Blog & Updates
Immigration Policy Update for May 21, 2012
May 21, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
House Votes to Weaken Violence Against Women Act
On May 16, the House passed its version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill. Although some last-minute changes were made in a manager's amendment, the bill would still weaken protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence.
The bill, H.R. 4970, is opposed by domestic violence groups, immigrant rights groups, and law enforcement. It was perhaps the opposition of faith-based groups that moved 23 Republicans to join 182 Democrats in voting against the bill. On May 14, a letter signed by leaders of 30 faith-based groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, urged Congressional leaders to strike provisions from the bill that would "roll back protections in current law for battered non-citizens, making them more vulnerable and, in some cases, endangering their lives." On the eve of Wednesday's vote, an opinion piece on CNN.com by Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals and Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, pleaded with Speaker Boehner and House leadership to "to make sure that the Violence Against Women Act continues to protect vulnerable immigrant women who are victims of human trafficking or domestic violence."
The final vote was 222 to 205 in favor of the bill.
The next step is for the narrowly-passed House bill to be conferenced with the bi-partisan Senate bill. A technicality has surfaced in the Senate bill over a revenue-generating provision that will have to be resolved before the two bills can be conferenced. The White House has issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the House bill.
The Forum's statement reacting to passage of the House version of the Violence Against Women Act can be read here.
This week, there was action in both the House and the Senate on appropriations bills to fund the Department of Homeland Security for Fiscal Year 2013.
Action in the House
The DHS Appropriations bill has been approved by the full Appropriations Committee. It is ready for consideration on the House floor. Here are some of the immigration highlights, according to the Committee report that accompanied the bill.
- Customs and Border Protection is allocated a total of $11.68 billion, $77 million more than the President requested. "This funding sustains the highest level of Border Patrol agents and CBP officers in history." The number of Border Patrol agents total 21,370, of which 18,415 are stationed on the Southern border.
- A program by Customs and Border Protection to increase awareness of human trafficking will receive $20 million.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is allocated more than $5.78 billion, more than $141 million above the President's request, "and sustains 34,000 detention beds—the greatest detention capacity in ICE’s history."
- ICE Detention and Removal operations will get $71 million more than the President requested, for a total of $2.75 billion. The House intends to fund the controversial 287(g) program at the same level as last year, $68.3 million, ignoring the President's request to cut $17 million from the program. As mentioned above, funding is provided for 34,000 detention beds each day, and the Committee directs the agency "to intensify its enforcement efforts and fully utilize these resources."
- Alternatives to Detention is proposed to be funded at $91.5 million, nearly $20 million more than the Fiscal 2012 allocation, but $20 million less than requested in the President's budget.
- Secure Communities gets $138.2 million, and the Committee says it expects full implementation by March of 2013. The report also contained language directing ICE to report to Congress on "the number of jurisdictions failing to honor ICE detainers, the number of individuals released as a result, and the number of those individuals remaining at large."
- The Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is allocated $19.5 million, $2.2 million below the level asked for by the President and $3 million below the level of Fiscal 2012.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will get $111.9 million, all of it for the E-Verify program. All other costs of the agency are to be covered by user and application fees. The House will not fund the Administration's immigrant integration initiative, including grants to naturalization service providers, but allows USCIS to use application fees to provide these grants if it wants. There is report language "encouraging" USCIS "to be cognizant of the affordability of the naturalization application fee."
Action in the Senate
In the Senate, a markup scheduled for May 17 in the full Appropriations Committee was postponed. A summary of the bill released in the Homeland Security Subcommittee is now available. Immigration-related highlights:
- Customs and Border Protection will get $11.97 billion, including funding for the same record deployment of 21,370 Border Patrol agents as included in the House bill.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get $5.64 billion, including $2.7 billion for detention and removal operations. There is funding to continue operating 33,400 detention beds per day (less than what the House wants to spend, but more than the President's request). The Senate would increase Alternatives to Detention by $25 million more than the Fiscal 2012 level.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will get $117 million, including $112 for E-Verify. The Senate has provided $5 million for immigrant integration grants. (It also allows for another $5 million of fee funds to be spent for integration grants.) This marks a turn in the Senate's outlook. In the recent past, the Senate insisted that funding for the Administration's immigrant integration initiative come out of application fees.
More detail on the Senate bill will be available after the full Appropriations Committee considers it on May 22.
Both the House and the Senate will probably vote on their respective appropriations bills shortly after returning from their upcoming Memorial Day recess. However, it is very possible that a conference between the House and Senate to work out differences between their two bills will not happen until after the November election.
House Holds Hearing on DHS Ethical Standards
On May 17, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management held a hearing examining ethical standards in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In his opening statement, the senior Democrat on the Committee, William Keating, highlighted the magnitude of the problem. He noted that since October 2004, 137 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been indicted or convicted of corruption-related charges. That problem has been magnified with the rapid growth in the size of the Border Patrol. This year so far there have been 101 allegations of corruption involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees and 362 involving CBP employees.
Responding to a question about why his office has recently transferred hundreds of cases involving ICE and CBP employee corruption to the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility, Acting DHS Inspector General Charles Edwards responded that he currently has 2,360 open cases with 219 agents working on them and, with a 38 percent increase in allegations of corruption in the Border Patrol in recent years, he "cannot keep piling up" the cases. The Inspector General's office keeps cases that pertain to civil rights and civil liberties violations; the cases it is transferring relate to corruption, program fraud, and miscellaneous other misconduct.
Yvette Clark (D-NY), a member of the Subcommittee, noted that from Fiscal Year 2010 to present, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility received nearly 27,000 complaints of misconduct. Mr. Edwards noted that in this fiscal year alone the Inspector General's Office has received more than 10,000 complaints so far. (However, many initial complaints prove not to merit further investigation.)
Most of the incidents of corruption discussed in the hearing related to the efforts of organized crime to find agents who would either assist in carrying contraband across checkpoints or airport security, or would allow contraband to go unscreened. The hearing certainly gave a sense of a problem that has been greatly magnified in recent years with the hiring of so many new Border Patrol, Customs, and Transportation Security agents while at the same time, the offices charged with investigating misconduct have not been given the resources to keep pace.
Testimony from the hearing can be found here.
Alabama Governor Signs Even Tougher Immigration Bill
The Alabama legislative session this spring included an attempt to "tweak" the state's anti-immigrant HB 56. What passed on May 16 at the very end of the regular legislative session was a bill that was very close to one drafted by one of the original supporters of HB 56, State Senator Scott Beason. Beason's bill preserves most of HB 56, including provisions that have been enjoined by the courts, and it adds a new provision: it requires the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to post on its website the names and counties of all undocumented persons who appear in court for any violation of state law.
Governor Robert Bentley opposed the new provision, but signed the bill on Friday, May 18, after it became clear lawmakers would not remove the provision in special session. In a statement, the Governor said that he signed the bill, "in an effort to remove the distraction of immigration from the other business of the special session."
Over Objections ICE Launches Secure Communities in New York, Massachusetts
On May 15, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) implemented Secure Communities state-wide in New York and Massachusetts, as well as Arkansas and Wyoming. Both Governor Cuomo of New York and Governor Patrick in Massachusetts have previously objected to the program. Last August, ICE clarified that implementation of the program did not depend on the voluntary cooperation of states and local jurisdictions, but that it was a mandatory federal program. Secure Communities has now been implemented at least in part in nearly every state. There are still battles being fought over how much local jurisdictions will honor ICE detainers that may be issued as the result of a fingerprint check being run through the Secure Communities program.
Justice Department Issues PREA Regs; DHS Not Covered
On May 17, the Justice Department announced a final rule implementing the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The Justice Department rule, nine years in the making, covers facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons. Other penal facilities, including jails, lock-ups, and juvenile facilities, are also impacted by the DOJ rule. Immigration detention facilites operated by the Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Health and Human Services facilities for unaccompanied immigrant children, are not covered. On the same day as the Justice Department's announcement, a White House memorandum directed other agencies operating detention facilities to draft their own regulations, working with the Justice Department. These "rules or procedures" will be open for public comment and must be proposed within 120 days and finalized in 240 days.
The Forum's statement on the Administration's announcement can be read here.
Senator Rubio Introduces Bill To Deny Tax Credit to Low-Income Immigrant Families
In last week's Policy Update, there was a report on a provision in the House budget resolution that would eliminate the child tax credit for low-income immigrants as part of an offset to pay for restoration of funding for defense that will suffer automatic cuts beginning calendar year 2013.
In the Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a separate bill, S. 3083, specifically focused on this issue. His bill would prevent low-income undocumented immigrants from claiming the child tax credit for their U.S.-citizen or legal resident children. The child tax credit is available to certain low-income tax filers to help defray the cost of raising children.
For more information on Sen. Rubio's proposal, along with an explanation of the purpose of the child tax credit, see this post from the Center for American Progress.