FAIR Legislative Update August 16, 2010
President Signs Border Security Funding Bill
After a week of activity on Capitol Hill, President Obama on Friday signed into law a $600 million border security bill. The signing ceremony took place only a day after the Senate reconvened for a special session to pass the bill, and just several days after the legislation cleared the House. (Associated Press, August 12, 2010). As FAIR reported last week, the House and Senate had been engaged in a political game of ping pong as they passed competing border security bills before the August recess. (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, August 9, 2010). They finally agreed on the measure first introduced in the Senate, which adds funding for agents and equipment along the U.S.-Mexico border and pays for it by increasing H-1B and L visa fees for companies that rely on such guest workers as a large percentage of the workforce. (Associated Press, August 12, 2010). The House passed the bill as H.R. 6080, and then for procedural reasons sent it back to the Senate for final approval. (Politico, August 10, 2010).
With the November elections approaching, lawmakers quickly took credit for passage of the bill. President Obama declared, “Today’s action by Congress answers my call to bolster the essential work of federal law enforcement officials and improve their ability to partner with state, local, and tribal law enforcement.” (USA Today, August 12, 2010). Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated, “"With this bill's passage today, we have clearly shown we are serious about securing our nation's borders." (ABC News, August 13, 2010). He added that he hoped its passage would help break a deadlock in the Senate over comprehensive immigration reform. (Reuters, August 12, 2010).
Republicans also praised the passage of the legislation, but several pointed out that this is only a start towards securing our southern border. Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain released a statement that highlighted many critical priorities still in need of funding, such as Operation Streamline. They pledged, “We will keep up the fight, and hope that when Congress returns in September Democrats will end the political gamesmanship and join our effort to do more for states like Arizona.” (Kyl/McCain Press Release, August 12, 2010).
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and a group of state legislators unveiled a new bill at a campaign event in Orlando on Wednesday that attempts to curb the state’s illegal immigration problem. (McCollumPress Release, Aug. 11, 2010). The proposed law would require police officers to verify a suspect’s immigration status during all lawful stops, detentions, and arrests when there is reasonable suspicion the individual is unlawfully present. The language of the bill is similar to the Arizona immigration law SB 1070, but the authors of the Florida law claim that it will more likely withstand a court challenge because it clarifies language and addresses concerns raised by the federal judge who ruled on the Arizona law. Upon introduction of the bill, McCollum said, “This legislation will provide new enforcement tools for protecting our citizens and will help our state fight the ongoing problems created by illegal immigration. Florida will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens.” (McCollum Press Release, Aug. 11, 2010)
The proposed legislation also has several other provisions that attempt to tighten Florida’s illegal immigration laws. The bill would require that aliens carry immigration documentation or face a misdemeanor penalty of up to 20 days in jail for the first offense. (See text of bill, pp.7-8). It also allows state judges to consider immigration status when determining bond for an individual, and finally would require Florida businesses to use the E-Verify program to confirm their employees’ work authorization. (See text of bill, p.17, 20).
The proposal by McCollum comes at a time when he is trailing in the polls by nearly 10 points in a race to become the Republican candidate for governor in the state. McCollum’s opponent in the gubernatorial primary, With McCollum’s proposal, Florida has been thrust into the national immigration debate and the issue will likely garner more attention across the state in the upcoming primaries and in the general election in November.
Speaking to Hispanic supporters last week in his home state of Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) openly questioned why Hispanics would be Republicans. "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK?" Reid said. “"Do I need to say more?" (Politico, Aug. 11, 2010). The next day, Senator Reid’s office stood by the statement and used the opportunity to go after his opponent in the November election, Sharon Angle, accusing her of having an “extreme and dangerous agenda for Hispanic Nevadans.” (Politico, Aug. 11, 2010). Id.) Reid then sought to shore up his credentials with Hispanics by pointing to Republicans as the reason amnesty legislation did not pass, even though many Democrats continue to oppose such legislation. His campaign spokesman said: “Despite the efforts of Republicans like Sharron Angle to change the U.S. Constitution and block comprehensive immigration reform,” a campaign spokesman said, “Sen. Reid will continue to wake up and fight every day for the interests of Hispanic Nevadans.” (Id.)
Republicans reacted sharply to the Senate Majority Leader’s statement. Sharon Angle, Reid’s opponent in the November election, told reporters that “Harry Reid cannot give any good reasons why people should vote for him, so now he is turning to race and ethnicity.” (Politico, Aug. 11, 2010). Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate for Florida’s Senate seat and the son of Cuban immigrants called Reid’s comments “outrageous” and “ridiculous.” (Politico, Aug. 11, 2010). Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, also objected to Reid’s statement, calling them "extremely condescending and are insulting to all Latinos." Aguilar said, “Hispanic voters don't have a 'herd mentality. They have shown that their vote cannot be taken for granted by any party and that they will support candidates who will defend the principles they believe in…” (Id.)
To many observers, Reid’s claim that Hispanics could only rightfully belong to the Democratic Party is further proof of the growing politicization of the immigration debate. In April, when Senator Reid was suffering in state polls, he announced to Hispanic supporters that he would bring up amnesty legislation immediately after the Easter recess. Reid quickly backtracked when he realized many of his Democratic colleagues were not on board with his promise, and there has been little movement on amnesty legislation since. (See FAIR’sLegislative Update, Apr. 19, 2010). As a result, Democratic leadership is coming under increasing pressure from powerful pro-amnesty forces within the Hispanic community who have run out of patience when it comes to passing “comprehensive” immigration reform. (Politico, Aug. 11, 2010). How Democrats will juggle competing interests between pro-enforcement and pro-amnesty constituencies as the election nears remains to be seen.