Legislative Update: 1/29/2014
Amnesty Tops House GOP Principles
Over the past week, the House GOP leadership's commitment to amnesty has become increasingly clear. Today, Republican members of the House are attending their annual three day retreat, which reportedly will feature an open session on immigration, at which it is expected that members will discuss House leadership's principles for immigration reform. (New York Times, Jan. 25, 2014; Dairy Herd, Jan. 27, 2014) The principles are expected to call for amnesty in the form of legalization without citizenship, full citizenship for those who entered the country as children, expanded guest worker programs, and enforcement measures. (New York Times, Jan. 25, 2014; Wall Street Journal, Jan. 27, 2014)
Speaker Boehner and his allies are reportedly selling their immigration plan on two fronts. First, leadership is trying to get half of its Republican members "excited" to work on immigration. Second, GOP leadership is privately courting the approval of Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), perhaps the leading amnesty advocate in the House. (Politico, Jan. 24, 2014)
As top GOP lawmakers themselves reach out to Gutierrez, Speaker Boehner's immigration advisor, Rebecca Tallent, former Chief of Staff to Senator John McCain, is gathering support for the Speaker's immigration principles, in particular from business groups. (Id.) But immigration lobbyists have also speculated that Tallent has been reaching out to a friend and long-standing Democratic amnesty ally, Esther Olavarria, for "back channel talks." (New York Times, Jan. 21, 2014) Olavarria, who now works for the White House and has been tasked with finding a compromise Democrats and immigration activists can accept, got to know Tallent as the late Senator Ted Kennedy's top immigration attorney. The two became friends through years of backroom dealing together on Capitol Hill as they advocated for comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the mid-2000s. Olavarria, then staff for Senator Kennedy, would work with union representatives, and Tallent, staff for two Republicans from Arizona, first Representative Jim Kolbe and then Senator McCain, would attempt to make deals with business interests. (Id.)
Meanwhile, top Republicans continue to publicly voice their support for amnesty, putting out "test balloons" for public opinion and setting the stage for potential legislation. Last Wednesday, Kevin McCarthy, the third ranking Republican in the House, affirmed his personal support for amnesty, and hinted that the House Leadership's Principles would follow this model. (Politico, Jan. 22, 2014) "The principles aren't combined — written out yet — but in my personal belief, I think it'll go with legal status that it will allow you to work and your pay taxes...." said McCarthy in an interview with Bakersfield Now. (Bakersfield Now, Jan. 21, 2014) And last Thursday, Paul Ryan (R-WI), speaking at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that the House would be moving immigration bills "in pieces," and that he favors a way for illegal aliens to "come out of the shadows. (Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2014)
The House Leadership's next move on immigration will likely depend on reaction to the principles from Republicans during the retreat. One GOP strategist claimed that Speaker Boehner does not intend to force members to adopt his principles: "It's more along the lines of, 'Here are some options, is there any consensus around them?'" (Washington Examiner, Jan. 27, 2014) Although top Republican representatives who favor immigration "reform" do not trust that President Obama will carry out any enforcement measures in the bills, they hope to get bills to the floor by convincing skeptical members that the legislation will be written to force Obama to enforce the law. During his address last Thursday, Paul Ryan stated: "[w]e have to find a way to write these laws so that they are actually enforced. ... I won't get into all the details on how to do that, but we have strong opinions..." (Daily Caller, Jan. 27, 2014)
However, House Leadership did not reveal any of those details in the official GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address last night, which was delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the fourth ranking member in the House. In her speech she made only a brief and vague reference to immigration reform, stating that "yes it's time to honor our history of legal immigration" and that House Republicans are "working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."
Illegal Aliens Attend State of the Union
For the second straight year, illegal aliens attended President Obama's State of the Union Address as invited guests. Last night, at least two illegal aliens were part of a group of "reformers" given the opportunity to hear the president's speech in person as guests of pro-amnesty Illinois Democratic Representatives Luis Gutierrez, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky, Brad Scheider, and Bill Foster. (USA Today, Jan. 23, 2014) Amnesty champions Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Joe Garcia (D-FL), and Jim Himes (D-CT) also had illegal aliens accompany them this year. (thinkprogress.org, Jan. 28, 2014; NBC Miami, Jan. 28, 2014; Stamford Times, Jan. 27, 2014) Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed an illegal alien to her viewing box, as she did last year. (AZ Central, Jan. 28, 2014; Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 11, 2013) Also last year, Gutierrez, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) hosted illegal aliens for the 2013 address. (See NBC Latino, Feb. 12, 2013; Rep. Castor Press Release, Feb. 11, 2013)
FAIR blasted the welcome of immigration lawbreakers into the U.S. Capitol for the president's yearly address. "It reinforced the one message that for this president is unambiguous: Violating immigration laws is just entirely inconsequential," said FAIR's Bob Dane. (USA Today, Jan. 23, 2014) "The laws aren't being enforced, and here you go, the public needs to get used to it. They can sit and stand anywhere they want, including next to me in the U.S. Capitol." (Id.)
Activists Seek Legal Status Now, Citizenship Later
Dozens of illegal alien activists penned an open letter to the amnesty movement pushing their strategy to pursue legislation granting them legal status in the year 2014, even if it means postponing the full push for citizenship. (National Journal, Jan. 21, 2014) The illegal alien activists recommend that amnesty advocates "[l]et go of... SB 744" [the Senate mass amnesty bill] and instead encourage their allies to "focus on winnable pieces of legislation in the House." (Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can't Wait, Jan. 22, 2014)
The illegal aliens' strategy to negotiate for legislation granting them legal status short of full citizenship appears to mirror the White House's recent toned-down rhetoric on immigration, giving House GOP leadership room to offer its own legalization scheme. In the letter, the activists declare that activists should "[f]ocus on a practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families, even if it doesn't include a special path to citizenship."(Id.) The inside-the-beltway publication Politico reported that White House officials told amnesty activists that President Obama is giving the House GOP "breathing room to try to pass legislation this year." (Politico, Jan. 21, 2014)
Moreover, the letter critiques both political parties for playing games and using the immigration issue to further their own political agendas. When it comes to Republicans, they claim that politics influenced the inaction on the House side, where "Speaker [John] Boehner [(R-OH)] refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor, and no Republican had the courage to introduce their [sic] own bills." (Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can't Wait, Jan. 22, 2014) At the same time, the letter complains that "Democrat leadership, meanwhile, has established hard lines like 'citizenship or nothing,' making it politically impossible for both parties to come to the table on a real solution." (Id.)
Despite the proposal of this new strategy, the illegal alien activists who signed this letter made it clear that they continue to hold onto the ultimate goal of citizenship. They asserted that this year they "will not accept a proposal that blocks, bans or bars citizenship," and warn that "[o]nce we achieve this level of relief/stability, there is no question that we will keep fighting for more..." (Id.) Citizenship still is also the goal of the White House. This morning, Vice President Joe Biden said, "We don't want two-tier people in America [sic]. Those who are legal but not citizens, and citizens. Citizenship is the pathway." (Time, Jan. 29, 2014)
New DHS Secretary: Illegal Aliens have "Earned the Right to be Citizens"
Just one month after being confirmed, the new Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said he thinks lawmakers should grant amnesty to the 12 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. Giving a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Friday, Johnson said it is "a matter of who we are as Americans to offer the opportunity to those who want to be citizens, who've earned the right to be citizens, who are present in this country — many of whom came here as children — to have the opportunity that we all have to try to become American citizens." (See cnsnews.com for audio, Jan. 24, 2014)
In fact, Secretary Johnson, who is charged with enforcing our nation's immigration laws and ensuring our national security, argued it would make our country more secure if illegal aliens receive amnesty. "An earned path to citizenship for those currently present in this country is a matter of, in my view, homeland security to encourage people to come out from the shadows, to be accountable, to participate in the American experience...." he said. (Id.) He also added that "Comprehensive immigration reform would also promote a more effective and efficient system for enforcing our immigration laws, and should include an earned path to citizenship for the approximately 11-and-a-half-million undocumented immigrants present in this country...." (Id.)
President Obama nominated - and the U.S. Senate confirmed - Johnson as the country's latest Secretary of Homeland Security in spite of his lack of immigration experience. (See news reports by ABC, the Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 23, 2014)
Border Apprehensions Up in 2013
According to new data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), apprehensions of illegal aliens crossing into the United States increased during fiscal year 2013. In total, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 420,789 illegal aliens at the southern and northern borders, a 16 percent increase from fiscal year 2012. (CBP Fiscal Year 2013 Review, Jan. 17, 2014)
As expected, an overwhelming 98 percent of all apprehensions occurred on the southern border. (Id.) The 414,397 apprehensions at the southern border is also an increase compared to fiscal year 2012 (356,873) and fiscal year 2011 (327,577). (Compare U.S. Border Patrol Statistics) Of the total number of apprehensions, 235,567 (57%) occurred in Texas; 125,942 (30%) in Arizona; 44,905 (11%) in California; and 7,983 (2%) in New Mexico. (CBP Fiscal Year 2013 Review, Jan. 17, 2014) Interestingly, the majority of apprehensions occurred in Texas rather than Arizona, suggesting that illegal aliens, smugglers, and drug cartels are shifting their border crossing strategy in response to increased Border Patrol agents along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Additionally, the data reveal that non-Mexicans (often called OTMs, or "other than Mexicans") are primarily responsible for the increase in apprehensions. "While Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexicans in FY2013 remained largely unchanged from FY2012, apprehensions of individuals from countries other than Mexico, predominately individuals from Central America, increased by 55 percent," the press release read. (Id.)
The rise in apprehensions correlates to a push for amnesty on Capitol Hill and the expansion of President Obama's prosecutorial discretion programs that grant backdoor amnesty to illegal aliens. Additionally, while apprehensions at the border have increased, the number of illegal aliens removed by the Obama Administration in the country's interior has decreased. Specifically, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in total removed approximately 369,000 illegal aliens last year, or 41,000 fewer than the previous year. (FY13 ICE Immigration Removals) Yet, of that total only 133,551 were apprehended in the interior of the country. (Id.)
Just days after the Border Patrol released this data, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new Secretary, Jeh Johnson, made his first visit to the southern border. (DHS Press Release, Jan. 21, 2014) Declaring that DHS has made "significant progress" over recent years to secure the border, Johnson called on Congress to "achieve commonsense reform" that "is in line with our nation's values." (Id.) The next day, Johnson declared that DHS is "working to ensure we effectively and sensibly enforce our nation's immigration laws" while touring the Arizona border with pro-amnesty elected officials. (DHS Press Release, Jan. 22, 2014)
Illegal Alien Driver's License Law to Cost California Taxpayers Millions
According to Governor Jerry Brown's own budget, providing illegal aliens driver's licenses will cost California taxpayers $64.7 million dollars during the first six months the state issues such licenses, and up to $220 million after three years. (Capital Weekly, Jan. 10, 2014) Illegal aliens are now eligible for California driver's licenses pursuant to Assembly Bill (AB) 60, which passed California's State Legislature in Sept. 2013. Assembly Bill 60 will go into effect January 1, 2015.
According to California DMV spokesman Armando Botello, the money budgeted for the new driver's license law will cover the salaries and training of about 1,000 new employees and the opening of five service locations to accommodate the estimated 1.4 million illegal aliens who will now be seeking driver's licenses in California. (Southern California Public Radio, Jan. 9, 2014)
New applicants under the program will be required to pay the same $33 fee, despite that under AB 60 a surcharge is permitted to offset the costs of implementation. (Assembly Bill 60; Capital Weekly, Jan. 10, 2014) "It's unbelievable that they're doing this," said Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee. "My understanding is the applicant fee is supposed to pay for this." (Capital Weekly, Jan. 10, 2014)
When he ran for governor in 2010, Brown said he opposed driver's licenses for illegal aliens, but reversed his position late last year. (Id.) "This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally," Brown said in a signing statement. (Id.) "Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due." (Id.) Governor Brown failed to acknowledge, however, that illegal aliens cannot work legally in the United States because they lack work authorization from the federal government.
California was one of eight states that adopted laws permitting illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses to illegal aliens in 2013, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont. These states now join New Mexico, Washington, and Utah, which granted such eligibility in previous legislative sessions. Similar legislation was defeated in the following ten states in 2013: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Texas, and is pending in three states: Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, but is not currently moving.