Right Side News Reports from the·Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in this legislative weekly including: Cook County Thumbs Nose at ICE,DHS Renews Efforts for Virtual Border Fence,Colorado Senate Votes to Subsidize Tuition for Illegal Aliens, ICE Negotiates with Obama’s Uncle, and Alabama Lawmakers Hold Hearing to Dismantle Immigration Enforcement

Cook County Thumbs Nose at ICEbald_eagle_head_and_american_flag1

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle last week flatly rejected a request to negotiate terms under which County jails would transfer custody of illegal aliens to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Preckwinkle Letter to Morton, Apr. 9, 2012; Chicago Tribune, Apr. 10, 2012)  This rejection by Preckwinkle is the latest in a tense standoff between Cook County and ICE, which began after Cook County passed an ordinance in 2011 ordering its county jails to ignore ICE detainers and instead release illegal aliens back into the community.   (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 17. 2012)

In an attempt to end to the impasse, ICE Director John Morton sent Preckwinkle a letter in February requesting to negotiate and promising to address the County’s concerns about costs related to the detention of illegal aliens.  (See FAIR Legislative Update, March 6, 2012)  More specifically, Morton promised that if Cook County were willing to transfer the illegal aliens to ICE, ICE would (1) assume custody of the aliens the same day Cook County releases them, and (2) pay for any detention costs incurred past the first 48 hours.  (Id.)

But in a letter Preckwinkle sent Morton last week, she called Morton’s offer “premature,” and rejected the attempts to cover costs as “overly broad and vague.” (Chicago Tribune, Apr. 10, 2012)  “[T]he primary intent of the County ordinance was not fiscal rather it was passed to ensure that detainees in Cook County are granted fair and equitable access to justice, regardless of their immigration status.  (Preckwinkle Letter to Morton, Apr. 9, 2012)  Preckwinkle reiterated this sentiment when speaking to the press. “The more I’ve gotten into it, the more offensive and unjust it seems to me to make distinctions between people based on their documentation,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “Equal justice before the law is more important to me than the budgetary considerations.” (Id.)

DHS Renews Efforts for Virtual Border Fence

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently renewed its efforts to construct a virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

DHS initiated the virtual fence in 2005 as a component of the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet). The fence was originally envisioned as a series of nine cutting-edge security towers equipped with night vision cameras, radars and sensors, communications systems, and software to monitor border activity. (See Pub. L. No. 109-295; see also FAIR Legislative Update, March 22, 2010) Unfortunately, the equipment was plagued with malfunctions, consistently over-budget, and was shelved three years after its 2007 projected completion date. (See GAO-11-6, Oct. 2010; see also FAIR Legislative Update, March 22, 2010)

Funding for the virtual fence was officially pulled in March 2010, when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano declared the program chronically over budget and behind deadline.  (DHS Press Release, March 16, 2010; see also FAIR Legislative Update, March 22, 2010) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also cited DHS’s mismanagement of the virtual fence—specifically, lack of oversight and inconsistent test procedures—as a contributing factor to the project’s demise.  (GAO Testimony, March 18, 2010; see also FAIR Legislative Update, March 22, 2010)

Despite these previous problems, DHS is now ready to make a second attempt, with a few revisions. Instead of developing costly new technology, as was the case in the 2005 contract with Boeing, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now looking for existing technology. Specifically, CBP intends to disburse $1.5 billion (down from the original project’s $6.7 billion price tag) for integrated fixed towers, mobile surveillance systems, and long range imaging sensors from companies who can prove they already have equipment that works. (KVOA, April 12, 2012; see also FAIR Legislative Update, March 22, 2010)

Accordingly, DHS is currently accepting bids for the contract. (See FedBizOps Integrated Fixed Towers Solicitation, April 6, 2012) The company DHS selects will be responsible for building a single sensor-studded tower in Nogales, Arizona, with the opportunity to build five additional towers in Sonoita, Douglas, Casa Grande, Ajo, and Welton later on. Towers must be able to withstand windspeeds and gusts of up to 10 and 15 miles per hour, respectively, as well as detect a human at distances up to five miles away. (National Journal, April 9, 2012; see also FedBizOps Integrated Fixed Towers Solicitation, April 6, 2012)

In an attempt to avoid past mistakes, CBP announced that it will cancel the project if the contractor fails to meet standards, budgets, and deadlines. According to the bid solicitation, CBP cautions that if the selected contractor “[fails] to meet the performance levels they themselves propose [they] should not expect tolerance from the government” and should instead prepare for termination. (National Journal, April 9, 2012)

The Department’s efforts to reinstate a virtual fence are not a complete surprise. In February, CBP Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, where he explained DHS’ intent to extend Arizona’s border protection plan to the entire Southwest border within the next year. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 29, 2012)

Colorado Senate Votes to Subsidize Tuition for Illegal Aliens

Without debate, the Colorado Senate last Monday passed S.B. 15, legislation that would subsidize tuition for illegal aliens attending State colleges and universities. (Denver Post, Apr. 10, 2012) The bill, also entitled the “ASSET” bill, passed along party lines, without a single Senate Republican voting in favor of the legislation. (See votes here)

The ASSET bill subsidizes tuition for illegal aliens by allowing them to pay a rate slightly higher than in-state levels. The bill accomplishes this by requiring that illegal aliens pay, in addition to in-state tuition, an amount equal to the “college opportunity fund stipend.” (S.B. 15 at §1(7); see also Colorado Dept. of Higher Education Policy) The “college opportunity fund stipend” is money provided by the State to Colorado residents to defray the cost of in-state tuition; the Colorado legislature sets the stipend amount annually. (See Colorado Dept. of Higher Education Policy § 4.01)

Media reports estimate illegal aliens could save tens of thousands of dollars annually if the ASSET bill is passed into law.  According to the Associated Press, under the ASSET bill an illegal alien student attending the University of Colorado at Boulder would pay only $9,500 annually, compared with an estimated $7,700 for in-state tuition and about $28,850 for out-of-state. (The Houston Chronicle, Jan. 17, 2012)

Nonetheless, advocates of the ASSET bill are downplaying the legislation’s benefits. In fact, State Senator Michael Johnston, a co-sponsor of the legislation, argues that under the bill illegal aliens will still be paying “substantially” more than their legal resident counterparts. (Id.) “Even though [illegal aliens] are going to be paying substantially more than their in-state colleagues, it still gives them a chance at access they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. (Id.)

Currently, illegal aliens may attend Colorado’s public colleges and universities, but are required to pay out-of-state tuition pursuant to federal law. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), which provided that public colleges and universities could not favor illegal aliens over U.S. citizens and legal residents by granting them in-state tuition while requiring those legally in the country to pay much higher out-of-state rates. (See IIRAIRA § 505, 8 U.S.C. 1623)

The ASSET bill now goes to the Republican-controlled Colorado House, where it awaits action by the House Education and Appropriations Committee. (See Bill History)

ICE Negotiates with Obama’s Uncle

According to statements made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, the agency may pursue deportation proceedings against President Obama’s illegal alien uncle, Onyango Obama, unless a court changes his status.

“ICE met with Mr. Onyango and his attorney….” said ICE spokesman Brian Hale. (Boston Herald, Apr. 13, 2012) “Pursuant to this meeting, Mr. Onyango will be required to check in regularly with immigration officials pending his removal. Absent a change in his immigration status or any related court proceedings, Mr. Onyango will be required to report to ICE in the coming weeks in order to effectuate his departure from the United States,” he continued. (Id.)

President Obama’s uncle was arrested last year for driving erratically and operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol at nearly twice the legal limit. (Boston.com, Aug. 31, 2011; see also Boston Herald, Mar. 28, 2012) Upon arrest, Onyango was briefly detained by ICE officials when they discovered he had ignored a 20-year-old deportation order. (Boston.com, Aug. 31, 2011)

Given the fact Onyango has yet to face any consequences, it is uncertain whether ICE’s statements indicating they are considering deportation proceedings against him are sincere. Following Onyango’s arrest, Massachusetts Judge Douglas Stoddard put the case on hold for one year and effectively dismissed the DUI charges under the terms of the plea arrangement. (Chicago Tribune, Mar. 27, 2012; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 2, 2012) The plea deal provided that so long as Onyango is not arrested again this year, the Court will dismiss the drunk-driving charges against him. (The Hill, March 27, 2012)

More recently, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles granted him a “hardship waiver,” allowing him to drive to and from his job managing a liquor store, despite the fact federal law prohibits illegal aliens from working. (CBS Boston, Apr. 3, 2012; see INA § 274A(h)(3))

Onyango has hired immigration attorney Margaret Wong, who helped his sister, Zeituni Onyango, win asylum in 2010. (Boston Herald, Apr. 13, 2012; see also FAIR Legislative Update, Sept. 27, 2010)

Alabama Lawmakers Hold Hearing to Dismantle Immigration Enforcement

Last week, the Alabama House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a hearing to discuss HB 658, a bill that would weaken the State’s tough immigration enforcement law, HB 56. (ABC News, Apr. 16, 2012) Lawmakers introduced the 83-page bill the day before the Easter holiday weekend. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 9, 2012)

The author of both HB 56 and the subsequent bill to amend it, Rep. Micky Hammon, stated he expects the Committee to vote on HB 658 sometime this week. (Associated Press, Apr. 11, 2012)

Some of the original backers of HB 56, however, are voicing concern about changing current law.  “My concern from the get-go is that if you change too many sections of the law, it gives the opponent the ability to go to the 11th Circuit and say ‘wait a minute, this is a whole new law, we need to start this through the legal process again,'” said State Sen. Scott Beason. (ABC News, Apr. 16, 2012)

The U.S. Supreme Court is already scheduled to hear oral arguments on Arizona’s SB 1070 on April 25, which contains several provisions that are similar to Alabama’s HB 56. The Court is expected to hand down its opinion on SB 1070 in June, meaning that parts of the Alabama law that lawmakers are currently attempting to amend could be upheld.