Right Side News brings you the latest legislative updates impacting our borders and immigration policies from the Federation for Immigration Reform::
DHS Warns that Mexican “Assassin Teams” May Target U.S. Law Enforcement
Ten Illegal Aliens Plead Guilty to Involvement in $13 Million Tax Fraud Operation
New Dept. of Labor Campaign Helps Workers “Regardless of Immigration Status”
Inspector General: Administration Plan to Undermine 287(g) Only Partially Complete
More Mexicans Seek Political Asylum in U.S. as Drug War Violence Escalates
Reid Tells Crowd Senate Will Pass Immigration Reform this Year
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a safety alert to law enforcement officers in west Texas warning of retaliatory killings by a Mexican gang. (DHS Alert, March 22, 2010). The DHS alert advises officers in the El Paso area to change up their routes to and from work and to wear body armor while on duty, because the gang may issue a “green light” to murder law enforcement officers in the area. It also suggests that the lawmen pay special attention to any unusual activity. (Id.).
The warning comes in the wake of a crackdown on the Barrio Azteca gang following the gruesome murders of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez on March 13. (FOX News, April 6, 2010). The crackdown, known as “Operation Knockdown,” involved 200 law enforcement agents from 18 jurisdictions and resulted in the felony arrest of at least 26 gang members. (Id.). During this time, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and FBI officials interviewed hundreds of gang members, gaining valuable intelligence including an apparent confession by one gang member that he ordered the murders on March 13th. (Id.).
The gang Barrio Azteca, which was formed in Texas prisons in the 1980s, has an “open policy” to kill its rivals and may target local law enforcement officers. (Id.). The group is one of the most violent prison gangs in the U.S., comprised of about 2,000 Mexican and Mexican-American men who carry out assassinations for the drug cartels. (USA Today, March 24, 2010). An Azteca sergeant confessed that his gang was hunting for the vehicle of the Texas jail guard Arthur Redelfs, who was killed in the March 13 attack along with his wife, Lesley Enrequez, a U.S. Consulate employee, and Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of another consulate worker. (FOX News, April 6, 2010). According to the confession, the jail officer was targeted because of alleged harsh treatment of Azteca gang members in jail. (Id.).
David Cuthbertson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s El Paso division, said that the gang members “are extremely cold-blooded and aggressive. The killings are done really without thought and any kind of remorse.” Id. During the March 13 attack, men chased down and fired at the couple’s vehicle after they left a children’s party. (El Paso Times, March 25, 2010). Redelfs was pregnant with their second child, and their 7-month old daughter was in the back seat of the car. (Id.). Though orphaned by the horrific slayings, she was later found wailing in the back of the vehicle. (The Associated Press, March 31, 2010).
Ron Martin, president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers’ Association, said that this is not the first time gang members have put a hit on an officer, and it probably won’t be the last. (Id.). He said, “Gunning down a detention officer and his pregnant wife 20 feet from the Juarez city hall in view of the border highway – that’s unacceptable. Mexico has to fix their problem, and if it takes the U.S. stepping in, so be it.” (Id.).
Despite claims from Alan Bersin, the new head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last week that U.S. border cities are not experiencing spillover violence from Mexico, an increasing number of lawmakers are calling on the Obama administration to take action to increase border security following the March 27 murder of an Arizona rancher. (Arizona Daily Star, April 8, 2010; See FAIR’s Legislative Update, April 5, 2010). Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said that Bersin’s claim of “no spillover violence is evidence that the Obama administration is sticking its collective head in the sand with regard to the safety of our border communities.” (San Antonio Express-News, April 8, 2010). Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), says, “there’s a new sense of urgency as drug cartels ratchet up the violence on the Mexican side. People are not only sneaking into the United States, they’re shooting their way in.” (Washington Examiner, April 6, 2010).
On Thursday, April 1, ten illegal aliens pleaded guilty for participating in a four-year, $13 million tax fraud operation involving two tax preparation businesses located in the Carolinas. The guilty pleas represent the conclusion of a massive law enforcement operation involving agents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). (DOJ Press Release, April 1, 2010).
According to federal officials, between 2006 and 2009, two tax preparation businesses – one headquartered in South Carolina, the other with locations in both North and South Carolina – filed more than 10,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns claiming more than $22 million in refunds. The IRS paid approximately $13 million of these refunds before criminal investigators discovered that most of the returns filed were fraudulent. Officials estimate that at least 20 people were involved in the scheme, in which tax preparers “knowingly claimed tax credits or deductions to which filers were not entitled.” (Id.).
Assistant U.S. Attorney General David C. Stephens characterized nine of the ten illegal aliens who pled guilty on April 1 as “runners.” According to Stephens, these nine aliens solicited others to have their tax returns falsely prepared and then assisted them in getting their refund checks cashed. Stephens described the tenth illegal alien as having an active role in the day-to-day operations at one of the tax preparation businesses. Stephens commented on the magnitude of the scheme: “This is the largest tax fraud case that I’m aware of ever occurring in the district of South Carolina. This is an extraordinarily serious, large case.” (Greenville Online, April 2, 2010).
Following their conviction, the illegal aliens remain in federal custody awaiting sentencing. The aliens face maximum penalties ranging from five to 20 years in prison, depending on their respective levels of involvement in the operation. All ten will be deported after completing their prison sentences. (Id.).
On April Fools’ Day, President Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, announced that the Department of Labor (DOL) will expend taxpayer dollars as part of a new outreach campaign to offer assistance to “low-wage and vulnerable workers…regardless of immigration status.” The campaign, spearheaded by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, seeks to “connect America’s most vulnerable and low-wage workers with the broad array of services offered by the Department of Labor.” (DOL Press Release, April 1, 2010).
According to DOL, the campaign – called “We Can Help!” – will reach out to workers in industries such as construction, janitorial work, hotel services, food services and home health care and inform them about their rights in the workplace. In particular, DOL will provide workers with information on how to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division to recover owed wages, “regardless of immigration status.” As part of its outreach efforts, “We Can Help!” will utilize Spanish/English bilingual public service announcements, a new website, and a toll-free hotline ((866)-4US-WAGE). (Id.). In a public service announcement for the new campaign, DOL Secretary Solis states: “Remember: every worker in America has a right to be paid fairly – whether documented or not.” (See “We Can Help!” Public Service Announcements).
Media reports have begun to shed light on how “We Can Help!” will operate in practice. DOL will solicit tips from “worker advocacy groups” concerning suspected wage and hour violations, including the AFL-CIO, a notorious amnesty proponent. (Id.). Importantly, an anonymous DOL spokesperson indicated that the department “won’t punish” illegal aliens “because of their status.” (The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2010). Another DOL official who spoke in Spanish to a group of day laborers in California told them: “We’re the feds, but the good ones. We’re here to help workers. Documented or not, the law is: If you work certain hours, you are owed certain money.” (Contra Costa Times, April 1, 2010).
True immigration reformers are questioning the motives behind the Obama administration’s new program. Appearing on Fox News, FAIR President Dan Stein noted: “What we have is an administration that’s positioning itself for a big amnesty program, and they don’t want to deport anybody unless they’re …a serial murderer or a rapist or a terrorist. Everybody else – they’re saying – should be allowed to stay, and that’s why they’re setting up these programs that are sending conflicting signals and making us, the American taxpayer, feel like our government is incoherent.” (See YouTube Video, April 7, 2010).
A recently released report from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicates that the Obama administration has only partially completed its plan to undermine state and local immigration enforcement through the 287(g) program. The OIG details where the operations of 287(g) do not match the administration’s new directives and makes numerous recommendations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – the agency tasked with overseeing 287(g) – to fully implement the Obama administration’s plan. (Report, March 2010).
The overhaul of the 287(g) program began in July 2009, when ICE announced it would no longer allow state and local law enforcement agencies to tailor their immigration enforcement efforts under the 287(g) program, but instead would require local agencies to sign a new, standardized 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, July 13, 2009). The new MOA, which law enforcement agencies must sign before receiving 287(g) authority, sought to limit state and local immigration enforcement under 287(g) to the identification and removal of criminal aliens. (DHS Press Release, July 10, 2009). According to DHS, the revised MOA, was meant “to address concerns that individuals may be arrested for minor offenses as a guise to initiate removal proceedings.” (Id.).
The Administration’s plan to strictly limit the focus of the 287(g) program to “criminal aliens” has been controversial because it directly contradicts the legislative intent of the 287(g) program. According to House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) – the author of the legislation that created the 287(g) program – Congress understood that 287(g) would be most effective if it permitted participating law enforcement agencies “to enforce the immigration laws in whatever way they thought best, and that might or might not include those who have committed serious crimes.” (House Homeland Security Committee Hearing, March 4, 2009). Since ICE’s announcement, true immigration reformers have criticized the Administration for intentionally placing a straight jacket on state and local law enforcement agencies so it could tightly control – and thereby limit – state and local immigration enforcement efforts. (See, e.g., FAIR’s Paving the Road to Amnesty Report).
The new OIG report, however, clearly indicates that the Obama Administration has not fully implemented the overhaul it began last year. For example, OIG criticizes ICE for failing to set up “performance measures” to ensure that 287(g) is meeting its goal of “identify[ing] and process[ing] for removal criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community.” (Report at 8). Moreover, OIG recommends that ICE “enhance 287(g) program oversight,” in order to “review and assess immigration enforcement activities, with a focus on ensuring compliance with MOAs.” (Report at 14-15). OIG further states that ICE should increase the number of “field inspections” it conducts at 287(g) sites “to assess…compliance with ICE policies and the terms of the MOAs.” (Report at 21). According to the report, ICE concurred with OIG’s recommendations and is currently working to implement them. (Report at 45-61). Given the standardized nature of the new MOAs, implementation of these recommendations will only further circumscribe state and local immigration enforcement activities under 287(g).
Many Mexicans are fleeing border communities due to the escalating violence of the drug wars, and some of them are seeking protection from the U.S. government. In recent weeks, dozens of Mexicans have simply walked across the U.S.-Mexico border and asked for political asylum. (FOX News, April 1, 2010). Traditionally, asylum claims filed by Mexicans have been denied as fraudulent or frivolous because asylum was created to protect people who fear persecution by repressive governments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asylum seekers must demonstrate a “credible fear of persecution” in their country due to their race, ethnicity, religion, political views or social group. (The Monitor, April 5, 2010). But when 30 Mexicans recently walked to the border crossing post at Fort Hancock, Texas, and asked for political asylum because drug cartels have taken over their town, they weren’t turned back. Instead, they were taken to El Paso to have their cases heard. (Id.). The fact that they are not turned back does not imply that the asylum claim may be valid – it simply means that asylum officers, not border authorities, must make that determination.
If the U.S. granted asylum in these cases, it would signify a radical shift from existing policy, as these Mexicans are not fleeing their government, but their fellow citizens. The situation in border towns is unquestionably dangerous due to the drug cartels, but it is not clear that the U.S., rather than Mexican government, should take responsibility for all of those hoping to relocate. For example, instead of the U.S. granting asylum to these Mexicans, the Mexican Government could assist its own citizens in moving to other areas of Mexico where drug violence is not prevalent. In fact, one Mexican government official said the violence is only affecting a limited number of areas. He said, “Without trying to minimize the challenges we have, and without trying to point the finger at other countries, I would say the levels of violence in Mexico are lower than those we had 10 years ago or earlier, in relative terms. Most of the violence we are experiencing in Mexico is focused on a few cities, most of them along the border with the United States.” (The Statesman, April 4, 2010).
The number of Mexican asylum petitions approved by U.S. asylum officers and immigration judges in recent years has been on the rise. In fiscal year 2006, 133 claims were approved, 153 were approved in 2007, and 250 were granted in 2008. (Id.). It is estimated that tens of thousands of Mexican nationals have fled to the U.S. since the Mexican government declared war with the drug cartels in 2006. (The Monitor, April 5, 2010). If the U.S. government grants political asylum to Mexicans fleeing drug cartels, the ramifications will spread much further than the border communities. Thousands who don’t qualify will file claims, which could swamp an already overloaded immigration system. (FOX News, April 1, 2010).
Speaking before thousands in Las Vegas on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told supporters he would push for passage of amnesty legislation in 2010. He told the crowd that the confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice would not stand in the way. “We are going to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Reid told the crowd. “We need to do this this year. We can’t let excuses like a Supreme Court nomination get in the way.” (Las Vegas Sun, Apr. 10, 2010). Reid promised to start work as soon as Congress returns from Easter recess this week. (The New York Times, April 12, 2010). About 3,500 people attended the rally in front of the federal courthouse in Las Vegas that was sponsored by Reform Immigration for America, one of the largest pro-amnesty umbrella groups. (See Las Vegas Review-Journal, Apr. 10, 2010)
In his speech, Reid also foreshadowed what would be in the amnesty legislation, including provisions to secure the northern and southern borders, revisions to a guest worker program, and provisions to deal with illegal immigrants already in the country. (Las Vegas Sun, Apr. 10, 2010). “For those that are undocumented, we’re going to make some rules; of course they’ll be understandable,” Reid said. “We’re going to make sure there will be a penalty or a fine. People will have to work, pay taxes and stay out of trouble and learn English. Not so bad, is it?” Reid also discussed re-examining employer sanctions for hiring illegal immigrants and reiterated his commitment to passing the the DREAM Act. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Apr. 10, 2010)
Also at the rally was Illinois Congressman, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the most outspoken proponents of amnesty in the House and also the author of a mass-amnesty bill introduced last December (H.R.4321; See FAIR’s Summary of H.R. 4321). As he was introducing Senator Reid, Gutierrez stressed the urgency for amnesty legislation. “There are more people going to be deported and divided this year than in the last year of George Bush,” Gutierrez said. “That’s not why I went out to vote. I want to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, and it is time for the House and Senate to act and act immediately.” (Las Vegas Sun, Apr. 10, 2010). “Our vote must be respected in Washington, D.C.”
Reid’s remarks come as the Senate Majority Leader is struggling in his bid for re-election to the Senate. His speech, which surprised even amnesty supporters, came at the end of a hard week of campaigning in a state that is experiencing record unemployment and the nation’s highest foreclosure rate. (The New York Times, Apr. 12, 2010). Aside from weary politicians who may be reluctant to take up the controversial issue of immigration reform in an election year, scheduling difficulties may arise as the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration issues, will have its hands full with the confirmation process of a new Supreme Court Justice nominee. (Id.) Some even suggest that Senator Reid is well aware that most Americans oppose amnesty and is pushing immigration reform simply to shore up the Hispanic vote in his own race and to split Republicans nationwide. (See Washington Post, Apr. 12, 2010); Politico, Apr. 12, 2010; Zogby Poll of Nevadans, Feb. 2009). Whatever the reason, Senator Reid, seemed resolute. “There are no excuses. This is something America needs,” Reid said. “We’re going to do immigration reform just like we did health care reform.” (Las Vegas Sun, Apr. 10, 2010).