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3/21: CLEAR Act update -- contact your senator today!
Released 23 March 2006  By National Immigration Forum

CLEAR Act update -- contact your senator today!
National Immigration Forum
March 21, 2006

An immigration bill drafted by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) has been under consideration in that Committee for the past couple of weeks. While the original bill did not contain most provisions of the CLEAR Act, it does criminalize 'unlawful presence' and expand the definition of criminal alien smuggling to reach innocent or humanitarian behavior. We are concerned that police who feel they can enforce federal criminal laws, but not civil immigration laws, would see any distinction wiped away should this bill become law. The effect on the community would be immediate, as undocumented immigrants would find themselves turned into criminals overnight. They would think twice about approaching law enforcement when they are victims or witnesses to real crimes, making all of us less safe.

Most state and local law enforcement officials do not want to get in the business of hunting for immigration violators for this very reason. However, amendments added to the Specter bill go far down the road of 'encouraging' police to enforce immigration laws. The bill was amended in Committee to include provisions from the CLEAR Act (Homeland Security Enhancement Act in the Senate) that require the entry of new categories of immigration law 'violators'-including people not actually wanted by federal immigration agents-in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database for local police arrest. Currently, some categories of civil immigration law violators are being entered into the NCIC without adequate explanation of who they are. Police are making arrests with no assurance that they are actually enforcing criminal laws (the purpose of the database). Amendments to the Specter bill, drafted by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) with help from Specter himself, expand the types and numbers of people who would be entered into the NCIC exponentially.

More information about related amendments that were added to the Committee bill follows, and I am attaching the legislative language for those of you who want to get in the weeds. As far as process goes, there is one more mark-up session left in the Senate Judiciary Committee when Congress returns to DC on March 27th. On that day the Committee may consider the outstanding local enforcement amendment, as well as an amendment from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to strip the language criminalizing unlawful status and 'assistance.' The Committee is also scheduled to take up the issues of legalization and the future worker program. There will most likely be a vote on final passage in the Judiciary Committee that day.

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has announced he will move forward with an immigration bill when Congress returns to DC next week. That means that if the Committee does not finish its work on the 27th, Frist could instead take up his own immigration bill (S. 2454), which includes all of the Specter bill's enforcement provisions, a bunch from the House-passed H.R. 4437, and no provisions for legalization or a new worker program for lower-skilled laborers. The Frist bill does include provisions to have state and local police enforce immigration laws, like those added to the Specter bill.

Whether the Senate takes up the Specter bill or the Frist bill, we will have a fight on the floor to strike the CLEAR Act provisions. Please organize your networks, develop your sign-on letters, draft your op-eds, and make your voices heard among your senators! We have a very short time frame of two weeks or less to make a difference. If you produce advocacy materials like letters and statements, please share them with me (Lynn at the National Immigration Forum, so that I can make sure they are included in any packets of information I send to Capitol Hill.

Even if you have already contacted your senators on these issues, it is important to contact them again and again. Moreover, staff will need education about the NCIC provisions in particular, as this is a complicated issue and they may not be completely up to speed. We have a very short window of time to act, so please make your voice heard, THANKS!!!

Below are a list of related amendments that have been considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the status of these amendments. The language is attached to this email. N.B. this is NOT an exhaustive list of amendments that have been considered. Various networks are tracking and responding to the legislative work related to their priorities. If you do not know where to plug in, let me know!


Sessions 6180 (with Specter second degree) - passed
The Sessions version gives state and local police the authority to enforce federal civil immigration laws. The Specter modification limits that to criminal laws but combines additional language from Sessions' amendment 6182 regarding local and federal custody of 'illegal aliens' that could be interpreted to go beyond the criminal context. Also, the underlying bill makes 'unlawful presence' a criminal offense, which means that millions more people could become criminals and subject to arrest by state and local police.

Sessions 6181 (with Specter second degree) - passed
The Sessions amendment puts the names of millions of foreign-born people into the National Crime Information Center for local police arrest, some of whom are not actually 'wanted' by the federal government (for example, asylum-seekers or battered immigrant women who are undocumented but have applied for status they are entitled to). The Specter modifications alter the universe of people entered into NCIC and add in a process for removing a name, but have the same problem with the Sessions' language regarding entry of civil violators and/or people who should not be in the database.

Sessions 6238 (with Coburn second degree) - deferred until 3/27 for lack of quorum
The Sessions amendment requires at least one law enforcement agency in each state to enter into an MOU to enforce immigration laws against alien smugglers. The Coburn modification makes it clear that the MOUs do not have to be limited to combating alien smuggling. It also attempts to state that the MOUs are 'purely voluntary,' but does not strike the language compelling DHS to execute agreements in each state. So while any given law enforcement agency can opt-out of an MOU if DHS tries to negotiate one with them, DHS is still required to execute at least one agreement in each state. There was confusion in Committee about this. Senator Leahy (D-VT) made good arguments that this was a mandate, and that argument had traction, but the prevailing sentiment in the room may have been that the Coburn language fixes the problem.

Cornyn 6214 -- passed
This amendment allows states and localities that enter into MOUs to receive reimbursement for costs related to training and equipment.


Specter bill section by section summary (thanks to AILA, USCCB, NYU Law School, NILC, and others for the summary)|8846|18648

More resources on Specter bill

More resources on local enforcement of immigration laws (NCLR has a new toolkit - if it's not posted on the web, contact (new advocacy report by Appleseed)

Frist bill summary (done by Frist's office)

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