October 6, 2008
FAIR has released its Legislative Immigration Update that covers the following: 

  • Immigration Contributing to Economic Crisis,
  • Experts Say Congress Refuses to Bailout E-Verify
  • Congress Extends Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program
  • ICE Efforts Result in over 2,000 Arrests of Criminal Illegal Aliens

Immigration Contributing to Economic Crisis, Experts Say

With American financial markets facing severe crises meriting intervention from the federal government, several experts have recently argued that granting subprime mortgages to immigrants – both legal and illegal – have played a role in bringing about the current economic decline. During “the boom years,” many immigrants took out high-interest fixed-rate loans or subprime mortgages with a low entry rate that later rose sharply in order to buy homes in the United States that they could barely afford. (Reuters, January 30, 3008)

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) pointed out in April of last year that recent immigrants often turn to subprime lenders for several reasons. (USA Today, April 25, 2007) According to NCLR, 35% of Hispanic families do not have checking accounts. Furthermore, recent immigrants typically do not have credit histories and are more likely to have undocumented income. This in turn causes immigrants to seek out lenders who do not require income verification. Additionally, subprime lenders have been supported by politicians and community organizations wishing to promote minority homeownership. The subprime crisis led NCLR last year to call for a moratorium on subprime home foreclosures. (Id.)

Subprime loans have been instrumental in bringing about a recent fourfold increase in home foreclosures in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. (Cape Cod Online, July 3, 2007) Pam Parker, a mortgage prevention counselor at the Housing Assistance Corporation in Barnstable County, observed that many immigrants had taken these loans “because they don’t know our language and they don’t know our culture.” (Id.) In 15 San Diego County, California zip codes – where home values have fallen as much as 40% – roughly 45% of home loans granted in 2005 and 2006 were subprime. (The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 20, 2008) According to Gabe del Rio, vice president of lending and homeownership at San Diego-based Community HousingWorks, many of the individuals who come to his agency for financial counseling are recent immigrants who spoke little English and did not understand the terms of their subprime loans. (Id.)

Congress Refuses to Bailout E-Verify

Congress wrapped up the 110th Session last week without guaranteeing the future of the critical E-Verify program. E-Verify is an electronic tool that allows employers to verify that they are hiring legal workers by matching identification documents against databases managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Over 75,000 employers use the E-Verify program, and DHS estimates that nearly 1,000 new employers register for the voluntary program each week. (Testimony of Secretary Michael Chertoff, July 17, 2008.) The program, which is required by multiple states and for federal contractors, was set to expire in November, but will now expire March 6, 2009.

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation in July to reauthorize E-Verify for five years. (H.R.6633) The Senate had multiple opportunities to pass the same bill, but Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) held the program hostage for months with his attempts to attach hundreds of thousands of additional visas to any reauthorization efforts. Ultimately, the Senate bowed to his pressure and that of special interests, voting to extend the program for only six months. (See Legislative Update, September 29, 2008) Congress’ inability to agree on an extension of the program for longer than six months left this important program vulnerable to being used as a bargaining chip in attempts to pass amnesty for illegal aliens by a new administration and new Congress.

Congress Extends Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program

On Friday, September 26th, the Senate passed by unanimous consent S.3606, the “Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program Act.” S.3606 was introduced on the same day as its passage by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for the unanimous consent agreement from the Senate floor. (Congressional Record, Page S9573) On the following day, Members of the House of Representatives passed the bill under suspension of the rules by a voice vote. The bill now awaits President Bush’s signature. (Bill Action Summary, September 27, 2008)

The Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program allows certain qualifying religious organizations to sponsor nonminister religious workers for a visa that allows them to permanently immigrate to the United States. 5,000 visas are available in this category annually. (House Judiciary Committee Markup Transcript, April 2, 2008) The program was set to expire on October 1st of this year. If signed by the President, S.3606 will extend the program to March 6th, 2009. (Sec.2(a))

In August 2005, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) conducted a Benefit Fraud Assessment of the Religious Worker Program. FDNS reviewed 220 religious worker petitions, of which 72 (32.73%) resulted in a finding of fraud. (FDNS Summary, July 2006) In one of these fraudulent cases, FDNS found that the address used by a religious group that had filed a petition on behalf of a male applicant was an apartment in an apartment complex. Record checks revealed that this address had been used by an individual suspected of membership with a terrorist organization. (Id.)

Unlike nearly all other forms of employment-based visas, applicants for religious worker visas can file petitions on their own behalf. For most other employment-based visas, potential employers must submit the petition and supporting documentation on behalf of the applicant. While supporting documentation from the sponsoring organization is still required for a religious worker visa, an applicant – rather than a potential employer – can submit the petition and documentation on his or her own behalf. (GAO Testimony, June 29, 2000)

Concerns about the high level of fraud in regards to this program have been expressed by Congressional Members on both sides of the aisle. At a House Judiciary Committee markup in April, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) remarked that she had “legitimate concerns of fraud in the religious worker program, which [appear] to have existed for at least 8 years.” (House Judiciary Committee Markup Transcript, April 2, 2008) Judiciary Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) was also alarmed with “the extremely high level of fraud that has been evident in this visa program.” (Id.) S.3606 attempts to address this problem by requiring DHS to issue final regulations to eliminate or reduce fraud in the program within 30 days of the bill’s enactment. (Sec.2(b)(1)) DHS’s Inspector General must then submit a report – by March 6th, 2009 – to Congress detailing the effectiveness of these regulations. (Sec.2(b)(3))

ICE Efforts Result in over 2,000 Arrests of Criminal Illegal Aliens

Two separate efforts by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to crackdown on gang membership and fugitive aliens ended successfully last week, resulting in over 2,000 arrests of criminal illegal aliens both in California and across the nation.

In a three-week long immigration enforcement surge throughout California, ICE Fugitive Operations Teams arrested over 1,000 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators. The ICE fugitive teams focus on those illegal aliens who are eligible for immediate deportation because they have ignored deportation orders or have reentered the United States after a previous deportation. DHS Assistant Secretary Julie Myers said, “Individuals who defy immigration court orders to leave the country need to understand there are consequences for willfully disregarding the law. ICE is committed to enforcing these outstanding deportation orders and strengthening the integrity of our nation’s immigration system.” (ICE Press Release, September 29, 2008)

ICE also concluded Operation ICE Surge last week, a summer-long project focused on coordinating with state and local government officials to crackdown on illegal alien gang members. The program was part of Operation Community Shield, an ICE initiative that began in 2005 and has resulted in arrests of over 10,000 gang members nationwide. In the four month enforcement program, over 1,700 arrests were made, nearly 1,500 of which were associated with gangs or had previous criminal records. Assistant Secretary Myers noted that the coordination with local law enforcement agencies was crucial to the success of the program: “By partnering with other law enforcement agencies across the country, we are successfully targeting these gangs, arresting their leaders, disrupting their operations, and putting their members and associates behind bars.” (ICE Press Release, October 1, 2008)