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Immigration Policy Update: More Oversight Hearings; Support for Deferred Action in Congress

July 27, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Oversight Hearings in Congress this Week

There were several hearings in Congress this week that were immigration-related or that touched on immigration. Among them:

  • On July 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security held a hearing, “Strengthening the Integrity of the Student Visa System by Preventing and Detecting Sham Educational Institutions.” This hearing was held in the wake of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). That report was summarized in the GAO testimony at the hearing. The GAO found that ICE did not adequately monitor the 10,000 SEVP certified schools for fraud. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he would introduce legislation (with Senators Grassley, Feinstein and McCaskill) that would, among other things, require ICE to visit all non-accredited schools that obtain visas for foreign students within a year of enactment of the law. (A video recording of the hearing and links to testimony are available here.)

  • Also on July 24, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing on fraud by immigration attorneys. While members of the Subcommittee who were present were primarily concerned about immigrants who wrongly obtain immigration benefits through the fraudulent actions of their attorneys, a witness from the American Immigration Lawyers Association did raise the much more prevalent problem of fraud in which notarios and attorneys defraud their clients. (A recording and links to testimony can be found here.)

  • On January 25, the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing, “Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape,” in which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified (as well as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen). While the hearing was primarily about terrorism threats, there was a question (from Candice Miller, R-Mich.) about Cook County (Ill.) and its non-cooperation with the Secure Communities program. As she has on other occasions, Secretary Napolitano said DHS was working with the Justice Department to “explore all options” in what the government may do about Cook County. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) raised the issue of deferred action and challenged the idea that the Administration had discretion to not prosecute certain individuals. Secretary Napolitano responded by saying that she was unaware of any prosecutor who would say he or she had no discretion, and again referred to the unprecedented number of removals during this Administration as proof of the Administration’s strong record of enforcement.

Next week (on August 2), according to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on English as the official language. As of this writing, however, that hearing hasn’t been officially listed by the Judiciary Committee. Congress is scheduled to recess for August on August 3.

Follow-up: Which Nogales?
Despite efforts by politicians to portray the southwest border as being out of control, it has been widely reported that U.S. communities on the southwest border are among the safest in the country. (El Paso, for example, has been ranked safest large city in the U.S.) During the July 19 House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) appeared to have found an anomaly. He recited statistics about crime in Nogales, Arizona, that appeared to show a huge jump in all varieties of crime in that community. The Mayor of Nogales wrote to the Judiciary Committee to take exception to the Utah representative’s portrayal of Nogales. In fact, the Mayor said, in most categories of crime that Rep. Chaffetz claimed jumped up from 2009 to 2010, crime was down, in some cases significantly. (For example, aggravated assaults were not up an alarming 76%, as Rep. Chaffetz claimed. They were down 23% from 2009 to 2010.) Perhaps Rep. Chaffetz was referring to Nogales, Mexico (across the border from Nogales, Arizona)?

More on Deferred Action

Deferred Action get Show of Support in Congress
While immigration hardliners in Congress have been very vocal in their opposition to the Administration’s deferred action announcement of June 15, many in Congress have been supportive of the policy announcement. On July 19, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the floor of the House to release a letter signed by 104 Members of Congress praising the President for the proposed deferred action program that will help so many of their DREAM Act-eligible constituents. The letter notes that the policy “represents an important down payment toward achieving broader reforms in the future.” (A release from Rep. Gutierrez about the letter can be obtained here.)

For his part, DREAM Act sponsor Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) continues to press for the DREAM Act, and this week he launched a section of his Web site dedicated to telling the stories of individuals who would benefit from the DREAM Act. The site contains a collection of stories the Senator has featured in speeches on the Senate floor.

Based on recent comments from Secretary Napolitano during a hearing in the House last week, we are expecting more information on the implementation of the deferred action program by August 1st.

Cost of Deferred Action a (Straw) Issue
Critics of the Administration’s plans to grant deferred action to certain young people have complained that, while the Administration says it has limited resources to enforce the immigration laws, it will run a program that will cost millions of dollars to process hundreds of thousands of people who might be eligible for it. An Associated Press story that ran on July 24 played into those concerns with a headline saying that the program will cost more than $585 million. Only after reading further down in the article did it make clear that the cost of the program will be nearly (or perhaps more than) entirely offset by fees that applicants will pay. This post from the Immigration Policy Center explains that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol use taxpayer dollars to enforce immigration laws, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which adjudicates benefit applications, is funded primarily by fees collected from applicants.

Immigrants and Team USA

Millions of us will soon be tuning in to the Summer Olympics in London, due to officially begin on July 27. To get you in the mood, read this excellent blog post by Forum intern Heather Jelen on some of the immigrants who will represent the U.S. in London.

Resource: Backgrounder on Backlogs in the Family Immigrant Visa System

There is an updated backgrounder on our Web site that explains the backlogs in our immigration admissions system as it pertains to family-based immigration. With visa quotas not changed since 1990, most categories of family-sponsored immigrants face long waits (often many years) before they will obtain a visa that will allow them to join family members in the U.S. Until Congress acts to bring the number of visas more in line with demand, the situation will only worsen. The backgrounder also includes some potential remedies that have been discussed in the context of immigration reform legislation. You can obtain the background from the publications page on our Web site.

Follow-up: Sheriff Arpaio in Court

Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio is learning the down-side of being a publicity-seeker. In the class action lawsuit against him for discrimination, now underway in Phoenix, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have plenty of material to work from. The Sheriff is listening to quotes from memos, press interviews, transcripts of press conferences, press releases and excerpts from his autobiography (“Joe’s Law: America’s Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs, and Everything Else That Threatens America”)—all painting a picture of someone who was out to get Mexicans in Maricopa county, and having the authority to carry out his goals. While Arpaio is known for being full of bluster on camera, in court (according to news reports) he is attributing many of the discriminatory statements or actions of his department to subordinates. So much for “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” You can read the essence of the Sheriff’s testimony in court on July 24, as captured in this post from Lawrence Downs of the New York Times. The trial is expected to wrap up next week.

Follow-up: Prosecutorial Discretion

Nearly a year after the Administration announced it would exercise its discretion not to push forward with the removal of persons who fell outside of agency priorities, the case backlog in immigration courts around the country continues to be reviewed for cases that may be administratively closed. On July 23, the Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) released a report showing that, as of June 28, ICE had closed a total of 5,684 cases, or 1.9% of the 298,000 cases reviewed thus far. (A report from a July 26th story in La Opinion said more than 7,100 cases had been closed as of July 20.) The TRAC report breaks down administrative closure statistics by nationality and by location of the immigration court. You can obtain that report here.

Despite the effort to close cases that are low priority for prosecution, the backlog of immigration cases in the immigration courts continues to grow, according to another TRAC report. By the end of June, the backlog had reached a new record 314,000 cases. According to the report, the vast majority of individuals whose cases are in the backlog are charged with immigration violations; only 7.9 percent are being removed for criminal activity or because of national security issues. The average time a case spends waiting in the backlog is now 526 days. You can obtain that TRAC report here.

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