FAIR Legislative Update January 17, 2012
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Wednesday that it had cracked the largest fraud case in the agency’s history, leading to the arrest of 50 individuals on charges of conspiracy to commit identification fraud in connection with their alleged roles in selling the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens to illegal aliens. (ICE Press Release, Jan. 11, 2012)
Those accused of operating the ring allegedly sold hundreds of birth certificates, Social Security Numbers, and driver’s licenses ranging in price from $700 to $2,500 per set. (Fox News Latino, Jan. 12, 2012) According to ICE, conspirators in 15 states and Puerto Rico operated the ring from April 2009 to December 2011. (ICE Press Release, Jan. 11, 2012)
“The conspiracy alleged to be perpetrated by those charged undermines the integrity of our national immigration system. We will continue working with our federal partners to protect our homeland from criminals who have no regard for our nation's safety and security,” said ICE Director, John Morton, of the charges. (Id.)
Illegal aliens frequently target Puerto Ricans for ID theft due to their U.S. citizenship and Hispanic surnames. (NPR, Jan. 11, 2012) In 2010, the Associated Pressreported that thousands of Puerto Ricans had become victims of identity fraud in part because the government had not secured their birth certificates. (Id.) That summer, the Puerto Rican government began voiding old birth certificates and issuing new ones with security features to cut down on theft and fraud cases. (Id.)
A federal jury indicted the 50 alleged conspirators on Dec. 29, 2011. (ICE Press Release, Jan. 11, 2012) If convicted, they face up to 15-years in prison and a $250,000 fine. (Id.)
In an unusual letter sent early January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton denounced Cook County’s detainer ordinance as a “serious impediment” to immigration enforcement that “undermines public safety.” (Morton Letter to Preckwinkle, Jan. 4, 2012) The letter, addressed to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, also warned that the County’s ordinance may be illegal because it prohibits local officials from responding to ICE inquiries or sending immigration data to ICE, a possible violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373(a). Morton urged the County Board of Commissioners to amend the ordinance to avoid conflicts with federal law and “restore sensible cooperation between Cook County and ICE….”
Cook County’s detainer ordinance, adopted in September 2011, has caused enormous controversy because it directs the Cook County Sheriff to ignore ICE detainers unless the federal government has agreed in writing to cover all related costs. (Cook County Code Sec. 46-37) The ordinance also provides that the Sheriff shall not give ICE agents access to individuals or allow ICE to use County facilities for investigative interviews or other purposes, and that “County personnel shall not respond to ICE inquiries or communicate with ICE regarding individuals' incarceration status or release dates.” The only exception provided is when ICE agents have a criminal warrant or County officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose that is not related to the enforcement of immigration laws. (FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 24, 2011) According to Morton’s letter, since passage of the ordinance, Cook County has ignored 268 detainers on aliens “charged with, or convicted of a crime, including serious and violent offenses like assault on a law enforcement officer."
For months, true immigration reformers have been sounding the alarm regarding the Cook County ordinance, warning that it directly challenges the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. Those warnings, however, were recently amplified after the tragic death of a Chicago resident, Dennis McCann, at the hands of an illegal alien drunk driver. (See Chicago Tribune, Jan. 4, 2011) The illegal alien, Saul Chavez, was caught at the scene of the crime and booked in a Cook County Jail. But despite the fact that ICE issued a detainer on Chavez – who already had one DUI conviction –the Cook County Jail ignored the detainer and allowed Chavez to post bond. Chavez has since failed to appear in court.
Upon receipt of Morton’s letter, Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle was defiant. In a press conference, Preckwinkle refused to concede that the county’s detainer ordinance played any role in enabling Saul Chavez to abscond. (Chicago Tribune, Jan. 12, 2012) Instead she argued the problem was that Chavez’s bond was set too low, and ordered the Board’s Judicial Advisory Council to conduct a six-month study on how bail is set in county courts. (Id.)
This week, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) plans to introduce a bill that would prevent the federal government from using taxpayer funds to sue states over their immigration enforcement laws. The proposed bill, which serves as companion bill to S. 1856 introduced this fall by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA), is aimed at protecting the state immigration enforcement laws that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has either challenged in court or suggested it may challenge. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 14, 2011) The specific state laws protected under Rep. Black’s bill include: Oklahoma HB 1804; Missouri HB 390; Arizona SB 1070; Utah HB 497; Indiana SB 590 and HB 1402; Alabama HB 56; South Carolina S 20; and Georgia HB 87. (See Description of state immigration laws here.)
Since President Obama’s Department of Justice first sued Arizona in 2010, to block implementation of SB 1070, it has sued three more states, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah, over their immigration laws. The U.S. Supreme Court announced last month that it would hear Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s injunction of SB 1070. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 12, 2011) Arizona is expected to file its first brief in the case at the end of January.
President Obama promoted Cecilia Muñoz, the White House’s director of Intergovernmental Affairs, to be the new director of its Domestic Policy Council last week. In her new role, Muñoz will become Obama’s senior advisor on domestic affairs, which includes overseeing policy-making on issues such as immigration, education, energy, and health care. (The Hill, Jan. 10, 2012; Wall Street Journal, Jan. 11, 2012).
Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Muñoz served as Senior Vice President for the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza, one of the most outspoken pro-amnesty organizations in the country, where she covered immigration policy for twenty years. (See White House Press Release, Jan. 10, 2012) La Raza and its affiliates are involved in several lawsuits against state enforcement laws, including filing an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the Justice Department’s suit against Arizona’s SB 1070 and working with its affiliate, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) to enjoin HB 56. (See LA Raza Website, State & Local Initiatives, Jan. 13, 2012).
In addition, Muñoz played a significant role in devising the Obama Administration’s administrative amnesty program, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. This fall, Morton testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Muñoz helped him prepare the June 17 memos he issued discouraging agents from enforcing the law against certain segments of the illegal alien population. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 17, 2011; see also Morton Memos Summary)
Confident Muñoz will continue to make the Administration proud in her new role, President Obama issued the following statement: “Over the past three years, Cecilia has been a trusted advisor who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out. Cecilia has done an extraordinary job working on behalf of middle class families, and I’m confident she’ll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position.” (See White House Press Release, Jan. 10, 2012)