FAIR Legislative Update October 22, 2012
Last week, federal officials stopped a foreign student who allegedly attempted to bomb the Federal Reserve building in New York City. The 21-year-old terrorist suspect, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, arrived in the United States from Bangladesh in January on a student visa with goal of recruiting a terror cell and waging a "jihad" attack. (USA Today, Oct. 17, 2012)
Nafis was arrested last week when he attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb in front of the Fed building. (FOX News, Oct. 17, 2012) However, one of the individuals Nafis recruited was an FBI source who monitored Nafis' activity and ultimately supplied him with a fake bomb. (FBI Release, Oct. 17, 2012) Some of the other targets Nafis considered attacking included President Obama and the New York Stock Exchange. (Reuters, Oct. 18, 2012)
According to New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Nafis entered the country to study cyber security at Southeast Missouri State University. He attended classes there for a mere one semester before requesting a transfer to Manhattan's ASA (Advanced Software Analysis) Institute of Business and Computer Technology. (New York Daily News, Oct. 18, 2012) According to a family member, Nafis left Southeast Missouri State due to financial problems, being unable to find on-campus employment. (CBS-Missouri, Oct. 18, 2012)
Federal law limits F student visa holders from working more than 20-hours a week while school is in session, and prohibits them from working off-campus during their first year of admission to the United States. (CFR 214.2(f)(9)) Nonetheless, while in New York Nafis allegedly worked 10-hour days at a hotel to pay for school. (Agence France-Presse, Oct. 18, 2012)
New York Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, questioned why Nafis' transfer to a new university after only completing one semester in Missouri failed to raise red flags within DHS. (CBS-New York, Oct. 18, 2012) Senator Schumer called for "an inspector general investigation into why the State Department granted this individual a visa, and whether ICE should have denied this individual's attempt to transfer schools." The Senator also warned that "we need to make sure that it is difficult" for criminals and terrorists to enter our country, "not open our back door for them," he said. (New York Daily News, Oct. 18, 2012)
Nafis' case illustrates the weaknesses in the student visa system that still allowing potential terrorists to enter the United States. It also demonstrates that terrorists still see our visa system as a tool that can be exploited to accomplish their goals. Last year, the U.S. granted some 476,000 student visas worldwide, of which 1,136 were for Bangladeshi nationals. (Agence France-Presse, Oct. 18, 2012)
Nafis now faces charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. (New York Daily News, Oct. 18, 2012; see also Reuters, Oct. 18, 2012)
Last Tuesday, President Obama touted his non-enforcement immigration policy before the American people as he and Governor Romney sparred on immigration policy during the town hall presidential debate. During his two minutes, the President went through a list of initiatives his Administration has unilaterally taken to ease restrictions on immigration and help illegal aliens stay in the U.S. "I've done everything on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system," said the President.
In particular, President Obama claimed credit for putting more border patrol agents on the border during any time in history, which, he said, had resulted in reducing the flow of illegal immigration to its lowest level in 40 years. Neither claim has basis in fact as: (1) it was Congress, under the second Bush Administration, that nearly doubled the size of the Border Patrol, and (2) the only data regarding the flow of illegal aliens across the border is the number of apprehensions, which does not measure how many illegal aliens have circumvented the Border Patrol and successfully entered the U.S. (See, e.g. CRS, Border Security: Immigration Enforcement between Ports of Entry, pp. 15, 19-20)
The President also boasted of his non-deportation policy — a policy that directs federal agents to ignore the law and not pursue illegal aliens unless they have been convicted of additional, serious crimes. "If we're going to go after folks who are here illegally," he said, "we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, [and] people who are hurting the community...." As for the so-called DREAMers, illegal aliens under the age of 31 who allegedly entered the U.S. before the age of 16, "[W]e should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship." Referring to the fact that he had blatantly circumvented Congress, which had rejected the DREAM Act on multiple occasions, he added, "[T]hat's what I've done administratively."
Not surprisingly, President Obama then sought to demonize any notion of immigration enforcement and criticized Governor Romney for his "self-deportation" policy. But here, Romney fired back, arguing that "we're going to have to stop illegal immigration." He explained that a policy of self-deportation gives aliens their own choice. It means that the federal government will not round up all illegal aliens, he said, but will eliminate jobs, benefits, driver's licenses, and other incentives for illegal aliens to stay. Once illegal aliens can't find the jobs they want in the U.S., Romney said, they will go somewhere else where they can find jobs and benefits. Romney also indicated his support for mandatory E-Verify and said he "will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally."
Unfortunately, with respect to amnesty, Governor Romney seemed to contradict himself by expressing support for granting green cards to illegal alien minors. "[T]hose kids, he said, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident to the United States" and that "military service…is one way they would have that kind of pathway..." This statement not only appears to contradict the promise he made in the primary to veto the DREAM Act, it ignores the fact that illegal aliens generally cannot serve in the Armed Forces (although legal aliens who serve in the military are eligible for an expedited path to citizenship).
Romney also expressed support for increasing legal immigration and creating more competition for U.S. workers seeking high-skilled jobs. He said the government should give green cards to aliens who graduate "with skills that we need" and that we should in fact automatically staple green cards to the diplomas of aliens who graduate with math and science degrees, regardless of the competition it creates for skilled U.S. workers.
Amnesty advocates and surrogates for the Obama campaign responded to the debate by characterizing Romney's position on immigration as extreme. (See National Journal, Oct. 18, 2012) "Mitt Romney is the most extreme presidential candidate on immigration in modern history," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) in a conference call held the day after the debate. (Id.) Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) similarly said, "It's so sad for our community — and, quite honestly, for our entire nation — that the Republican nominee is so extreme." (Id.)
Prince William County, Virginia became the latest victim of the Obama Administration's assault on the 287(g) immigration enforcement program when it received a letter from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials last week informing County law enforcement the agency was not going to renew its task-force style agreement with the County next year. (Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2012; InsideNova, Oct. 18, 2012)
The 287(g) program, which has been under sustained attack by the Administration, allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to "deputize" or cross-designate state and local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents within their jurisdictions. (INA § 287(g); 8 U.S.C. 1357(g)) Opponents of immigration enforcement have especially objected to the task force model agreements within the 287(g) program because they allow officers participating in criminal task forces (such as drug or gang) to proactively respond to and identify illegal aliens anywhere within the law enforcement agency's jurisdiction. (See OIG-11-119, p. 7, Sept. 2011)
As it has done repeatedly under the Obama Administration, ICE claimed the reason for refusing to renew the agreement is that the 287(g) program is less effective than other immigration enforcement programs used to identify illegal aliens. "The Secure Communities screening process, coupled with federal officers, is more consistent, efficient and cost effective in identifying and removing criminal and other priority aliens," ICE said in a statement. (WTOP, Oct. 16, 2012) ICE also claimed it was refusing to renew the agreement because it was cutting its 287(g) budget by 17 million in the upcoming fiscal year, because of the effectiveness of the Secure Communities program. (InsideNova, Oct. 18, 2012) $17 million is the same amount the Administration requested to cut the program by in its proposed FY2013 budget. (See DHS Budget in Brief FY2013)
However, it is unclear how the Administration is claiming the funds have been cut when Congress never passed the President's budget. (FAIR Legislative Update, June 12, 2012) In fact, the House of Representatives' passed budget restored the 287(g) funding and included an amendment specifically prohibiting funds from being used to cut 287(g) agreements. (Id.) Ultimately, the continuing resolution agreement that finally passed both chambers of Congress funding the government through March 2013 maintained funding for the program.
The Obama Administration's plan to replace 287(g) with Secure Communities is cause for concern considering the two programs are fundamentally different. 287(g) trains local officers to determine whether an individual is lawfully present, including those with no prior contact with immigration services. Secure Communities, while critical, can only call attention to aliens after they have been booked into jail and if their digital fingerprints are already in immigration databases.
Corey Stewart, Chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors who spearheaded the County's immigration enforcement efforts, strongly criticized the Administration's decision not to renew ICE's agreement with the County, accusing President Obama of making the move to gain more Latino votes for his reelection campaign. "We went through so much to get this program in place 5 years ago…it's obviously saved people from a lot of crime," he said. "Now, for political reasons the Obama administration is putting an end to it." (WMAL, Oct. 18, 2012)
County officials say they won't be able to identify nearly as many illegal aliens without the help of the 287(g) program. In a statement, they said that 5,000 people arrested in the county so far have been found to be illegal. Without the program, they estimated that number would drop by 60 percent. (Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2012)
The Los Angeles City Council is moving ahead with its so-called "Universal City Services Card," an official city library ID and debit card that can be used by illegal aliens to open bank accounts and access city services. (LA Times, Oct. 17, 2012) Last week, the City Council's Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee voted to approve a recommendation from the Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa that bids be solicited from third-party vendors to implement the card. (Id.; see also October 15, 2012 Letter from Richard L. Benbow, Los Angeles City Manager, to Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, Los Angeles City Council) The plan could potentially benefit over 300,000 illegal aliens. (LA Times, Oct. 17, 2012)
City Council Member Ed Reyes said the measure is needed to enable illegal aliens to open bank accounts and obtain other city services. (Id.) Under the Patriot Act, however, banks are already permitted to open bank accounts for illegal aliens with as little documentation as a matricula consular card. (P.L. 107-56 § 326, Oct. 26, 2001) Despite the unanimous vote to move ahead with the ID card, not everyone in the Los Angeles City area is pleased with the Council's efforts. The Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council passed a resolution protesting the City's plans. The resolution states that "the library should not be turned into Financial Literacy Centers, nor should the city enter into the Debit card business." (Resolution, Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council)
If Los Angeles adopts the library ID proposal, it will follow in the footsteps of other cities, such as San Francisco and New Haven, that issue city IDs to illegal aliens. (See, e.g., FAIR Legislative Update, July 11, 2011) The ordinances in each city vary somewhat, but have all been used to accommodate the continued residence of illegal aliens in those cities.