Legislative Update: 2/10/2015
Three times last week Senate Democrats blocked the upper chamber from even debating the House-passed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that defunds President Obama's amnesty programs. In separate votes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, all Senate Democrats (joined by pro-amnesty Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)) voted against the motion to debate the bill — going on record that they are willing to jeopardize national security in order to protect President Obama's amnesty programs. (Senate Roll Call Vote #51; Senate Roll Call Vote #52; Senate Roll Call Vote #53) In doing so, seven Democratic Senators broke their promises to oppose the executive amnesty.
After failing to garner the votes needed to defeat the Democrats' filibuster, it is uncertain what Senate Republicans will do next. Some signs point to Senate GOP leadership entirely abandoning the House's commonsense bill. "If we're unsuccessful getting something passed here then I think, probably, the next move's over to the House," said Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). (Politico, Feb. 5, 2015) Senator John Thune (R-SD), the third ranking GOP leader, added, "I think the House has to be convinced that the Senate is not going to be able to move what they sent us." (Politico, Feb. 5, 2015)
Some Republican Senators seem eager to discard the House bill. "To pass a bill over here, it takes 60 votes. Unless we can figure out some way of multiplying, it seems to me that we have an issue that is very difficult to deal with," said. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who in 2013 voted for the Senate amnesty bill (S.744). (Id.) Gang of Eight Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) added, "I'd like to hear [the House GOP's] recipe, given the rules of the Senate, as to what they want us to do." (Id.) Despite voters overwhelmingly rejecting Obama's immigration policies in November, Gang of Eight Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) remarkably said, "The best response we can make is not to stick a finger in the president's eye." (Id.)
Indeed, a watered down version that does not fully defund executive amnesty is now being considered as an alternative. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted for S. 744 last Congress, introduced an amendment last Wednesday that repeals the November executive amnesty but keeps in place the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty program. (S. Amdt. 249 to H.R. 240) Adopting the language of the open borders lobby, Collins defended her bill, "I just think it's not right to send [DACA recipients] back to their home countries when many of them haven't known [any] other home than America and they didn't make the decision to come here." (The Hill, Feb. 4, 2015) "To me that is the sweet spot to getting this bill passed," she continued. (Id.)
The Collins amendment appears to be gaining favor among Senate Republicans. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), a leadership ally, said, "I think we need to talk about this and see if a few Democrats change their mind." (The Hill, Feb. 5, 2015) Similarly, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who voted for the mass guest worker amnesty bill last Congress, added, "I kind of like that." (Id.)
Still, the watered down version may be a non-starter in the House. "We sent them a bill, and they need to pass it. They need to pass our bill," declared Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX). (Politico, Feb. 5, 2015) True immigration reformer Rep. Steve King (R-IA) criticized Senate leadership, "The leadership could do a lot more aggressive job" trying to pass the House bill. (Id.) "We sent the bill over there; that means they have a mountain to climb. You don't look at the summit and think, ‘I can't get there.'" (Id.)
It is unclear what the next step will be. The U.S. Constitution requires that all appropriations bills originate in the House. Both the House and Senate are currently scheduled to be out the week of February 16. Funding for DHS expires on February 27.
Hearing Reveals Amnestied Illegal Aliens will Receive Special Tax Treatment
Last Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, "Deferred Action on Immigration: Implications and Unanswered Questions." (Video of the hearing available here) Testifying at the hearing was Stephen Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration; Eileen O'Connor, tax lawyer and former head of the Department of Justice's tax division; Luke Bellocchi, former Deputy Ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); Shawn Moran, National Border Patrol Council's vice president; and Bo Cooper, former Immigration and Naturalization Service's general counsel.
Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) laid out the purpose of the hearing in his opening remarks: "obtaining a more complete understanding of the logistical, financial, and national security implications of [the executive amnesty] policies." He emphasized that the hearing is not about the "legality or the constitutionality of the President's policies," explaining that it is "important to examine whether the Administration's executive actions on immigration enhances or reduces the security of our nation." (Id.)
Much of the hearing focused on amnestied illegal aliens being eligible to receive taxpayer funded benefits. Specifically, Ms. O'Connor testified how beneficiaries of the executive amnesty will be able to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). "The law makes a social security number a requirement of eligibility to receive the earned income credit," she explained. (See The Weekly Standard, Feb. 6, 2015) Since President Obama's executive amnesty rewards illegal aliens with social security numbers they become eligible for the EITC. Importantly, in addition to receiving the EITC this year, O'Connor said Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules allow a person to amend their returns from the past three years once they receive a social security number. (Id.) "The logic is puzzling: the credit is not available if you don't have a social security number, but you can receive it retroactively for years during which you did not qualify for it because you didn't have a social security number," she declared. (Id.) According to Ms. O'Connor, each amnestied illegal alien could receive more than $24,000 in tax credits through the EITC. (Id.)
Seizing on this testimony, Chairman Johnson and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) sent a letter to the Treasury Department's inspector general demanding answers. "The Administration may have blown open the doors for fraud with amnesty bonuses of more than $24,000 to those who receive deferred action," Sasse charged. (Sasse and Johnson Letter, Feb. 5, 2015) Chairman Johnson declared, "A Social Security number is the key that opens a whole treasure chest of benefits, including significant tax credits." (Id.) Johnson noted that the EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit — which does not require a social security number to claim — "cost taxpayers $89.6 billion in 2013, [and] were responsible for $21 billion in improper, potentially fraudulent payments that same year." (Id.; see also FAIR Legislative Update, July 29, 2014; wthr.com, July 5, 2012)
Although Johnson and Sasse have yet to receive a reply to their letter, an Obama administration official confirmed that amnestied illegal aliens will benefit from the EITC. Indeed, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — who chairs the Judiciary Committee — asked IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to confirm that the executive amnesty rewards illegal aliens with taxpayer benefits. After responding in the affirmative, Grassley declared, "The IRS's interpretation of the EITC eligibility requirements undermines congressional policy of not rewarding those for working illegally in the United States." (See Washington Times, Feb. 3, 2015) When Grassley asked if the IRS plans on revising its rule to prevent amnestied illegal aliens from claiming the EITC, Koskinen replied, "At this point, I'm not aware that we're going to do that..." (See Breitbart News, Feb. 4, 2015)
While last week's hearing focused on amnestied illegal aliens receiving the EITC, FAIR has uncovered that the executive amnesty will make these illegal aliens eligible for additional major benefits programs that could end up costing U.S. citizens billions of dollars. (Read FAIR's report here)
House Judiciary Committee Focuses on Collapse of Immigration Enforcement
Last Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled "Examining the Adequacy of the Nation's Immigration Laws." (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015) The witnesses were Paul Babeu, Sheriff of Pinal County in Arizona; Jessica Vaughn, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies; Jan Ting, Professor of Law at Temple University; and Marc Rosenblum, Deputy Director of the Migration Policy Institute. (Id.) During the hearing, the panel testified to President Obama's almost complete undermining of immigration enforcement, which, Ms. Vaughn noted, is in a "state of collapse." (Id.; Vaughn Testimony) Even criminal aliens, the panel demonstrated, which the Obama Administration claims to want to deport, are often released. (Babeu Testimony)
Throughout the hearing, the witnesses undermined the Administration's claims that the President's executive actions allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to more effectively focus on criminal aliens. (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015; see, e.g. CNN.com, Nov. 21, 2014) For instance, Sheriff Babeu noted that while Congress has authorized 34,000 detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain criminal aliens, DHS uses only 24,000. (Babeu Testimony) And, rather than employ even these resources to detain criminal aliens pending removal, officials from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Arizona have informed him they have been releasing 30 to 50 a day into Pinal County since the President announced his executive amnesty in November. (Id.)
Statistics also show how the release of these criminal aliens endangers public safety. Ms. Vaughn testified that ICE officials report criminal aliens released by ICE and local law enforcement have a recidivism rate of 50 percent. (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015) She testified that they also believe 56,000 new crimes were committed against Americans by just those criminal aliens released rather than removed through the Secure Communities Program. (Id.)
Members of the panel also explained how the Administration is granting work authorization to far more illegal aliens than it publically states. (Id.) According to Ms. Vaughn, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) records indicate that from 2009 to 2014, the agency issued 5,461,568 new work permits to aliens in addition to the work permits given to legal immigrant and guest-worker admissions, more than 3 million of which went to illegal aliens and aliens admitted on visas that do not allow employment. (Vaughn Testimony) These include aliens arrested and released by ICE, those whose countries won't take them back, asylum applicants, and those who arrived from Central American during the recent border surge. (Id.)
Witnesses also explained how the administration's amnesty policies affect the behavior of would-be illegal aliens. (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015) Sheriff Babeu said that many of his deputies have encountered criminal illegal aliens who have been deported multiple times, as many as 16 in one case, because they face no consequences to trying again. (Babeu Testimony) Professor Ting explained that as long as the benefits of breaking our laws exceed the costs, we are encouraging more illegal immigration, even if we enhance border security. (Ting Testimony) Granting work permits, he explained, adds to these benefits. (Id.) For instance, he noted that "credible fear" asylum claims at the border, which are approved at a rate of 92% and which result in work authorization for the alien while waiting for a hearing, have increased seven-fold over the last five years, thus overwhelming the system. (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015; Ting Testimony) Moreover, Professor Ting noted, the very failure of the Administration to stick to its own previously stated limits to its amnesty policies sends all the stronger of a message to potential future illegal aliens. (Judiciary.gov, Feb. 3, 2015) This message is that they need only get to the United States now and wait for the Administration to hand out the next work authorization. (Id.)
Suspect in Killing of Two California Cops Admits Guilt
The illegal alien charged with the murder of two California cops admitted guilt at a hearing in court Wednesday. (Associated Press, Feb. 4, 2015) During a six-hour long crime spree last October, Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamontes allegedly shot and killed two sheriff's deputies and shot another man in the head for resisting a carjacking. (Id.) Monroy-Bracamontes was caught in a residential area near Placer County High School and is now facing murder and carjacking charges, along with other charges.
The scene in the courtroom was dramatic. "I did kill those cops. You can execute me whenever you're ready," Monroy-Bracamontes proclaimed at the conclusion of his hearing. (Id.) Quickly, in an attempt to mitigate his client's damaging statements, Monroy-Bracamontes' lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Barbour, responded, "You don't have the right to plead guilty without our consent." (Id.) Nevertheless, Monroy-Bracamontes turned to the spectators in the courthouse and said, "I killed, I did, I did. I just want to plead guilty and get the execution." (Id.) Reportedly, Monroy-Bracamontes also told his lawyers he wanted to plead guilty multiple times during a break earlier in the day. (Id.)
The case has attracted wide media attention because Monroy-Bracamontes is an illegal alien with a well-documented criminal history. Before being arrested for murder last week Monroy-Bracamontes had been deported twice. (Breitbart News, Oct. 26, 2014) In 1997, he was deported after being convicted in Arizona for possession of narcotics for sale. (Id.) In 2001, he was deported again after being arrested for an unspecified offense. (Id.) In addition to immigration violations, Monroy-Bracamontes had a long criminal history in the United States. He racked up at least ten traffic tickets and multiple misdemeanor offenses between 2003 and 2009 without once being turned over to federal immigration authorities. (Id.) Authorities suggest that Monroy-Bracamontes was able to escape detection because he operated under multiple aliases and had a valid Utah driver's license under one of his fake names. (Id.)
Monroy-Bracamontes' case highlights the importance of state and local assistance in the enforcement of our immigration laws. Under the pressure of illegal alien advocates, state and local jurisdictions are increasingly instituting policies to prohibit their law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials. (Breitbart News, Oct. 26, 2014; CBS 5, Nov. 9, 2014) These policies, which proponents argue are intended to foster "trust" with law enforcement in immigrant communities, are designed to protect criminal aliens from detection and removal from the United States by restricting compliance with detainer requests, often called ICE holds. (Pew Charitable Trusts, Oct. 31, 2014; ICE Detainers FAQ)
Prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty for the killings. (Associated Press, Feb. 4, 2015) Monroy-Bracamontes is due back in court on March 27 for a status conference. (Id.)