Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this February 1st, 2010 Legislative Weekly

  • State of the Union Disappoints Amnesty Forces
  • U.S. Suspends then Resumes Transport of Haitians as Florida Hospitals Become Overwhelmed
  • Christmas Day Bombing Highlights Turf War Over Visa Authority
  • Representatives Introduce Bill to Block Illegal Aliens from Accessing In-State Tuition

State of the Union Disappoints Amnesty Forces

President Obama disappointed many amnesty advocates last week with only a passing mention of immigration during his State of the Union speech. This reference, consisting of just 38 words near the end of the more than hour-long speech, was noticeably ambiguous:  “And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system to secure our borders and enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”  (CNN, January 29, 2010).  Absent was any mention of “comprehensive” immigration reform, a path to citizenship, or even legalization.  This passing reference to immigration reform has amnesty proponents questioning whether President Obama truly intends to push for such legislation as part of the agenda he laid out for his second year.  

The amnesty special interest groups immediately reacted to the president’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for comprehensive immigration reform.  Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said, “We knew in advance that it would be a drive-by reference in the speech.  But we didn’t know that the president would be driving by at 75 miles an hour.” (Politics Daily, January 29, 2010).  Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference expressed his disappointment with the president’s remarks by observing that the measly reference to immigration was “a crumb that was placed on the domestic-policy-agenda table to really satisfy the hunger of the immigrant and Latino communities.  It was the death knell of immigration reform in 2010.”  (Newsweek, January 28, 2010).  Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who introduced a sweeping amnesty package in the House of Representatives last December, responded that it is now obvious that Congress “cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform.”  (Id., See FAIR’s Legislative Analysis of H.R. 4321).  Interestingly, Clarissa Martinez of La Raza was slightly less critical of the president’s cursory mention of immigration: “From the perspective of the Latino community, the most pressing issue is the economy and job creation.”  (Id.).  But she added that amnesty forces will not be patient forever in waiting for comprehensive immigration reform, as there is “definitely an expectation that there will be movement, and there will be disappointment if that doesn’t happen.”  (Id.).     

Although President Obama barely mentioned immigration, he made it clear in his State of the Union Address that creating new jobs is his most important domestic priority in 2010.  (See FAIR’s Press Release, January 28, 2010).   While the president talked at length about his plans to create new jobs for the approximately 25 million Americans either out of work or involuntarily working part-time, he pointedly omitted mention of some eight million existing U.S. jobs that are currently held by illegal aliens. Moreover, during his first year in office, President Obama has dramatically scaled back efforts to enforce laws against illegal aliens working in the U.S. by curtailing immigration enforcement in the workplace.  Enforcing laws against illegal aliens in the workplace will not entirely solve the unemployment crisis in America, but freeing up millions of jobs would help many Americans find jobs and increase wages.  Members of the Senate are reportedly drafting a “jobs” bill, and FAIR is urging true immigration reformers in Congress to push for steps to improve our immigration laws that can help the American worker at little or no cost to the American taxpayer.  (Washington Post, January 8, 2010).  One commonsense measure would be permanently reauthorizing E-Verify.

U.S. Suspends then Resumes Transport of Haitians as Florida Hospitals Become Overwhelmed

Last week, the government announced that it was halting the transport of Haitians to U.S. hospitals due to the uncertainty of who would pay for the cost of care. (The New York Times, January 29, 2010). On Wednesday, January 27, Florida Governor Charlie Crist sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking the federal government to pay some of the costs for treatment. In the letter, Crist wrote that his state did not have capacity to support plans to transport 30-50 critically ill patients to Florida for an indefinite period of time. (Letter, January 27, 2010).  Governor Crist’s office later added: “Florida stands ready to assist our neighbors in Haiti, but we need a plan of action and reimbursement for the care we are providing.” (The New York Times, January 29, 2010). However, upon receiving “assurances that additional capacity exists both [in the United States] and among [the U.S.’] international partners,” the White House resumed the evacuations on Sunday, January 31. (The New York Times, January 31, 2010).

Florida hospitals have been feeling the strain of caring for victims since the tragic January 12 earthquake. Last week, state and federal officials were forced to divert Haitian evacuees from several southern Florida hospitals that have become overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Haitians. According to media reports, officials in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach have indicated that hospitals in south Florida “could take in no more” earthquake victims, forcing officials to redirect injured Haitians to facilities in Tampa and Orlando. Hospitals in the area have said that all of the free medical care they had administered to refugees was “crippling their ability to provide essential services to local people.” One local hospital, which has handled the majority of Haitian refugees seeking medical treatment in south Florida, is already “running a significant loss.” (Sun Sentinel, January 27, 2010; NBCMiami, January 28, 2010).

Meanwhile, polls show that most Americans oppose inviting Haitian refugees into the United States. A January 21 Rasmussen Reports survey found that 46 percent of Americans oppose inviting Haitian refugees to the United States, while 31 percent support such a move and 22 percent are undecided. (Rasmussen Reports, January 21, 2010). On January 25, Gallup released a poll indicating that only 41 percent of Americans believe that the Federal government should increase the number of immigrants from Haiti allowed into the U.S.; 53 percent said that Haitian immigrant admissions should not be increased. (Gallup, January 25, 2010).

Christmas Day Bombing Highlights Turf War Over Visa Authority

One of the most disturbing revelations in the wake of the foiled Christmas Day attack, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to set off explosives on a plane bound for Detroit, was that the suspect had a valid United States visa. (Fox News, December 30, 2009).   In a recent hearing on the attack held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) stated that “the most obvious error” in handling this case was that the State Department did not revoke his visa. (Homeland Security Hearing Testimony, January 20, 2010). This particular issue has fueled a debate that has raged since September 11th over who has ultimate authority to revoke visas.  (Washington Times, January 12, 2010).

The issue of visa revocation stems from compromises made during the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) itself in 2002.  The initial plan to grant Homeland Security the exclusive authority over visas was what many lawmakers supported. However, the State Department resisted and Congress finally compromised by maintaining the Department of State’s (DOS) authority to issue but giving the Department of Homeland Security a new role in visa policy and procedures.  DHS also obtained dual revocation authority that is exercised through the Department of State. (See 6 U.S.C. 236(b) and the Memorandum of Understanding, paragraph 5, issued pursuant to it in 2003).  In addition, Congress also directed Homeland Security to station personnel in Saudi Arabia to review all visa applications prior to decision and authorized DHS to create Visa Security Units that could go into other U.S. consular posts, review visa applications, conduct investigations, and advise State Department officials.

With Department of Homeland Security and the State Department having dual revocation authority, a process had to be established to clarify how each agency would use its authority and which one had the ultimate say. DHS and the State Department executed a memorandum of understanding in 2003 which allowed DHS to request State to revoke a visa in certain cases. However, the State Department and DHS have not always agreed when refusal or revocation of a visa is appropriate and whether the information provided was enough to sustain a decision under current law. In such cases, a State Department consular officer or DHS officer in the foreign country would send a request back to State Department Headquarters for resolution with input from Homeland Security.  The lack of a clear process may have contributed to the national security failures that allowed Abdulmutallab to board a flight bound for the U.S. Some critics blame State for failing to revoke his visa, but others argue that the intelligence community should have used the information it had to recommend revocation to State.  (Washington Times, January 11, 2010). John R. Bolton, former undersecretary of state for international security and later ambassador to the United Nations, has said the “allocation of responsibilities on visas between [the Departments of] State, Homeland Security and [the National Counterterrorism Center] has not worked out, although different people blame different agencies.” (Id.).

From the recent Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, it is apparent the different agencies do not entirely understand or agree who holds the ultimate authority to revoke visas.  In fact, during last week’s hearing, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and DHS Secretary Napolitano conceded that they are investigating the proper roles each agency should play. (Homeland Security Hearing Testimony, January 20, 2010). Some Senators, including Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), appear to favor stripping the State Department of all of its authority over the visa process and granting it to Homeland Security. He stated, “I believe, incidentally, that we ought to take a look at taking the visa application and admission responsibility from the State Department. It doesn’t really fit with foreign policy anymore.  And in an age of terrorism, I think the Department of Homeland Security ought to be handling visas abroad.”  (Reuters, January 3, 2010).

Lieberman has stated he intends to hold further hearings on visa functions within the Departments of State and Homeland Security. (Homeland Security Hearing Testimony, January 20, 2010). President Obama has also ordered a review of “visa issuance and revocation criteria.”  (Washington Times, January 11, 2010).

Representatives Introduce Bill to Block Illegal Aliens from Accessing In-State Tuition

On Wednesday, January 27, Congressmen Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), Rodney Alexander (R-LA), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), and Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced the “Fairness for American Students Act” (H.R. 4548). This commonsense legislation would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act to clarify that illegal aliens who attend a postsecondary educational institution are ineligible for in-state tuition unless the institution offers those rates to all American citizens. To help enforce this provision, the bill provides out-of-state students legal standing to file civil actions against states and institutions that violate the law. Finally, H.R. 4548 would bar any college or university that provides in-state tuition to illegal aliens from receiving any Federal funding.

Currently, ten states grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens. Groups of American students have challenged these laws in both California and Kansas. The suit in California is pending before the state supreme court. However, in Rep. Tiahrt’s home state of Kansas, a Federal judge dismissed the suit for lack of standing. (NILC, October 5, 2005). H.R. 4548 would help American students challenge the granting of in-state tuition to illegal aliens by creating a civil cause of action for citizens who suffer financially by not receiving in-state tuition from a college or university that simultaneously grants such benefits to illegal aliens. (§ 1(a)(3)).

FAIR has strongly endorsed the Fairness for American Students Act. As FAIR President Dan Stein noted, “This commonsense bill is consistent with the belief held by millions of Americans that our government should not subsidize and reward illegal immigration.” (American Chronicle, January 28, 2010).

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation’s immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest.

FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest-more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.