Civic News & Info
Secretary Napolitano before the Judiciary Committee-Immigration, Fast and Furious, Grant Spending PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 25 October 2011 11:52

Prepared Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Oversight Hearing of the Department of Homeland Security

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oversight is a critical function and a constitutional responsibility of the legislative branch.  It’s often an overlooked function for members of Congress.  It’s not always glamorous.  It’s hard work, and it can be frustrating because of bureaucratic stonewalling.

In 2008, I was glad to hear the President-elect talk about the most transparent government ever.  Unfortunately, up to this point, this administration has been far from transparent.

I’m glad the Secretary is here today.  This hearing will give us an opportunity to ask questions that have gone unanswered.  I’m frustrated by the less than forthcoming answers we receive from the administration.

We need a little bit more straight talk from this administration.  This Senator, for one, feels as though our concerns are often dismissed.

For example, just this week, 19 Senators received a response to a letter we sent to the President about immigration policies.  The response didn’t come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  It didn’t even come from Secretary Napolitano.  It came from a bureaucrat in the Office of Legislative Affairs.  The response was non-responsive.  It’s as if our concerns are trivial and insignificant

The issue we wrote to the President about was the prosecutorial discretion directives being issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

In June of this year, Assistant Secretary Morton released a memo directing and encouraging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to exercise prosecutorial discretion.  Officers were asked to consider the alien’s length of presence in the U.S., the circumstances of the alien’s arrival in the U.S., particularly if the alien came as a young child, their criminal history, age, service in the military, and pursuit of education in the U.S.

On August 18, Secretary Napolitano announced an initiative to establish a working group to sort through an untold number of cases currently pending before the immigration and federal courts to determine if they can be “administratively closed.”

Combined, this memo and this initiative are alarming, especially to those of us who firmly believe in the rule of law.  These policies seem to contradict that very important philosophy.

We have many unanswered questions from this administration about their prosecutorial discretion initiatives.  For example, how many cases will the working group sort through?  What standards will be used for adjudicating cases?  Will those already ordered removed be considered for relief?  Will those with a criminal conviction be eligible for discretion?  How much in taxpayer money will be expended for this effort and when will the working group finish its work?  What will happen to individuals who have their cases “administratively closed”?

We want answers.  We want transparency and accountability.  We want to be a part of the process.  The American people are shareholders, and they deserve to be consulted when major immigration policy is being formulated.

Americans also want to be told the truth.

That brings me to my frustration about the administration’s deceptive marketing tactics in claiming that they have deported more undocumented people than ever before.  Secretary Napolitano continues to use statistics that are inflated and inconsistent with the official data produced by the Office of Immigration Statistics.  The Office of Immigration Statistics has been around for a while – since 1883 to be exact.  I’d like to know why the Secretary cherry-picks what numbers she wants to use and refuses to use the statistics provided by the Office of Immigration Statistics.

The department has a credibility problem here.  The Washington Post uncovered the story last December.  Their headline says it all:  “Unusual Methods help ICE break deportation record.”  The administration, including the Secretary, use figures prepared by ICE.   ICE uses a different methodology, counting deportations from previous years and operating a repatriation program longer to pad the numbers.  The Office of Immigration Statistics, on the other hand, only counts removals that actually took place during that year.  Let me provide another example.  Secretary Napolitano gave a speech at American University on October 5th, saying that in 2010, ICE removed over 195,000 convicted criminals.  However, the official statistic from the Office of Immigration Statistics is 168,500.  That’s a difference of 27,000.

The point is – we don’t know what to believe.  The department is using different methodologies from one year to the next.  Homeland Security personnel, according to the Washington Post, are encouraging immigration officials to do what they can to increase the overall removal number.  There’s funny business going on, and the department’s credibility is at stake.

But, don’t just take it from me.  Even the President acknowledged that the numbers are dubious.   During a recent online discussion aimed at Hispanic voters, President Obama said that, “the statistics are a little deceptive.”

So, I’d like to hear from the Secretary why they continue to use these “deceptive” statistics, and why the department chooses to use ICE figures, which are embellished and inconsistent, rather than the data from the Office of Immigration Statistics.

I’d also like assurances, which I have asked for repeatedly, that this administration isn’t using creative ways to keep as many undocumented people in this country.  I have been voicing concern about this since the amnesty memo was released last summer.  We’ve talked a lot about deferred action and parole, but there were many more ideas in the memo.  For example, one of the most egregious options laid out in the memo was a proposal to lessen the “Extreme Hardship” standard.  Under current law, aliens are inadmissible for 3 or 10 years if they have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days or one year, respectively.  The department has discretion to waive the grounds of inadmissibility if it would result in extreme hardship.  The amnesty memo states, “To increase the number of individuals applying for waivers, and improve their chances for receiving them, Citizenship and Immigration Services could issue guidance or a regulation specifying a lower evidentiary standard for “extreme hardship.”  Proponents argue this is needed for family unity, and that the 3- and 10-year bars are overly burdensome.

If the standard is lessened, untold numbers of undocumented individuals will be able to bypass the 3-year and 10-year bars that are clearly laid out in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  I expect to hear from the Secretary if such a plan is being discussed by anyone within the department.  If it is, I will warn her that such an action, in my opinion, would be another blatant attempt to circumvent Congress and the laws we put in place.

On a final matter related to immigration, I’m very concerned by the administration’s inconsistent position when it comes to suing states for enacting various immigration laws.  The administration has sued Arizona and Alabama, two states that have enacted laws requiring their law enforcement officers to cooperate with the federal government on immigration matters.  News reports claim that attorneys are considering challenges to other state laws, including Utah, Georgia, Indiana, and South Carolina.

But, what about cities and states that ignore federal law?  What about Cook County, Illinois, where the county adopted a new policy that orders sheriffs to ignore all federal requests to detain immigrants after they complete their sentence or post bail?  According to the Washington Post, “Less than a month after the board acted, more than 40 suspected illegal immigrants charged with or convicted of felonies have walked to freedom instead of into the arms of federal agents.”  This policy clearly puts the public at risk.

The administration should be working with states, not against them, to enforce our immigration laws.  This latest attempt to challenge a state’s efforts to enforce the rule of law, while turning a blind eye to cities and states that knowingly harbor illegal immigrants through sanctuary policies, is undermining the very same rule of law that our country was built on.  I would like to know the Secretary’s thoughts about the actions of Cook County.

Next, I am interested to hear about efforts to slim down the Department of Homeland Security’s massive bureaucracy in order to make it more efficient in executing its mission.  I know that another committee is working on that issue, but it is also of concern to this committee because redundancy in programs inevitably leads to poor coordination of effort and waste of resources.  Every dollar available to the department should be spent on securing our borders, protecting critical infrastructure, and identifying and catching terrorists.  Thus, I am especially interested in learning about the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy, which has almost 200 personnel and more than $50 million for its budget.  I should note that I am not singling out Homeland Security in this regard; just last week I sent a letter to the Super-Committee urging the elimination of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy as a way to save money, since its functions seem redundant of other offices.   My consistent goal is to identify organizational reforms that will streamline the bureaucracy, save money, and better accomplish the mission.

I am also interested in hearing about how the department is implementing recommendations to improve FEMA’s process for awarding preparedness grants.  In 2010, the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, found that FEMA “does not compare and coordinate grant applications across preparedness programs to mitigate potential duplications and redundancy.”  As a result, 11 of the 13 programs that GAO reviewed allowed grant recipients to purchase interoperable communications equipment, such as radios.  GAO found that a single state agency could apply simultaneously to four of those programs and receive funding from all four.  FEMA would not realize the redundancy because it has different review processes for each of the four programs.  Similarly, GAO found that the responsibility for program management of the thirteen grants is split among five organizations.  Thus, for one program, the Office of Infrastructure Protection selects critical infrastructure sites for funding to enhance protection, but cannot validate with FEMA whether an applicant has requested similar protection under other grant programs.  Again, this type of redundancy inevitably leads to waste of resources and undermines the mission of the Department of Homeland Security.  I am eager to hear how the department has addressed this problem.

Finally, I have asked Secretary Napolitano in the past about the involvement of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer being detailed in Phoenix to ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious.  I also asked Secretary Napolitano at a hearing back in June about whether she had had any communications about Fast and Furious with her former chief of staff, Dennis Burke, who was the U.S. Attorney in Arizona responsible for Fast and Furious.  I did not get any response back from her.  Mr. Burke is to be commended, to some extent, for being the only person to resign and take responsibility for the failed operation.  Of course, I do not believe he should feel obligated to be the only fall guy.  If there are other higher-ranking officials at the Justice Department who should also be held accountable, they should also step up to take responsibility.

Thanks to the Secretary for appearing before us today.  I look forward to hearing from her.

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Statement from Governor Pat Quinn Regarding Senate Bill 744 PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Katelyn Tye   
Monday, 24 October 2011 15:14

CHICAGO – October 17, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today released the following statement regarding Senate Bill 744.

 

“Over the past several months, my administration has conducted a thorough review of Senate Bill 744. After decades of fiscal mismanagement and ethical problems, a quick fix with significant and long-lasting consequences for our state is not the answer. My office has spent months examining the proposed bill’s potential economic, ethical, revenue and regulatory impacts. We studied the effects of gaming here and in other states. And I have met – at length – with both the bill’s supporters and opponents.

 

“Following this comprehensive review, I have determined this bill falls well short of the best interest of the people of Illinois. I will not sign SB 744 as it is currently proposed.

 

“To promote and protect the interests of the people of Illinois, I can only support a smaller, more moderate expansion that prevents corruption and provides adequate revenue for education.

 

“Illinois cannot expand gambling at all without ensuring proper oversight and full integrity. The Illinois Gaming Board must be equipped with ultimate oversight authority and the necessary tools to continue its exemplary record of keeping corruption out of our gaming industry.

 

“To prevent conflicts of interest, I also ask the legislature to take the additional step of banning campaign contributions to elected officials by gaming licensees and casino managers, as lawmakers in other states have done. If we allow any gambling expansion in Illinois, we should do so in good conscience, without the excessive influence of those that may benefit from such an expansion.

 

“Second, as I have said repeatedly, I believe the current bill is top-heavy with too many new gambling locations. I will only support a smaller, more balanced and modest expansion. As long as I’m Governor, Illinois will not become the Las Vegas of the Midwest.

 

“Lastly, I feel it is critical for any expansion to provide adequate revenue for state education and infrastructure. Any unfair tax breaks for lucrative casinos buried into this bill must be scaled back to ensure that the revenues generated go where they should – to statewide education and infrastructure.

 

“The attached framework represents a way forward on this issue, and I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly.”

 

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Braley’s Deficit Supercommittee Transparency Bill Passes Key House Panel PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Jeff Giertz   
Friday, 14 October 2011 11:56

House committee endorses bill introduced by Braley to open all supercommittee meetings to the public 

 

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) applauded the advancement of a bipartisan measure that would require all proceedings of the US Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction be made open to the public.  The bill, which Braley introduced, advanced as the deficit supercommittee has come under increasing fire in recent days for conducting its business behind closed doors.

“Congress only works if its members are accountable to taxpayers,” Braley said.  “The deficit supercommittee has power to dramatically alter Medicare, Social Security, and other federal programs.  Yet they’ve been conducting their discussions in secret, out of the view of even other members of Congress.

 

“Whole armies of corporate lobbyists have been deployed to Washington to influence the supercommittee’s decisions.  With as much power as they have, it’s critical that the supercommittee’s deliberations occur in broad daylight – not in some smoky Capitol backroom out of the public’s watchful eye.”

Braley’s bill, the “Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2011” (HR 3124), was endorsed in a bipartisan vote by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform late last night.

A copy of the bill may be downloaded at the following link: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.112hr3124

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Braley Works to Stop Closures of Iowa Post Offices PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Jeff Giertz   
Friday, 14 October 2011 11:41

House panel passes bill allowing Postal Service to advance plans to close 178 Iowa post offices 

 

Washington, DC – October 13, 2011 - Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement as the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform considers the Postal Reform Act, a bill that, in part, allows the Postal Service to move forward with plans to close up to 178 small town Iowa post offices.  Braley is a member of the panel.

Braley was able to successfully amend the bill to require the Postal Service to report on the number of jobs eliminated by their proposed post office closures, including the number of veterans jobs eliminated.  Braley’s amendment was passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.

“I grew up in a small town, and I know how important post offices are to these communities,” Braley said.  “It may not seem like much to a bureaucrat in Washington, but a post office is the centerpiece of a small town.  If not for the post office, what else would provide the spark for economic development?  What business would open in a town without one?

 

“No question, the Postal Service needs to change to survive.  But it doesn’t have to build its recovery on the backs of small town Americans.  That’s why I’m working to improve this bill and prevent post office closures in Iowa.  I’m disappointed that the bill we’re considering today doesn’t protect small town post offices.”

 

If passed by the panel, the Postal Reform Act of 2011 would move to the full House for consideration.  If passed by the House, it would advance to the Senate for consideration.

The Postal Reform Act:

  1. Allows the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery.
  2. Establishes a commission to close post offices and postal facilities.
  3. Reduces rural mail delivery.
  4. Allows the Postal Service to sell advertising space on property and vehicles.
  5. Allows the Postal Service to raise the price of bulk mail delivery.

 

Braley has sponsored an alternative postal reorganization plan that would prevent post office closures by allowing the Postal Service to reclaim billions of dollars in overpayments it has made in recent years to its employees’ retirement system.

 

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USDA Designates 27 Counties in Iowa as Primary Natural Disaster Areas, with Assistance Also to Surrounding States PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Tanya Brown   
Friday, 14 October 2011 10:21

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2011—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 27 counties in Iowa as natural disaster areas due to losses caused by the combined effects of severe storms, excessive rain, flooding, flash flooding, hail, high winds, lightning, tornadoes, landslides, mudslides, excessive heat and drought that began April 1, 2011, and continues.

 

Those counties are:

 

Clarke               Jones     Mahaska           Montgomery        Van Buren

Davis                 Keokuk   Marshall            Page                    Wapello

Decatur             Lee        Mills             Polk                    Washington

Fremont            Linn        Monona             Tama                   Wayne

Henry                Louisa    Monroe             Taylor                 Woodbury

Jefferson            Lucas    

 

“Iowa producers can continue to count on USDA to provide emergency assistance during difficult times,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “America’s farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation’s economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow and out-compete the rest of the world. President Obama and I are committed to using the resources at our disposal to reduce the impact these disasters have had on Iowa producers and help to get those affected back on their feet.”

 

Farmers and ranchers in the following counties in Iowa also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous:

 

Adams                Cedar                Dubuque   Jasper                Pottawattamie

Appanoose         Cherokee           Grundy      Johnson              Poweshiek

Benton                Clinton  Hardin                Madison             Ringgold

Black Hawk        Crawford           Harrison             Marion               Story

Boone                 Dallas                 Ida                     Muscatine          Union

Buchanan            Delaware   Iowa                  Plymouth Warren

Cass                   Des Moines        Jackson

 

Farmers and ranchers in the following counties in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous:

 

Illinois                               

Hancock                      Henderson                   Mercer                         Rock Island

Missouri

Atchison                       Mercer                         Schuyler

Clark                          Nodaway                        Scotland

Harrison                       Putnam                         Worth

Nebraska                      

Burt                           Dakota                         Sarpy

Cass                           Otoe                           Thurston

South Dakota                        

Union

 

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas Oct. 12, 2011, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

 

USDA also has made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; the Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

 

FSA news releases are available on FSA’s website at www.fsa.usda.gov via the “News and Events” link.

 

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