Amongst all the chit-chat by the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and President Obama about it being time for Congress to "step up and do something on immigration," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has. That being said, I'm pretty sure Sen. Hatch's bill does not reflect this administration's checklist of priorities, but it should. Why? The bill is thoughtful and provides remedies to problems either swept under the rug by this administration or exacerbated by Obama administration policy changes.
The Hatch bill, "Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America's Security Act", provides a host of "plugs" to current immigration failures that would go a long way to helping America take the reins on a soaring border security problem. At the moment, the administration tells us that a sealed border is not possible and that another terrorist attack is likely inevitable. The capitulation evident in these comments indicates that there is little interest in doing what we can to secure America. Sen. Hatch knows this is not true, and his bill reflects a commitment to law enforcement and protection of natural resources that is refreshing. In his floor statement when he introduced the bill late in the day on September 29, 2010, he set the tone as follows:
We can make progress by starting with the laws that already exist. My bill would enhance our core immigration and enforcement laws for both legal and illegal immigrants.
. . .
There is much work to be done before the border is properly sealed. I continue to work with and support my colleagues whose states are located along the Southwest border. They know what resources we need to deploy to secure the border.
While Utah is not a border state, we still share the same concerns of our neighbors along the border. However, our problems result from a residual effect of a porous border and a breakdown of our immigration enforcement system.
For years, I have been saying most immigration problems could be solved if we would enforce the laws on the books. Unfortunately, the current Administration continues to explore ways to exploit current law and score political points.
During the past several months, the Obama administration has been holding behind-the-scenes talks to determine whether the Department of Homeland Security can unilaterally grant legal status, on a mass basis, to illegal immigrants via deferred action and parole. If the Administration is successful, it would be the equivalent of back-door amnesty for millions. For this reason, my bill specifies that an alien may only be paroled or granted deferred action on a case-by-case basis – not en mass - the way these laws were intended to be used.
Drug Cartel Activity on Federal Lands. Sen. Hatch requires the Director of National Drug Control Policy to develop a "Federal Lands Counterdrug Action Plan." The plan would set forth the Government's strategy for preventing the illegal production, cultivation, manufacture, and trafficking of controlled substances on federal lands by Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations and other criminal elements. Marijuana cultivation on federal lands receives an aggravated penalty. In addition, organized crime figures become ineligible for a U.S. visa and mass amnesty is not permitted. This combination of closed loopholes eliminates the possibility of organized criminals obtaining a visa in the hope of receiving amnesty once in the United States.
The concern over federal land abuse by the drug cartels is well-founded. For the past year, the Center, through my series of films, has been addressing this issue in my mini-documentary series as follows:
- Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 3: A Day in the Life of a Drug Smuggler (September 2010), which focuses on drug cartel travel methods through Arizona's federally owned land using both hidden camera and my footage of the most violent drug corridor in Arizona.
- Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens (July 2010), which features footage of both illegal-alien entry as well as gun- and drug-smuggling, all on federal land.
- Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border: Coyotes, Bears, and Trails (July 2009), which raises questions about environmentalists' focus on stopping a border fence, when endangered species and vegetation have already been proven to suffer significantly where no fence exists. Abandoned vehicles, drug drops, illegal groups trekking and camping, along with the predictable human waste and immense litter left behind, have destroyed fragile Arizona ecosystems.
ID theft. Sen. Hatch is the first Senator to provide a badly needed upgrade to statutory language enabling federal prosecutors to go after identity thieves fully under the aggravated identity theft criminal code, using language changes I proposed in Fixing Flores: Assuring Adequate Penalties for Identity Theft and Fraud. In addition, victims of Social Security number identity theft — in this context likely by illegal aliens or document mills selling to illegal aliens seeking U.S. jobs — will be notified by the Social Security Administration within 60 days that their number was used in an attempt to gain employment. This simple procedure would enable victims to curtail potential harm done by fraud, especially children who are often unaware of the fraud until they reach the age of majority.
Exit tracking. Sen. Hatch mandates a departure system for foreign visitors, otherwise known as an Exit system, based on the successful pilots I also emphasized in my opening remarks at an Exit symposium held by the Center in June 2010. Our key findings included:
Congress, and those involved in the Exit symposium, tend toward agreement that Exit can be valuable for both immigration enforcement and security purposes. However, these objectives can be in conflict (although they need not be). All agreed that the purpose of Exit must be clearly defined. The group also agreed on the need to break the Exit problem down into manageable pieces, especially given the universally acknowledged challenges at the land border.
The most manageable point to begin Exit implementation is likely airports, as shown in the most recent June 2009 pilot programs at Detroit and Atlanta international airports. Airlines refused to participate in the pilot programs, reiterating the emerging agreement that Exit, like entry, is primarily a government function. Both programs successfully used border inspection personnel to take biometric Exit data, at the jetways (in Detroit) and TSA checkpoints (in Atlanta).
I highlighted the operational value of an Exit system in The Complete Immigration Story of 9/11 Hijacker Satam al Suqami.
287(g) and Secure Communities. Hatch's bill requires that local and state law enforcement participate in either Secure Communities (aimed at properly identifying and removing convicted criminal aliens in prison) or 287(g) programs (whereby trained law enforcement are able to query immigration data upon arrest of a criminal alien) as a condition of receiving reimbursement for incarceration expenses under the State criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAPPA) — a solid incentive to achieving full participation. The value of these two programs is a force multiplier for better assuring a legal immigration demographic but also, and arguably more important, a safer United States.
The potential worth of 287(g) to enabling law enforcement to make good decisions during routine traffic stops - as was missed with three of the 9/11 hijackers and more recently in 2009 with a young visa overstay who sought to blow up a large building in Texas (see Dallas Would-Be Bomber Hosam Smadi: The Case for 287(g) and Exit Tracking) — is essential. (The value of 287(g) remains despite the fact that the Obama administration no longer permits immigration queries on routine traffic stops). Secure Communities is a pivotal program for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a tool that should not be voluntary. Sen. Hatch here has taken another seemingly obscure but significant issue — that of securing all communities across the United States against recidivist violent illegal criminals — and given communities a reason to comply: do so, or we take away your incarceration funding.
Thank you, Sen. Hatch. Your proposed legislation is thoughtful, and helpful. Sometimes it takes the courage and experience of a senior lawmaker to get a "tough" issue right.