline is a program run by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. District Judges that seeks to encourage and expedite the prosecution of aliens for illegally crossing the border. (Congressional Research Service, Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between Ports of Entry, Jan. 16, 2014) Under the program, additional CBP agents are assigned to certain border sectors to assist U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals. Instead of reviewing individual charges separately, the additional resources allow judges hear up to 40 criminal defendants’ cases simultaneously. (Id.)
Members of Congress first learned that the government had significantly scaled back prosecutions under Operation Streamline last month, when Sheriff Leon Wilmot of Yuma County, Arizona sent letters to Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). In those letters, Sheriff Wilmot informed the Members that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is no longer prosecuting first-time illegal border crossers. (Wilmot Letter to Flake, Aug. 19, 2014; Wilmot Letter to Gosar, Aug. 28, 2014) Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a first-time illegal entry offense is punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment. See INA § 275. Wilmot also said that he was informed that prosecutions would be limited to aliens with adverse immigration histories, criminal convictions, or presenting a danger to the public. (Id.)
Having learned of the Obama Administration’s dismantling of Operation Streamline, Members of Congress are asking questions. (Arizona Central, Sept. 9, 2014; Breitbart News, Sept. 9, 2014) In late August, Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and U.S. Attorney for Arizona John Leonardo demanding to know who initiated this policy shift and the number of illegal aliens who have avoided prosecution as a result. (Gosar Letter, Aug. 28, 2014) Gosar charged that this major shift in practice “flies in the face of years of work conducted by federal, state and local law enforcement to secure our communities, secure our borders, and more broadly, enforce the rule of law.” (Id.)
Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ) also sent their own letter to Eric Holder questioning the nonenforcement of immigration laws. They expressed concern that a change in Operation Streamline would undermine the 95% decline in apprehensions from between 2005 and 2013. (Flake/McCain Letter, Sept. 8, 2014) The Senators also questioned the appropriateness of loosening immigration enforcement at a time when increased unaccompanied minors and other Central American nationals were entering the region. (Id.)
House Judiciary Seeks to Ban Libyans from Attending U.S. Flight Schools
Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed on a party line vote (21-11) H.R. 5401, the “Protecting the Homeland Act.” The bill, authored by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Immigration Subcommittee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), prohibits the Obama Administration from lifting the ban on Libyan nationals from receiving visas to enter the U.S. for the purpose of attending flight school or studying nuclear science. Despite ongoing turmoil in Libya, the Office of Management and Budget in July issued a final regulation to lift the 30 year old ban, which first went into effect in the 1980s after Libyan nationals were involved in a series of terrorist attacks. (See OMB Rule, Spring 2014; see also Goodlatte Press Release, Sept. 10, 2014)
Upon introducing the bill, the authors criticized the Obama Administration for issuing a regulation that so clearly jeopardizes national security. Chairman Goodlatte said, “Given the ongoing terrorist activity in Libya, it is unconscionable that the Obama Administration is carelessly forging ahead with its plan to allow Libyans to attend flight school or study nuclear science in the United States.” (Id.) “Lifting this longstanding ban is not in the best interest of the American people and needlessly places our country at risk,” Goodlatte charged. (Id.) Representative Gowdy added that “the Administration has not been clear as to why repealing this longstanding rule now, while the situation in Libya is more uncertain and dangerous, will benefit our national security.” (Id.) Urging passage of the bill, Rep. Chaffetz added, “The Protecting the Homeland Act will stop the Administration from carelessly lifting this ban.” (Id.)
In the absence of Congressional action, the regulation lifting the ban will take effect once signed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. (OMB Rule, Spring 2014; see Goodlatte Press Release, Sept. 10, 2014)
Barletta Introduces UAC Transparency Act
Last week, true immigration reformer Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) introduced H.R. 5409, legislation that would give Governors and local officials the authority to stop the federal government from placing unaccompanied alien minors into their jurisdictions.
Specifically, Barletta’s “Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act” would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to notify State and local officials in advance of a plan to relocate UACs into the jurisdiction and empower them to deny the relocation plan after a public hearing. (See H.R. 5409 §2) The information the HHS Secretary is required to submit to State and local officials includes:
- Location of the facility the UACs will stay and the length of stay;
- Assessment on the impact to the community’s public safety, educational and health systems;
- Impact on the community’s fiscal needs;
- Certification that all UACs will undergo health screenings, including vaccinations, and will not present a public health risk;
- Certification that all UACs will undergo background checks and will not present a public safety risk; and
- Certification that the UACs’ caregivers will undergo background checks and will not present a risk to the UACs. (Id.)
Once the HHS Secretary submits the plan, State and local officials have 30 days to review it. (Id.) After the 30 day review, the bill requires a public hearing on the relocation plan in the jurisdiction within 10 days, with an HHS official present to receive comments. (Id.) After the hearing, HHS must receive two separate approvals in order to execute the relocation plan. First, the Governor has seven days to affirmatively approve the proposed plan. Then, only if the Governor approves the relocation plan, a majority of local elected officials must also approve the plan within seven days of the Governor’s approval. (Id.) Only after all of these steps occur may the HHS Secretary transfer UACs to a local jurisdiction.
Representative Barletta introduced this bill in response to the federal government trying to secretly place UACs in the Congressman’s district of Hazleton, Pennsylvania without notify him or any local officials. (Barletta Press Release, Sept. 9, 2014) Barletta said his bill “truly will empower states — governors of states — and local governments by providing them with all of the information they need to make an informed decision about relocation plans, and giving them an opportunity to either approve or reject those plans.” (Id.) “It’s only fair that Americans everywhere have the same opportunity, through their elected officials at the local and state level,” Barletta added. (Id.)
To see the estimated cost of educating UACs in public schools in your state, read FAIR’s analysis here.