Immigration Review - FYI

By CIS on June 1, 1994

Immigration Review no. 18, 1994

Holy See Change!

The June 11 Washington Times reported that the Italian Bishops' Conference has published the findings of a Vatican-sponsored commission of lay experts from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that said world population growth will become an "irresolvable problem" if measures to restrict the global birthrate are not adopted. The two-year study found population limits "unavoidable," although it did not address the issue of "how to." This finding may help the Clinton Administration and others in dealing with the Vatican while trying to address world population issues in Cairo at this September's International Conference on Population and Development.

Florida Sends Criminal Aliens Home

Claiming a space and budgetary crisis in the state prisons, Florida Gov. Chiles has announced a policy of releasing for deportation criminal aliens not held for violent crimes. Florida authorities estimate there are over 4,100 aliens in state prisons, and the INS has verified 2,700 of them. Although the state is coordinating its effort with the INS, so the aliens do not end up free in this country, some state officials think early release is the wrong message to send to would-be criminal aliens.

SOS Measure on California Ballot

The petition drive to get a measure on the California ballot to cut the costs of illegal aliens by restricting medical coverage (except for emergencies) and education appears to have succeeded. Volunteers gathered well over the number of signatures required to qualify the initiative and are now awaiting verification of those signatures. A Los Angeles Times poll reported in May that voters favor the measure by 59 percent to 32 percent with 9 percent undecided. A majority of White and Black Californians support the initiative, but about three-fifths of Hispanics oppose it.

CBS Poll on Immigration

A CBS poll released in mid-May indicates that public attitudes toward immigration are becoming less hospitable. Sixty-five percent responded that because of economic conditions today it is not practical to welcome new immigrants. Only six months ago 60 percent of the respondents gave that response, and the comparable view was expressed by only 45 percent in 1986. Over half (53%) said most immigrants cause problems, while 29 percent viewed most recent immigrants as making a contribution. More said immigrants make America a worse society (41%) than a better society (16%), and more indicated that we should stop all immigration (34%) than said immigrants should always be welcome (19%). But the idea that we should send home all immigrants from the past five years was rejected (65% to 22%).

When in Doubt — Litigate

A growing list of states is resorting to the modern practice of suing the responsible party in cases of perceived discrimination. That party, in this case, is the federal government. The alleged discrimination is mandating that state services be provided to illegal aliens who are in the U.S. because the INS failed to enforce immigration laws.

New York has been trying unsuccessfully since 1990 to get the federal government to assume financial responsibility for illegal immigrant felons. This April Florida filed suit for $1.5 billion for health, education and law enforcement costs related to illegal immigrants. California swiftly followed suit with a case demanding nearly $2 billion for incarceration costs.

In early May, Arizona joined the queue with a suit for $121 million based on prison costs of illegal aliens. A week later, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to join the California suit and demand an additional $52.9 million in reimbursement for the cost to the county of incar-cerating illegal aliens. At the end of May, California filed a second suit for an additional $370 million, the estimated state cost of providing health care to illegals immigrants.

The Texas government has announced its intent to file a similar case to recapture the costs of state expenditures on illegal aliens. Most analysts view these suits as political statements, rather than a serious step toward legal redress. But it appears President Clinton is listening, because he announced he would request a $350 million appropriation to help defray state expenditures for incarcerating illegal immigrants.

Urban Institute Issues Report

"Setting the Record Straight" is the subtitle of a new Urban Institute (UI) report on Immigration and Immigrants. This publication is likely to be used by newcomers to the immigration debate, because it is replete with statistics, as well as opinion and contextual commentary.

The Center is developing an analysis of these studies. Some preliminary observations on the UI study are that it: (1) tends to use different population sizes at different times in its calculations; (2) ignores offsets to immigrants' tax and social security trust fund payments which come in the form of Earned Income Tax Credit receipts for low-wage earners and social security benefits; and (3) fails to take into account the costs of infrastructure and government services funded with general tax revenues.

Capitol Currents

The Clinton Administration in early May announced that it would revert to the pre-1992 Bush policy of granting interviews at sea to Haitian boat people intercepted by the Coast Guard. This "new" Haiti policy reverses a May 1992 Bush executive order to repatriate intercepted Haitians without giving them a hearing.

Under the new policy, intercepted Haitians will be taken to U.S. ships at a Jamaican port where they will be interviewed by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) asylum officers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has offered to assist in processing the Haitians, as well. Those determined to be ineligible for asylum will be returned to Haiti, while those who are "screened in" will be brought to the United States to pursue their claims. (See page 4 for more on the new Haiti policy.)

Attorney General Janet Reno, at a June 15 Senate hearing, called on Congress to allocate the funds required for the legislative and administrative reforms promised by the Clinton Administration, including additional resources for asylum processing, border control and the deportation of criminal aliens.

The INS is currently considering a proposal by the Harvard University Women's Refugee Project to include gender-based persecution as a ground for asylum. The Harvard proposal would expand all five internationally-recognized grounds for asylum — that is, persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group and political opinion — to include gender-related discrimination or persecution claims by women.

The proposed guidelines would cover genital mutilation, domestic violence, sexual assaults, forced prostitution and discrimination in the work place, in education, in religion and in dress. Violence and discrimination against women clearly merit international concern and action, but the proposal ignores the fact that maintaining reasonable limits on U.S. humanitarian immigration is critical to preserving public support for refugee and asylum programs.

The INS, facing a $30 million shortfall in its examinations fee account, on April 1 stopped running FBI fingerprint checks on applicants for citizenship and various categories of immigration. In 1993, the INS sent 890,000 fingerprint cards to the FBI. Nine thousand (or less than 1%) of those were found to have criminal records and so were ineligible for immigration benefits. While the INS considers this a very low "hit" rate, many Americans, who cite crime as one of the issues with which they are most concerned, disagree. Faced with severe criticism from Congress and the Justice Department, the INS was forced on April 19 to resume FBI fingerprint checks.

In a related development, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on June 1 publicly demanded that INS close a loophole in immigration procedures that allows criminal aliens to submit false fingerprints to avoid detection. Currently, the INS does not verify that fingerprints submitted with an application for immigrant status are actually the fingerprints of the applicant. Under the present system, an alien with a criminal history could submit someone else's fingerprints and receive immigration benefits. Senator Lieberman suggested two possible remedies: 1) INS could require aliens to provide fingerprints at an INS office (as used to be the case about a decade ago) or to obtain them at a law enforcement agency; or 2) Businesses could be licensed to provide fingerprint services, as long as they require proper identification from the alien applicants.

Faced with an increasing number of law suits by states seeking federal reimbursement for the costs of incarcerating criminal aliens, the Clinton Administration has asked Congress to appropriate $350 million to help offset these costs. The money would be targeted at the states with the largest immigrant populations — California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey and Arizona. The amount requested by the Administration, however, is unlikely to satisfy the affected states. California alone is demanding $377 million for incarcerating illegal aliens, plus $1.6 billion for prison construction.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Graham (D-FL) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced on June 9 the Prisoner Transfer Treaty Act. The act calls for the repatriation of illegal immigrants serving sentences in federal or state prisons for non-violent crimes so that they can complete their sentence in their country of origin, at that country's expense. It also authorizes economic sanctions against countries that fail to show "progress" on negotiating prisoner exchange agreements with the United States. According to its sponsors, the bill would reduce state (and federal) expenditures on criminal aliens and free up much-needed prison space for more violent criminals. Currently, according to the three Senators, there are about 58,000 illegal immigrants in U.S. prisons at an annual cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion.

Three major welfare reform proposals, all of which would limit immigrants' eligibility for services, have been introduced in Congress, and a proposal from the Clinton Administration was announced in early June. The Clinton plan would restrict immigrants' access to welfare programs for at least their first five years of residence in the United States. The Congressional proposals, from both Republicans and Democrats, would limit eligibility for welfare to citizens, with some exceptions. (See page 1 for a detailed analysis of these proposals.)