Legislative Update: 11/22/2016
True Immigration Reformer Senator Jeff Sessions Nominated for Attorney General
Last Friday, President-elect Donald J. Trump nominated true immigration reformer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be Attorney General of the United States. (Presidential Transition Statement, Nov. 18, 2016) “I am humbled to have been asked by President-elect Trump to serve as Attorney General of the United States," Sessions said in accepting the nomination. (Id.) "My previous 15 years working in the Department of Justice were extraordinarily fulfilling. I love the Department, its people and its mission. I can think of no greater honor than to lead them." (Id.) Sessions, who served as a U.S. Attorney and Alabama Attorney General prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996, would likely prioritize a crackdown on sanctuary cities. (Washington Times, Nov. 18, 2016)
During his two decades in the upper chamber, Sen. Sessions has been instrumental in defeating mass amnesty bills, and has become a leading voice for immigration policies that serve the national interest and are grounded in the rule of law. In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and National Interest, Sessions has served as a bulwark against amnesty, while urging reform of existing and oft-abused immigration programs, such as the H-1B visa. Sessions has also worked to expose the dangers posed to the American people by the current administration’s policy of admitting thousands of refugees from Islamic extremist hotbeds. Further, Sessions clashed frequently with President Obama’s DOJ, arguing that the government should not undermine enforcement of federal immigration law or stand in the way of states seeking to do so.
FAIR’s president Dan Stein swiftly praised the nomination of Sen. Sessions, which effectively put sanctuary cities on notice. (FAIR Press Release, Nov. 18, 2016) “As America’s top attorney, Senator Sessions would put an end to the flagrant violation of federal immigration law by the more than 300 sanctuary cities and jurisdictions across the nation,” said Stein. (Id.) “For too long now, sanctuary cities have been all but ignored by the federal government, despite the undisputed fact that they serve as a beacon to illegal immigration. Their continued presence is a clear threat to national security, public safety, and the rule of law.” (Id.)
Key findings from an exit poll conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) show that American voters, including Hispanics, want our immigration laws enforced. (See FAIR Press Release, Nov. 17, 2016) Nearly 60 percent of all voters surveyed said that enforcement of our immigration laws was too lax. (Id.) Double the number of Hispanic voters believe that our immigration laws are too lax – 36. 3 percent compared to 18.3 percent of Hispanics who believe our enforcement policies are too strict. (Id.) Significantly, despite the media inaccurately portraying Trump as “anti-Hispanic,” 58.5 percent of Hispanic voters said they “support Donald Trump’s immigration policies.” (Id.) By comparison, only 32.9 percent said they “support Hillary Clinton’s immigration policies.” (Id.)
The Zogby poll is the clearest indicator that Hispanic Americans vote for candidates based on issues other than immigration. Famously after Romney lost the 2012 election to President Obama, the Republican National Committee conducted an “autopsy” that claimed the GOP’s harsh rhetoric on immigration enforcement “turned-off” Hispanic voters. Yet, as FAIR has repeatedly pointed out, Hispanics tend to vote for the Democratic Party because they favor large government programs. (See FAIR Issue Brief Republicans Have Immigration Problem, May 2016) Indeed, the Zogby poll found that only 37.2 percent of Hispanics said that a candidate’s immigration position was very important in their decision to cast their vote compared to 43.8 percent of voters overall. (See FAIR Press Release, Nov. 17, 2016) Overall, 46 percent of Hispanics cited the economy as the most important issue facing the country, followed by terrorism (20 percent), immigration (19 percent) and foreign policy (11 percent). (See Pew Research Center, Nov. 9, 2016)
In a statement, FAIR’s president Dan Stein reiterated that pandering for open borders is not necessary to win elections. “The conventional wisdom that advocating enforcement of immigration laws is a deal-killer for Hispanic voters is just plain wrong. It is a myth perpetuated by groups and individuals with a political stake in maintaining mass immigration and by a bunch of high-price consultants who continually misread public sentiment” Stein said. (FAIR Press Release, Nov. 17, 2016) “Donald Trump may not have won the Hispanic vote in this election but clearly it was not because of his views on immigration,” Stein continued. (Id.) “If anything, his positions on immigration seem to have helped him among Hispanic voters whose economic circumstances are being harmed by excessive immigration and unchecked illegal immigration.” (Id.)
Defying the odds, Republicans won the presidency, retained control of the Senate, and minimized losses to their House majority. Despite nearly every pollster predicting there was no way for GOP nominee Donald Trump to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, he prevailed overwhelmingly in the Electoral College. Currently, Trump leads Clinton 290-232 in the Electoral College with Michigan (16 electoral votes) still uncalled, but with Trump ahead in the vote count. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 15, 2016) When Trump is sworn in as our nation’s 45th president on January 20, 2017, Republicans will have full control of government for the first time since 2006.
Trump’s surprising success filtered down ballot, particularly in key Senate races. The 2016 election cycle was viewed as a challenge to Republicans to keep their majority because they were defending 24 seats compared to only 10 for Democrats. In addition to the sheer numbers posing a challenge to the Republicans, 7 out of the 24 GOP seats up for re-election were in states that President Obama had won twice whereas all 10 Democratic seats were in states that President Obama carried twice. Thus, Democrats only needed to flip 5 seats to win a clear majority or only 4 seats if Hillary won the presidency. Yet again, the pollsters were wrong and Republicans kept their majority—losing only two seats (notably by Senators who ran away from Trump in their campaigns). Republicans currently hold a 51-48 Senate majority, with Louisiana still undecided because of a runoff in December. The Republican candidate is expected to win the Louisiana runoff which would give the GOP a 52-48 edge in the next Congress.
Although Republicans were expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives, most believed their majority would sink significantly. Again that did not happen with Republicans currently holding a 238-193 majority, with 4 races still uncalled. Similar to the GOP Senators who lost, most House Republicans who lost their seats distanced themselves from Trump.
Trump’s success is due largely to his making immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his campaign. FAIR encourages the GOP-controlled Congress to prioritize President-elect Trump’s immigration plan during his first 100 days in office to finally implement changes that serve the national interest. Prioritizing immigration early in Trump’s term is essential because historically the party in the White House generally loses seats in midterm elections. However, the 2018 Senate cycle overwhelmingly favors Republicans, with Democrats defending 25 seats to only 8 for the GOP. Vulnerable Senate Democrats from Montana, Indiana, and West Virginia—all who voted for the Gang of Eight mass amnesty bill against their constituents’ wishes—might help Republicans defeat a filibuster from the open borders elements within the upper chamber.
Stay tuned to FAIR throughout the 115th Congress…
Attorneys from both sides of U.S. v. Texas, the 26-state lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive amnesty programs, have asked Judge Hanen to stay (effectively freeze) the case until President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as the next president. Trump made opposition to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) a focal point of his campaign and has vowed to end the unconstitutional executive amnesty programs as president. Accordingly, both sides agreed it did not make sense to continue litigating the case until Trump is sworn in and makes a decision on DACA and DAPA. The case is currently back before Judge Andrew Hanen for litigation on the merits after the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the injunction. (See FAIR's U.S. v. Texas Resource Page)
Stay tuned to FAIR as details emerge…
Sanctuary Mayors Pledge to Continue to Defy Rule of Law, Shield Criminals from Immigration Enforcement
Mayors in many of the country’s largest sanctuary cities are promising illegal alien residents that city officials will continue to ignore federal law and preserve policies that impede the enforcement of immigration law. (Washington Times, Nov. 15, 2016) Mayors vowing to refuse cooperation with federal authorities represent New York; Seattle; Boston; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Denver; and Washington, D.C.. (Fox News, Nov. 17, 2016)
Sanctuary mayors began announcing their resolve to defy federal law shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency in the 2016 election. (Id.) Trump’s platform energized American voters largely because of his tough position on immigration enforcement and promises to combat sanctuary cities. (FAIR's Analysis of Trump Immigration Position) President-elect Trump has repeatedly supported conditioning federal funding on cities’ willingness to cooperate with federal immigration officials. During a campaign speech, Trump vowed to “end the sanctuary cities” and said those “that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.” (ABC News, Nov. 15, 2016) He blamed sanctuary policies for “so many needless deaths.” (Id.)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel maintained his defiance to federal law on Tuesday. (Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2016) “To all those who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety as we’ve spoken to, you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago, and you are supported in Chicago,” Emanuel said. (Id.) “Chicago will always be a sanctuary city.” (Id.)
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced his refusal to cooperate with federal officials last week. At a press conference, he implied that city officials may destroy its illegal alien ID program records in order to shield illegal aliens from enforcement. (DNAinfo, Nov. 11, 20016) “All of this has to play out but I want New Yorkers to know we have a lot of tools at our disposal and we're going to use them. We're not going to take anything lying down, that's the central point. Anything we see as a threat to New Yorkers we will confront," said de Blasio. (Id.)
Portland, Oregon Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler followed suit. (OPB, Nov. 15, 2016) “We’re saying that we’re willing to sacrifice those dollars and we are willing to live with whatever consequences may come our way,” Mayor-elect Wheeler said. (Id.) “He needs to understand that the values that we hold as paramount here in the city of Portland and elsewhere in urban America are different,” Wheeler said. (Id.)
Sanctuary policies indeed undermine federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that state laws and policies are preempted when they conflict with federal law, as well as when they stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. Congress has set priorities through the Immigration and Nationality Act to determine who may enter and remain in the United States. Sanctuary laws, ordinances, and policies shield aliens from the administration of federal law, thereby frustrating the execution of immigration law as Congress intended.
Additionally, federal law prohibits policies that impede cooperation between federal, state, and local officials when it comes to the sending, requesting, maintaining, or exchanging of information regarding immigration status with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (8 U.S.C. § 1373; 8 U.S.C. § 1644) Thus, any federal, state, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from the federal government, information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual. (Id.)
Last summer the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General revealed that DOJ awarded $342,168,401 in grant money to 10 jurisdictions with sanctuary policies that prohibit law enforcement from cooperating with ICE. (FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 9, 2016; ImmigrationReform.com; Aug. 15, 2016) Sanctuary cities received grant money despite the fact that DOJ’s mission statement charges the agency with the duty to enforce the law, ensure public safety, seek punishment for unlawful behavior, and ensure fair and impartial administration of justice, the agency turned a blind eye towards these jurisdictions that vocally, and often directly in violation of federal law, impede immigration enforcement. The DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs last summer issued a guidance indicated, however, cities that violate the federal law will no longer be eligible for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program grants. (Id.)