Monday, March 26, 2007

The Wait is Over - Guest Worker Amnesty Introduced in the House
After long negotiations and in-fighting, Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) broke away from their Senate counterparts last Thursday to introduce a guest worker amnesty bill in the House of Representatives. H.R. 1645, or the STRIVE Act of 2007 (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy), offers amnesty to the estimated 12-20 million illegal aliens and provides big business with a future flow of cheap foreign labor though a guest worker program with a path to citizenship. The bill also makes improvements to border security efforts and provides for an employment eligibility verification system.

The guest worker portion of the bill creates a new type of worker visa, called an H-2C visa, that allows illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. for up to 6 years so long as they can:

establish employment;
pass a background check;
pass a medical examination; and
pay a $500 fee.
The H-2C program also allows these "guest workers" and their dependents to apply for permanent residency status and eventual citizenship. The program has an annual cap of 400,000 guest workers with an automatic escalator that can inflate the number to as many as 600,000.

The amnesty portion of the bill allows illegal aliens to apply for "conditional nonimmigrant status" by establishing that he or she was present and employed in the U.S. since June 1, 2006. The alien must also submit fingerprints, undergo a background check, and pay a $500 fine. Once granted conditional nonimmigrant status, the alien may obtain permanent residence status after six years by:

establishing employment;
paying of taxes (but only taxes owed for legal work);
paying $2,000 in fees and fines;
passing a background check;
meeting the citizenship requirements under current law; and
touching the border (see below).
This last requirement, called a "touchback" provision, only requires that sometime during the six year period of conditional nonimmigrant status the alien go to the border and reenter as a conditional nonimmigrant—the status they already have. There is no requirement that the alien actually return to his or her home country, undergo any new scrutiny, obtain any new documentation, or spend any meaningful time outside of the U.S. Indeed, Congressman Gutierrez was quoted in CongressDaily as saying the touchback provision could be accomplished "in a day." Spouses and dependents are excluded from the touchback requirement.

Section 5 of the bill provides that before the guest worker and amnesty provisions may be implemented, DHS must submit a certification to the President and Congress that: (1) DHS has submitted a report to Congress on the status of the Secure Border Initiative; (2) the systems and infrastructure necessary to carry out the provisions regarding immigration documents are ready for use; and (3) that employment verification for so-called "critical infrastructure employers" is implemented. Implementation of an employment eligibility verification system for the vast majority of employers is not a pre-requisite to the start of the guest worker or amnesty program.
As if the H-2C guest worker and amnesty programs were not sufficiently rewarding illegal behavior and opening the floodgates to cheap foreign labor, the STRIVE Act also more than doubles the number of H-1B visas and employment-based immigrant visas. The legislation also includes the AGJOBS bill, which grants amnesty to agricultural workers, and the DREAM Act, which grants amnesty to certain students.

Upon introduction, the STRIVE Act immediately came under fire by Members of Congress. Appearing on numerous cable news shows, Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, said the Flake-Gutierrez bill does nothing more than advertise to the world that United States is willing to make special accommodations for those who break the law. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) also condemned the bill, saying "The President and his new Democratic allies in Congress seem hell-bent on cramming this mass amnesty down the throats of the American people whether they want it or not."

Amnesty supporters, however, stood up for the bill. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Congressman Gutierrez commented, "This isn't about people coming here temporarily, working and then shipping them off," he said, "but about new workers incorporating themselves and, if they wish, integrating themselves fully and their families into the very fiber of American society." Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) applauded Gutierrez and Flake's decision to introduce their own bill. Kennedy issued a statement Tuesday saying, "While we're still negotiating in the Senate, I'm optimistic that we will have legislation soon."

Some are confident that the Flake-Gutierrez bill will suffer the same fate as S.2611, which passed the Senate last year. Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Washington Post that he feels the Flake-Gutierrez bill will ultimately fail. "I don't think it has any more chance than the Senate bill did last year," he said. "The Democratic majority doesn't change things as much as you might think." Even Congressman Gutierrez told the Los Angeles Times that their chances of success would dim if the House and Senate did not pass their respective bills by July, because the approaching election year would make it harder. He also noted that the bill had to have bipartisan support to pass.

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Congressman Gingrey Takes Aim at Chain Migration
Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA) - along with 17 cosponsors - recently introduced H.R. 938, the 'Nuclear Family Priority Act.' The bill seeks to tackle the problem of chain migration caused by the provisions in current law allowing immigrants who become citizens to bring in extended family members, who in turn bring in their own extended family members, causing the number of immigrants to the United States to skyrocket. By eliminating the extended family preference categories in current law and replacing them with a single preference category for spouses and children of permanent resident aliens and citizens, H.R. 938 prioritizes the admission of nuclear family members while controlling the growth rate of immigration to the U.S.

Last Wednesday, Congressman Gingrey took to the House Floor to explain his concerns with chain migration. During Special Orders, Gingrey explained that the insanity of chain migration can result in one legal permanent resident over a short span of 17 years bringing in 273 people to the United States. Those 273 people then count against the quota for that country. Gingrey further pointed out that these extended family members are given priority over other qualified, skilled individuals seeking the opportunity to move to the United States, "[Chain migration] creates a backlog of visa applications….It allows genealogy, not job skills, not education, not English proficiency to determine who immigrates to our country. We just can't afford that."

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Senator Grassley Introduces Legislation to Improve Visa Revocation Process
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced last week the introduction of S.913, legislation that closes the loophole allowing aliens to stay in the country after their visas have been revoked on security-related grounds. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

Under current law, visas approved or denied by consular officers are non-reviewable and deemed final. However, if a visa is revoked and the individual is already on U.S. soil, the decision by the consular officer is reviewable in U.S. courts. This spawns endless litigation and makes deportation nearly impossible—despite the fact that if the visa had been denied overseas, the alien would not have access to the courts. Senator Grassley's bill would address this problem by treating visa revocations similar to visa denials.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) first exposed this loophole in June 2003 when it released a report showing that the FBI and intelligence community suspected over 200 visa applicants of having ties to terrorism but didn't share the information with U.S. consular officers in time. The consular officers granted the visas, but then had to revoke them. The GAO determined that even though the visas were revoked, because the visa holders were already on U.S. soil, immigration officials could not expeditiously remove the aliens.

Senator Grassley introduced similar legislation in 2004 and recently offered an amendment to the 9/11 bill that was debated in the Senate, but did not receive enough support to proceed to a final vote. In a released statement, Senator Grassley said, "This was a security amendment that the Democrats rejected during debate of the 9/11 bill. Fixing this problem and keeping the public safe is too important to let it get bogged down in political maneuvering. We live in a very different world and a pre-9/11 mindset isn't going to help keep terrorists out of the country."

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Former Deputy Sheriff Hernandez Sentenced
A federal judge sentenced Former Deputy Sheriff Guillermo 'Gilmer' Hernandez to one year and one day following a guilty verdict on charges that he had violated the civil rights of a smuggled illegal alien. In April 2005, Deputy Sheriff Hernandez was making what he thought to be a routine traffic stop; after asking the driver to step out of the vehicle, the driver sped off, putting Hernandez' life in danger. Citing a brief supplied on Hernandez' behalf by the Washington Legal Foundation, the Washington Times reported, "The driver of the vehicle attempted to run into him as it sped away with potentially dangerous occupants and cargo. In a split-second decision, he [Hernandez] shot at the left rear tire to disable the vehicle…the resulting minor injury to one of the occupants from a bullet fragment was not a serious one and certainly not an injury that was willfully inflicted."

The prosecution of Deputy Sheriff Hernandez has been decried by many as unjust. At trial, Sheriff Donald Lestinger stated that Hernandez "followed the letter of the law" in this case and added, "I have never had anything hurt me so badly as this prosecution. We've got to make this right." On the House floor, Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) stated, "The Texas Rangers…made an independent investigation and determined that Deputy Hernandez acted lawfully and within the law when he fired his weapon. But then the Mexican government gets involved, and in their arrogance, demand in writing from their consulate general to our Federal Government that Deputy Hernandez be prosecuted."

According to a Los Angeles Times interview of defense attorney Jimmy Parks, Jr., "Although Dawson denied pleas for probation, the judge did deviate from federal sentencing guidelines that made the former deputy eligible for up to nine years in prison." Mr. Parks also indicated that he is planning to appeal the guilty verdict. Paul Kamenar, Senior Executive Counsel at the Washington Legal Foundation told the Los Angeles Times, "We're disappointed that the court did not impose probation…But we're glad that the court rejected the government's draconian recommendation that he serve approximately six years in prison."

Hernandez was prosecuted by the office of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton - the same prosecutor of the controversial case that landed former Border Patrol Agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos in prison serving sentences over 10 years.

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Recent Floor Statements

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) commented on Deporting After Sixth Offense Five Too Many (March 23, 2007)
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) commented on Put Aside Partisanship To Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform (March 23, 2007)
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) commented on Immigrant Entrepreneurship Fuels American Economic Growth (March 23, 2007)
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) commented on Immigration (March 21, 2007)
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) commented on Mexican Government Needs To Stay Out Of America's Business (March 21, 2007)
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NV) commented on 64th Day Of Incarceration For Border Patrol Agents Ramos And Compean (March 19, 2007)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) commented on Our Southern Border (March 19, 2007)
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) commented on Hearing Requested On Ramos And Compean Prosecution (March 19, 2007)
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Press Release
Important Questions About Amnesty Legislation Like the Gutierrez-Flake Bill (March 23, 2007)