National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Immigration Policy Update for May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

VAWA Passes House Judiciary Committee

On May 8, the House Judiciary Committee approved reauthorization legislation for the Violence Against Women Act that would significantly reduce protections for immigrant women victims of domestic violence. Among the most egregious provisions in the House bill, H.R. 4970, is the lifting of confidentiality protections in the adjudication process. Immigration Officers would be able to obtain testimony from the abuser, tipping the abuser off about the victim's intention to leave the relationship. The bill would block the ability of U visa recipients from applying for permanent residence. U visas are non-immigrant visas available to, among others, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking who are cooperating with law enforcement to prosecute a crime. Taking away the possibility of adjusting to permanent residence will significantly change the risks associated with cooperating with the police; at the end of the U visa term, the victim might be removed from the U.S.

Over time, USCIS has decided these cases can most efficiently be adjudicated by establishing a special unit in the Vermont Service Center. The House bill would have these cases adjudicated in local USCIS offices. For a list of other provisions included in the House bill, see this summary from the Forum, and you can read a narrative explanation of the provisions in the House bill that are troublesome in this blog post from the White House.

The vote in the Judiciary Committee, largely along party lines after a contentious eight hours of debate, was 17 to 15, with Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) joining 14 Democrats in voting against the bill.

The House bill is opposed by groups that assist domestic violence victims and on May 7, a letter in opposition to the bill signed by 29 faith leaders was sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI).

ACTION: The bill goes to the House Floor most likely on Wednesday, May 16, unless House leaders decide it would not be wise to take up a bill that would roll back protections for domestic violence victims. You can help them decide by making calls to House leaders. CLICK HERE to take action.

House Begins Work on DHS Appropriations 

On May 9, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security met to approve the Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. These days, not much of substance happens in a subcommittee markup. Members meet to consider a bill that was just introduced (in this case on May 8), and there is no opportunity to actually "mark up," or amend, the bill. That activity happens when the full committee considers the bill, on May 16.

The bill introduced by the Republican Chair of the Subcommittee, Robert Alderholt of Alabama, reinforces the idea that, when it comes to immigration enforcement, there are still many in Congress who will happily throw out their professed concerns about government spending.

The bill keeps Border Patrol staffing at record levels, at 21,370 agents. Context? Illegal crossings of the U.S. Mexico border are at their lowest level in decades and the Border Patrol is struggling to properly train the agents it already has. The Subcommittee also found money to fund immigration detention at record levels--34,000 detention beds, more than the Administration's request. This bill allocates a quarter of the Department's funding to Customs and Border Protection. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get $142 million more than the President requested, for a total of $5.5 billion.

To pay for the over-resourcing of immigration enforcement, the bill cuts, among other things, funding for the Transportation Security Administration, which takes a $422 million hit. Ironically, this bill was released on a day when the news was dominated by the uncovering of a new effort to get plastic explosives on to airliners. Talk about bad timing.

While the Committee was extremely generous in allocating money for immigration enforcement, it rejected the President's request for $11 million for USCIS' Immigrant Integration Initiative, which includes a grant program for naturalization service providers. The House bill permits USCIS to spend $9.2 million collected from fees paid by applicants for immigration benefits. This presents USCIS with the dilemma of ending the program or possibly raising fees to pay for it.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security will consider its DHS appropriations bill on May 15.

ACTION: You can weigh in and ask that Congress spend more than zero for immigrant integration. To send a letter to select Congressional leaders, go to www.immigrationforum.org/MoreThanZero.

DOJ Sues Sheriff Joe Arpaio

On May 10, the Department of Justice filed suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff's Office. The suit follows an investigation begun in 2008, which the Justice Department tried to resolve without going to court. The investigation found that the Sheriff's office engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against Latinos and a pattern or practice of unlawful retaliatory behavior against perceived critics of the Sheriff's office. The Justice Department negotiated a settlement that included an independent monitor to see that the Sheriff's office complied with the settlement. Arpaio refused to accept a monitor, and so the Justice Department had no other choice but to go to court in its effort to get the Sheriff's Office to comply with the law and the constitution. More details about the basis for the law suit can be found in this statement from Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of DOJ.

As Sheriff Arpaio got wind of the Justice Department's impending lawsuit, his office released a document, "Integrity, Accountability, Community" that, according to the introduction, "represents a framework wherein [MCSO] will continue to improve operationally, promote safer communities, and provide a real sense of 'community' through actions and attitudes that respect our differences and diversities." For his part, Assistant AG Perez, reacting to this document, said he would "rather fix the problem than debate the existence of a problem."

The government's complaint against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is on the Justice Department's Web site. You can find it here.

House Passes Appropriations Bill for Departments of Justice and Commerce

On May 10, the House passed an appropriations bill to fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science and Related Agencies. In this bill, the House allocated $313.4 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the office that runs the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals), an increase from Fiscal Year 2012 and meeting the President's budget request. The Legal Orientation Program, providing legal information for detained immigrants, will also receive more money next year. The Committee will allocate a total of $7.96 million for the program, meeting the President's request.

On the floor of the House, an amendment by Representative Diane Black (R-TN) that would prohibit the Department of Justice from overturning, enjoining, or invalidating state immigration laws was approved by a vote of 238 to 173. (More information in this statement from the American Civil Liberties Union.)

An amendment by Representative Joe Walsh (D-IL), adopted by voice vote, would prohibit the Justice Department from providing funds from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program for localities deemed "sanctuary cities."

Other amendments eliminated funding for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and Economic Census.  The American Community Survey gathers detailed information about the American population that the decennial census no longer collects, including demographic and economic information that is relied on by a wide variety of researchers and businesses. For more information on the potential impact the House actions will have on the Census Bureau, see this blog post from the Director, Robert Groves, who notes, "Modern societies need current, detailed social and economic statistics; the US is losing them."

House-Passed Budget Would Eliminate Child Tax Credit

On May 10, the House passed a budget resolution that will attempt to reverse cuts in defense spending that are due to come into effect next year as the result of the failure of last year's "super committee" to produce a package of revenue increases and budget cuts that could eventually pass Congress. As part of the deal negotiated during debt ceiling talks last year, automatic budget cuts to discretionary programs, 50% from domestic agencies and 50% from defense and national security, are scheduled to take effect as a result of Congressional failure to come to agreement on deficit reduction. The House bill would change the negotiated agreement by preserving defense spending and paying for that almost entirely by cutting programs that benefit low-income people. One program that was cut was the Child Tax Credit, available to low-income tax filers. The House bill would eliminate the benefit for tax filer using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) instead of Social Security Numbers. For more on the history of this issue this year, see this Policy Update from April 19.

The bill will not go further than the House, as the Senate will not take it up, and the White House has threatened a veto. Senate Democrats have not produced their own budget bill.

ICE Reacts to Secure Communities Task Force Recommendations

On April 27, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a "policy paper" responding to the recommendations of its Secure Communities Task Force. ICE included in its response every change that it has already made over the past year, no matter how tenuous its relation to the Secure Communities program. For an examination of the ICE release, read this article by the Forum's Brittney Nystrom.

Somalia Re-Designated for TPS

On May 1, USCIS announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Somalis currently protected by TPS will be extended to March 17, 2014. At the same time, Somalis who are in the U.S. and are not protected by TPS may apply. Information about requirements and application periods can be found on the USCIS Web site.

DHS Releases Memo on NSEERS, Fails to Address Concerns of Those Affected

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo clarifying that persons who did not register under the National Security Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS) when they were supposed to should not suffer immigration consequences. The memo did not, however, offer relief to persons who have already suffered immigration consequences from the NSEERS program. NSEERS was a program launched in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that required individuals primarily from Arab and Muslim countries to periodically register with the government. Those registration requirements were terminated in April 2011. For more information on this subject, see this article from Denyse Sabagh of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Petition to Obtain Justice in Border Patrol Case

On April 20, PBS aired a program in its Need to Know series investigating excessive use of force by the Border Patrol. Included in the report is an eyewitness video of a beating by Border Patrol agents of a man who died of his injuries. That case (like others) has not been prosecuted, and there is a petition circulating (which you can sign here) to obtain justice in this case. As the promo for the program notes, the investigation raises questions as to whether "in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained." On May 10, a letter to sent to DHS Secretary Napolitano from 15 members of the House, as well as Senator Robert Menendez, calling on her to take steps to make agents more accountable, and asking for information on the agency's policy on the use of force. These Members of Congress also sent letters to the DHS Inspector General and the Attorney General, asking them to look into these issues.

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