November 17, 2008
Immigration Law in Congress and current immigration legislation impacting Americans.

Fair has released its Legislative Immigration Update that covers the following

  • Speaker Pelosi Calls for an End to Worksite Enforcement
  • House Judiciary Members Urge Delay of Visa Waiver Expansion
  • GAO Report Reveals TB Patients Crossed Borders Undetected

Speaker Pelosi Calls for an End to Worksite Enforcement

At a press conference on November 5th, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated that she supports an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worksite enforcement operations, arguing that they have intensified the importance of advancing amnesty legislation. Pelosi asked, “How do we end the ICE raids, have a situation where we can end the ICE raids as we put together comprehensive immigration reform?” (CongressDaily, November 10, 2008) A Pelosi spokesperson said the Speaker had long believed that ICE worksite enforcement operations are ineffective and “unnecessarily divide families at the expense of children.” (Id.) The spokesperson also said the Speaker “supports a bipartisan solution that protects our borders, enforces our laws, unites families and creates a path to legalization.” (Press Conference Transcript, November 5, 2008)

Pelosi’s comments drew the ire of the Ranking Members of the two House committees with primary jurisdiction over immigration-related legislation. Representative Peter King (R-NY), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee, disagreed with the Speaker: “The last thing we should be talking about is ending ICE raids. We need more enforcement, not less.” (CongressDaily, November 10, 2008) Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX) commented as well, saying that “instead of criticizing, the Speaker should be commending ICE for protecting American jobs by ensuring that they don’t go to illegal immigrants, targeting identity thieves and holding employers accountable.” (Id.) Smith concluded: “I’m troubled that the Speaker seems to be more concerned with the welfare of illegal immigrants than of the U.S. citizens who have to compete against them for jobs.” (Id.)

With President-elect Barack Obama set to assume office on January 20th, 2009, and a newly-elected, Democratic-majority Congress scheduled to convene two weeks prior to that, Pelosi’s comments have set the stage for a possible battle over worksite enforcement in the upcoming legislative session. Some Congressional aides have said that they are worried Obama will choose a new ICE director who will not make worksite enforcement operations a high priority – a move they would view as a major mistake. (Id.) The President-elect’s campaign website, however, suggests that Obama supports the enforcement of immigration laws. According to the site, Obama advocates employer sanctions: “To remove incentives to enter the country illegally, we need to crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants.” (President-elect Obama’s Campaign Website)

House Judiciary Members Urge Delay of Visa Waiver Expansion

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) joined with eleven other Republican House Members in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff last week that urged DHS to delay expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) until the exit portion of the US-VISIT system is fully implemented. (GalleryWatch, November 10, 2008) The letter came as a response to a recent DHS announcement that the Department is taking steps to expand the VWP to citizens of seven new countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea. Citizens of these countries will soon be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. (See Legislative Update, October 27, 2008)

Prior to the signing of the 9/11 Act in August 2007, a country seeking membership in the VWP was required to have a nonimmigrant visa refusal rate below three percent in order to gain admittance to the program. (P.L. 110-053) The 9/11 Act, however, allows the Departments of State and Homeland Security to waive the three percent maximum, up to a limit of ten percent. This provision was only to take effect, however, after DHS was able to certify that an air traveler exit system was in place that could verify the departure of 97 percent of foreign nationals who exit through U.S. airports. (DHS Fact Sheet, June 3, 2008)

According to FY2007 State Department statistics, three of the seven new VWP countries fall in the three to ten percent refusal rate range (the Czech Republic, Estonia, and South Korea). (State Department Statistics, 2007) In September, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that while “the 9/11 Act requires that DHS must certify…the 97 percent air exit system…before the department can consider expanding the Visa Waiver Program to countries with refusal rates between 3 percent and 10 percent…DHS has not announced when it plans to make this certification.” (GAO Report, September 2008) The four other new VWP countries (Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia) have refusal rates higher than ten percent.

In their letter to Secretary Chertoff, the twelve GOP lawmakers argued that the VWP expansion “jeopardizes national security and increases illegal immigration.” The letter goes on to point out that DHS is moving ahead with the expansion despite studies released by the Department of Justice Inspector General, the DHS Inspector General, and the GAO – all of which highlight national security vulnerabilities related to the VWP. Noting that about “40 percent of illegal immigrants came to the United States under the VWP or with temporary visas and simply overstayed their period of lawful admission, often after they unlawfully gained employment,” the Representatives point out that the exit portion of US-VISIT has not been implemented. The letter states that, since this system is not yet in place, “No mechanism exists to track those who overstay the maximum period of 90 days. As a result, the immigration laws of this country are not being enforced and our national security is being compromised.” (Letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, November 7, 2008)


GAO Report Reveals TB Patients Crossed Borders Undetected

A GAO report released November 13th has revealed that DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) failed to communicate about the movement across U.S. borders of two travelers with drug resistant tuberculosis (TB). The report, which was requested by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also revealed that DHS’ process for inspecting people at the border was deficient. (Press Release, November 13, 2008)

Entitled “Public Health and Border Security,” the GAO study focused on two cases. The first was an American citizen who crossed the border in May 2007, even when health officials knew of his medical condition. The second case concerned a Mexican national who flew across the border and back undetected 21 times in April and May of 2007, despite warnings from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. The report states that DHS and DHHS had not fully developed procedures to share information and coordinate their activities, which hampered efforts to locate the two men. (GAO Report, November 13, 2008)

All four of the Senators who requested the report commented on the GAO’s findings. Senator Lieberman noted that the study “tells us what we have long suspected and urgently have sought to improve and that is basic communications among federal government agencies is essential to protect Americans from potential terrorists, natural disasters, and outbreaks of disease.” The Committee Chair concluded: “Our border security and aviation controls must be stronger if we are to prevent repeats of these types of breaches.” Ranking Member Collins said that she was “concerned with the slow rate of progress on some critical information technology programs at DHS that could eliminate many problems identified by GAO, including upgrades that would help our Customs and Border Protection officers more quickly and effectively identify known threats.” Senator Clinton pointed out that the two cases in the study “expose glaring vulnerabilities in our border security and ability to protect the public’s health.” Senator Grassley commented, “The United States can’t afford for the health of its nation to be compromised because of bad interagency communication – especially when the threat involves a communicable disease, like tuberculosis….We just can’t play Keystone cops in situations when innocent lives are at stake.” (Press Release, November 13, 2008)

GAO noted that DHHS and DHS have begun taking steps to improve their ability to respond to TB incidents. Senators Collins and Clinton noted this in their statements, commending the Departments for making “considerable improvements” and “taking significant steps” in regards to the vulnerabilities highlighted in the report. However, Senators Lieberman, Collins, and Clinton all expressed the sentiment that the Departments must continue to improve their ability to address the deficiencies the study exposed.
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.