Legislative Update: 12/22/2015
National Interest Ignored in Government Funding Bill
On Friday, both chambers of Congress approved a $1.1 trillion bill that funds the government for Fiscal Year 2016. In the morning, the House easily passed the omnibus bill, H.R. 2029, by a vote of 316-113. (Roll Call Vote #705) Shortly thereafter, the Senate invoked cloture 72-26 (with 60 votes needed to end debate) then officially passed the bill by a 73-25 vote. (Roll Call Vote #336; Roll Call Vote #338) Just hours later President Obama signed the bill into law.
The 2,009 page bill is notable for what it does not include on immigration. Just last week it was revealed that a new surge of unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) and family units from Central America are crossing the border unlawfully at nearly the same rate as the height of the 2014 crisis. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 15, 2015) In addition to President Obama's non-enforcement agenda, the UAC surge is fueled by a loophole in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 that prevents the government from promptly returning illegal aliens from Central America. (P.Law 110-457) Disappointingly, the omnibus omits language the House approved in 2014 authored by Reps. John Carter (R-TX), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Jack Kingston (R-GA) –and endorsed by FAIR — that would have closed the TVPRA loophole (Section 235) and made all UACs subject to the same removal process. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 5, 2014) Instead, the omnibus keeps the loophole in place and merely allocates money to "carry out" Section 235 of the TVPRA, along with other trafficking statutes. (H.R. 2029, p. 917)
Additionally, Congress failed to use its power of the purse to rein in President Obama's unconstitutional executive amnesty programs. At the beginning of the year, the House upheld its Election Day 2014 pledge to deny funds to Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the FY2015 Homeland Security funding bill. (FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 20, 2015) However, House GOP leadership quickly caved in to threats by Senate Democrats and President Obama to shut down parts of DHS and subsequently passed a FY2015 DHS bill that fully funds the executive amnesty. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 10, 2015) Along those lines, the omnibus fully funds the Justice Department's legal defense of DAPA and expanded DACA and funds the amnesty should the courts rule in the administration's favor.
Similarly, the omnibus fails to hold sanctuary cities — State and local jurisdictions with policies that impede immigration enforcement — accountable. Even though the House passed a bill in July that denied certain law enforcement funds to sanctuary jurisdictions in response to Kate Steinle's senseless death, those restrictions were left out of the omnibus. (See FAIR Legislative Update, July 28, 2015) Instead, sanctuary jurisdictions can continue to disregard federal immigration law while remaining eligible for a portion of $476 million for Byrne JAG grants, $210 million for SCAAP, and $187 million for COPS grants. (H.R. 2029, pp. 156-57; 167)
Outrageously, the omnibus also significantly increases low-skilled immigration. Buried in this massive legislation, the bill amends the H-2B low-skilled guest worker program to exempt from the statutorily established 66,000 cap all H-2B workers admitted between 2013 and 2015. (H.R. 2029, p. 701; see INA §§ 214(g)(1)(B); 214(g)(9)(A)) This change is expected to increase the number of low-skilled foreign workers to 250,000, or more than triple the existing cap level. (The Hill, Dec. 17, 2015) This language, which has never been debated at the committee level, is a clear violation of Speaker Ryan's promise to run the House through "regular order."
Finally, although the omnibus increases funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement ($5.8 billion total) and Customs and Border Protection ($11 billion total), this will have no effect on curbing illegal immigration because of President Obama's non-enforcement directives. Regardless of how many ICE agents and Border Patrol officers we have, the President's removal "priorities" are so narrow that 87 percent of all illegal aliens are considered off-limits to enforcement by the administration. (SeeFAIR Legislative Update, July 28, 2015)
FAIR's president, Dan Stein, criticized the omnibus for disregarding the public interest. "Thus far, the Republican leadership in Congress has failed to fulfill its promises to the American people to hold the administration accountable on immigration policy," Stein charged. (FAIR Press Release, Dec. 17, 2015) "The omnibus bill is yet another flaring example of their failure to deliver on the promises they made." (Id.)
Cruz, Rubio Battle Over Immigration in Fifth Republican Debate
Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) battled over immigration during last week's Republican debate in Las Vegas, thrusting their evolving feud on the issue to the forefront of the presidential race. (Politico, Dec. 15, 2015; see Debate Transcript) The two-hour primetime debate was the first for Republicans since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and as a result, focused primarily on national security. (Politico, Dec. 15, 2015)
The confrontation between the Senators began when Rubio was asked about his immigration stance. Rubio responded by outlining his immigration plan, which calls for amnesty supposedly after securing the border and reforming legal immigration. (Id.) "That may not be the majority position in my party, but that's still down the road," he said. (Id.) Cruz was then asked to weigh in on Rubio's claim that the two aren't very different on immigration, to which he responded, "there was a battle over amnesty, and some chose, like Senator Rubio, to stand with [President] Barack Obama and [Sen.] Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and support a massive amnesty plan. Others chose to stand with [Sen.] Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and [Rep.] Steve King (R-IA), and the American people, and secure the border." (Breitbart, Dec. 15, 2015) Cruz continued, "And let me mention, this issue is actually directly connected to what we've been talking about, because the front line with ISIS isn't just in Iraq and Syria, it's also in Kennedy Airport and the Rio Grande. Border security is national security. And you know, one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees, without mandating any background checks whatsoever." (Id.)
Rubio countered, "In 2013, we had never faced a crisis like the Syrian refugee crisis now. Up until that point, a refugee meant someone fleeing oppression, fleeing Communism, like it is in my community. As far as Ted's record, I'm always puzzled by his attack on this issue. Ted, you support legalizing people who are in this country illegally. Ted Cruz supported a 500% increase in the number of H-1B visas, the guest workers that are allowed into this country, and Ted supports doubling the number of green cards." (Id.) Cruz shot back, "It is not accurate, what he just said, that I supported legalization. Indeed, I led the fight against his legalization and amnesty bill." (Id.)
Later on, Rubio attempted to pin down Cruz on whether he would rule out giving amnesty to millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. (Politico, Dec. 15, 2015) "Will you rule it out?" he asked. (Id.) "I've never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization," Cruz said forcefully. (Id.) Cruz then took the opportunity to tout his immigration plan, which emphasizes enforcement of existing federal law and securing the border. (Id.)
Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last Thursday, a State Department official admitted the government does not know the whereabouts of thousands of foreigners in the U.S. who had their visas revoked over terror concerns (Fox News, Dec. 18, 2015) "You don't have a clue do you?" Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asked Michele Thoren Bond, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (Id.) Remarkably, Bond replied "I don't know" even though the U.S. has revoked more than 122,000 visas since 2011, including 9,500 as a result of terror concerns. (Id.)
Bond's startling admission came as members of the committee pressed government officials on what safeguards are in place to prevent extremists like San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik from entering the U.S. (Id.; see FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 8, 2015) At issue is how closely the U.S. government screens the backgrounds of people seeking entry, including reviews of their social media postings. (Fox News, Dec. 18, 2015) "If half the employers are doing [social media reviews] in the United States of America, if colleges are doing it for students, why wouldn't Homeland Security do it?" inquired Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). (Id.) "We don't even look at their public stuff, that's what kills me." (Id.) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Leon Rodriguez told committee members that background checks with social media reviews are not being done regularly and did not specify when or how such checks might occur. (Id.)
While the media focuses its attention on incoming Syrian Refugees, states along the southern border are continuing to experience large surges of unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) and family units from Central America, costing taxpayers millions. News reports indicate that the federal government will be subsidizing this surge by funneling as much as $12.9 million to North Texas to house approximately 1,400 UACs in short term lodging for up to 21 days. (Breitbart, Dec. 16, 2015)
UACs and family units continue to surge across the border illegally at rates exceeding last year's record levels. This October, the Border Patrol apprehended 5,000 UACs (double the number from October 2014) and 6,000 family units (triple the number from October 2014). (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 1, 2015) The situation was even worse in November, with 10,588 UACs apprehended (more than double from November 2014) and 12,505 family units apprehended (a 173 percent increase compared to last year). (CBP.gov) Costs related to the surge of Central American minors and family units include expenses such as paying management workers, food, lodging, health screenings, transportation, and mental health evaluations, in addition to taxpayer funded resources expended by local law enforcement. (Breitbart, Dec. 16, 2015) The camps to house UACs in North Texas were created in response to shelter overcrowding in the southern part of the state. (Id.)
The federal government's failure to secure the southern border has also compelled Texas Governor Greg Abbott to order the Texas National Guard to stay put in the Rio Grande Valley despite initial plans to terminate deployment this month. (Breitbart, Dec. 16, 2015) He also instructed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to coordinate with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to increase the number of boats and tactical officers on the Rio Grande River, funneled grant money to support the Border Prosecution Unit, and instructed DPS to increase aerial observation missions, among other things. (Id.) "[These actions] would not be necessary if the federal government fulfilled its obligation to secure our nation's border," said Governor Abbott. (Id.) "The problem is compounded by drug cartels and transnational gang enterprises that are involved in this illegal cross-border activity — including human smuggling. My first and foremost responsibility as Governor is to protect the citizens of Texas, with or without the federal government's help." (Id.)
Costs associated with illegal immigration are particularly high in both Ellis and Rockwall. The federal government is reportedly spending approximately $6.1 million to temporarily house 700 UACs in Ellis County, and approximately $1.9 million in Rockwall County to temporarily house 200 UACs. (Breitbart, Dec. 16, 2015) The state is also awarding an additional $200,000 in grant funds to Ellis and Rockwall counties to assist local law enforcement officers who must continue to work overtime. (Id.)
In addition to shouldering a disproportionate burden as a result of the UAC surge, the State of Texas has also accepted the largest share of foreign refugees of any state in the country. (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration) Over the past five years, Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state, a total of 41,647 people. (Id.)These figures include more than 220 Syrian refugees since Sept. 1, 2014. (Houston Chronicle, Dec. 1, 2015)