Morning News, 12/22/09

By Bryan Griffith, December 22, 2009

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1. REAL ID deadline extended
2. Enforcement drives spike
3. Obama appointing Hispanics
4. DHS seminars costly
5. Amnesty bill "has no hope"

States get more time to comply with Real ID
By Spencer S. Hsu
The Washington Post, December 19, 2009

The Obama administration will abandon a Dec. 31 deadline for states to tighten security requirements for driver's licenses, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Friday.

Delaying the requirement, which faces opposition from governors and Senate Republicans over how it should be implemented, jeopardizes an immigration and security measure adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But it also removes concerns that tens of thousands of holiday travelers could have been subjected to heightened airport security checks if they lacked the new licenses.

Under a controversial 2005 domestic security program passed by Congress and known as Real ID, states were required to issue more secure licenses by the end of 2009. Those would be the only licenses accepted by federal officials for such purposes as boarding commercial aircraft. Instead, states now have until May 11, 2011, to comply with Real ID, Napolitano said.

"In order to ensure that the millions of Americans traveling this holiday season are not disrupted, DHS is extending the Dec. 31 REAL ID material compliance deadline," Napolitano said in a written statement.

States have balked at what governors called an unfunded, $4 billion federal mandate by Congress, and what civil liberties groups criticized as a de facto national ID.

After opponents fought the Bush administration to a standstill, Obama security officials and governors jointly asked Congress last spring to replace Real ID with a new program called Pass ID, which would cost half as much, be less stringent and come with federal grants.

That plan would give states five years to include in their IDs a digital photograph and machine-readable features such as a bar code. It would also require states to verify applicants' identities and legal status by checking federal immigration, Social Security and State Department databases and original birth certificate records.

It would add stronger privacy controls than contained in the Real ID program and drop a demand for new databases.

Supporters hoped the year-end deadline would push Congress to approve Pass ID. But opponents refused to yield, with some Republicans accusing the administration of gutting the earlier plan and backsliding on security. Privacy groups continue to fight what they have called a "Real ID-lite."

"Any attempt to implement PASS ID will harm national security," Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) wrote in a Dec. 14 letter to several colleagues.

"Key senators have called DHS's bluff, and the agency has once again blinked," American Civil Liberties Union officials wrote in a blog recently, noting that under Bush, DHS extended a previous deadline of May 2008 in the face of similar opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that until heath-care legislation is passed, he could not spare the time to overcome procedural blocks that several Senate Republicans had anonymously placed on the ID measure. With Congress set to leave soon for its winter break, Napolitano and governors retreated, leaving the future of the changes in doubt.
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Immigration Enforcement Fuels Spike in U.S. Cases
By John Schwartz
The New York Times, December 21, 2009

Federal prosecutions reached a record high in the 2009 fiscal year, with the surge driven by a sharp increase in cases filed against immigration violators.

The 169,612 federal prosecutions were a jump of nearly 9 percent from the previous year, according to Department of Justice data analyzed by a research center at Syracuse University in a new report. Immigration prosecutions were up nearly 16 percent, and made up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government, the report said.

Much of the spike, immigration experts say, arises from Bush administration efforts to increase immigration enforcement and to speed prosecutions. The administration greatly increased the number of Border Patrol agents and prosecutors, and also introduced a program known as Operation Streamline that relied on large-scale processing of plea deals in immigrant cases in some parts of the country.

The relatively simple cases have become the low-hanging fruit of the federal legal system: Immigration prosecutions, from inception to court disposal, are lightning quick, according to the report. While white-collar prosecutions take an average of 460 days and narcotics cases take 333, the immigration cases are typically disposed of in 2 days.

And while federal prosecutors decline to prosecute about half of the white-collar cases that are referred to them by law enforcement agencies, they prosecute 97 percent of the immigration cases, according to the Syracuse group.

The speed-up in federal immigration prosecutions, however, has run afoul of the federal courts presiding over Arizona, which processed more than 22,000 immigration cases in the fiscal year, nearly a quarter of those cited in the report. This month, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the process of mass pleadings violates the federal rule that protects the accused from being forced into a guilty plea.

Michael A. Olivas, an immigration expert at the University of Houston Law Center, said he was not surprised to find immigration prosecutions “No. 1 with a bullet” on the Syracuse list. “I would have been astounded if it wasn’t one or two,” Mr. Olivas said. “We’re simply pushing the cattle through the chutes.”

The fact that immigration prosecutions remained high “shows that this administration is serious about enforcement to some degree,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a policy group in Washington that favors restricting immigration. “This administration understands that it needs to appear tough on enforcement if it’s going to make a credible case for legalization,” or amnesty programs, he said.
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Obama naming Hispanics to top posts at record pace
By Laura Wides Munoz
The Associated Press, December 21, 2009

Miami (AP) -- President Barack Obama is on track to name more Hispanics to top posts than any of his predecessors, drawing appointees from a wide range of the nation's Latino communities, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Colombians.

That won't necessarily give the president a free pass on issues such as immigration, but it may ease Hispanics' worries about whether Obama will continue reaching out to a group that was key to his winning the White House.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is by far Obama's most famous Hispanic appointee. In less than a year in office, the president has also tapped at least 48 other Hispanics to positions senior enough to require Senate confirmation. So far, 35 have been approved.

That compares with a total of 30 approved under Bill Clinton and 34 under George W. Bush during their first 20 months in office, according to U.S. Office of Personnel Management data.

The personnel office does not track appointments of judges or ambassadors. Early indicators suggest Obama is naming many Hispanics to those positions as well, though he has been slow to appoint judges in general.

"He's really captured our trajectory, and the vast, vast array of Latinos that make up our country, whether it's Mexicanos, Puertorriquenos or Dominicanos," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the Cabinet's first Hispanic woman.

The officials cover a wide swath of policy areas and include:

* Solis, a California native and former congresswoman whose parents hail from Mexico and Nicaragua.

* Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, an Ivy Leauger from New York whose parents fled the Dominican Republic dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

* Jose Riojas, assistant secretary for veterans affairs, a retired brigadier general and Mexican-American from Missouri.

In some ways, Obama is simply following his predecessor's example. Until the Obama administration, Bush's Cabinet was widely considered the most ethnically diverse in U.S. history, with Hispanics serving as secretaries of commerce and housing and as attorney general. Less than half of Obama's Cabinet consists of white men.
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Millions spent on security retreats
By Audrey Hudson
The Washington Times, December 19, 2009

Department of Homeland Security officials spent tens of millions of dollars to attend seminars and retreats including a FEMA meeting in Hawaii, an immigration conference in Singapore and an underwater tunnel protection gathering in London, just to name a few.

The detailed expenses are from an inspector general review requested by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who was concerned about the department and its spending practices.

The review said $110 million was spent from 2005 through 2007 for such meetings, including $50 million for salary expenses for more than 8,000 employees who attended the conferences.

"With no one keeping track of conference spending at DHS, this $100 million binge is unacceptable," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat. "DHS has a mission to protect the homeland, and to do that, legitimate travel is clearly appropriate."

The report, which was released Thursday evening, found there are no spending limits for the Homeland Security Department set by Congress or by internal regulation or agency policy, to determine how much can be spent to attend conferences.

The Coast Guard was the biggest spender at more than $30 million in a two-year period, followed by Immigration and Custom Enforcement, which spent more than $20 million in three years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent nearly $18 million in a two-year period, including a May 2007 gathering at the Marriott on Waikiki Beach, which cost $176,094.

"What troubles me is extravagant spending when we need these funds to rebuild the Gulf Coast and strengthen border security," Mr. Thompson said.
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Texas Watch: Congressional Hispanic Caucus' effort to advance immigration reform faces roadblocks
By Todd J. Gillman
The Dallas Morning News, December 20, 2009

Washington, DC -- Immigrant advocates were pleased last week when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus unveiled an ambitious reform plan that would, among other things, create a pathway to citizenship for 12 million undocumented immigrants.

It was an effort to get the issue off the back burner, a warning that impatience with the president is brewing, and a gambit to define the liberal wish list. On those fronts, the bill proposed by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and others, was a success.

But it has no hope of going anywhere.

House Democratic leaders aren't interested in taking up the divisive issue in an election year – not without cover from the Senate and White House.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quietly assured freshman Democrats and other vulnerable lawmakers that she won't allow a floor debate on immigration unless the Senate acts first. Backbenchers are frustrated at being forced to cast politically delicate votes on issues like cap-and-trade, only to see the bills stall in the Senate.

"That's where the immigration reform debate broke down last time, and that's where it should begin," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland who, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is acutely aware of the need to minimize losses in next November's midterm elections. "If they have the ability to deal with what we've already given them, and immigration reform, we stand ready to work with them."

For Hispanic leaders in the House, the urgency to act trumps political considerations – though their ability to force the issue may be limited.

"We have a plan that has the potential of truly helping to better this country and its people," said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, dean of the Texas delegation and a key sponsor of the bill.

The 644-page Gutierrez bill would let undocumented immigrants gain legal status if they register, pay a $500 fine (far less than prior bills required), learn English and pass a criminal background check.

There would be more border security and a worker verification program, too, though – unlike proposals of yesteryear – immigrants wouldn't have to return to their home countries to become eligible for U.S. citizenship.

There is no guest worker program, either – an omission that amounts to a deal killer for business interests and many Republicans.

Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, derided it as an "amnesty bill" and predicted it would go nowhere even if House leaders were more eager to tackle the issue.
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Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article, please visit our HR 4321 overview page.