At what point will the weight of the scandals and bad decisions sink the Obama ship?
Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano does not have the authority to refuse to enforce laws that require illegal immigrants to face deportation, according to the federal judge hearing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement union’s lawsuit against DHS.
“The court finds that DHS does not have discretion to refuse to initiate removal proceedings [when the law requires it],” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said today, per Business Week. O’Connor asked DHS and the ICE union to offer additional arguments before he makes a final ruling on the legality of President Obama’s “deferred action on childhood arrivals” (DACA) program, which invoked prosecutorial discretion as a means of allowing people to stay in the country if they would have qualified for amnesty under the DREAM Act, which never passed through Congress.
The judge’s comments come one day after Napolitano scolded the union, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, for challenging the policy she and Obama have implemented.
“There are tensions with union leadership, unfortunately,” Napolitano told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., yesterday. “Here’s what I expect as a former prosecutor and attorney general: that is that law enforcement agents will enforce the law in accordance with the guidance they are given [by] their superiors.”
Sessions faulted Napolitano for refusing to meet with the ICE officers’ union. “I have never heard of a situation in which a group of law officers sued their supervisor, and you, for blocking them from following the law,” he said. “They weren’t complaining about pay, benefits, working conditions – they were saying their very oath they took to enforce the law is being blocked by rules and regulations and policies established from on high, and that this is undermining their ability to do what they are sworn to do.”
Some illegal immigrants could get California drivers licenses under a bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law late Sunday.
AB2189 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, will let the Department of Motor Vehicles issue licenses to illegal immigrants eligible for work permits under a new Obama administration policy. The bill requires the department to accept as proof of legal residence whatever document the federal government provides to participants in its deferred action program.
Cedillo said his bill will make roads safer while letting young immigrants drive to school and to work. His reasoning drew support from several Republican lawmakers, while other Republicans argued the state should leave immigration issues to the federal government.
“It is a victory for those who were brought here through no choice of their own, played by the rules, and are only asking to be included in and contribute to American society,” Cedillo said in a statement.
He said California is the first state to grant drivers’ licenses to the group singled out under the Obama administration’s policy. Cedillo praised Brown for choosing “public safety over politics” by signing the bill.
“President Obama has recognized the unique status of these students, and making them eligible to apply for driver’s licenses is an obvious next step,” Brown spokesman Gil Duran said.
Meanwhile, Brown vetoed AB1081, which could have protected illegal immigrants from deportation if they committed minor infractions. The bill has been dubbed “anti-Arizona” legislation, a reference to that state’s immigrant identification law.
The so-called Trust Act would have let California opt out of some parts of a federal program that requires local law enforcement officers to check the fingerprints of people they arrest against a federal immigration database and hold those who are in the country illegally.
It would have barred local law enforcement officers from detaining suspects for possible deportation unless they are charged with serious or violent felonies.
Brown backed comprehensive federal immigration reform, and said in a veto message that federal agents “shouldn’t try to coerce local law enforcement officials into detaining people who’ve been picked up for minor offenses and pose no reasonable threat to their community.”
However, he said the list of serious or violent felonies in the bill is “fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes.” He said those include child abuse, drug trafficking, and weapons violations, among others. He promised to work with lawmakers to fix the bill’s wording.
California law enforcement officials have turned over about 80,000 illegal immigrants for deportation since 2009, though fewer than half had committed a serious or violent felony. The majority of those deported by the federal government under the Secure Communities program have come from California.
Supporters say the program targets otherwise law-abiding immigrants who commit minor traffic infractions, sell food without a permit or are arrested on misdemeanors charges but never convicted. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the program wastes local resources and causes mistrust between immigrants and law enforcement agencies.
Several Republican legislators objected that Ammiano’s bill would have removed a valuable tool for ridding California of lawbreakers.
Millions of illegal immigrants are getting a bigger tax refund than you.
Bob Segall, of WTHI reports finding a massive tax loophole that provides billions of dollars in tax credits to undocumented workers and, in many cases, people who have never stepped foot in the United States. And you are paying for it.
Inside his central Indiana office, a longtime tax consultant sits at his desk, shaking his head in disbelief.
“There is not a doubt in my mind there’s huge fraud taking place here,” he said, slowly flipping through the pages of a tax return.
The tax preparer does not want you to know his name for fear of reprisal, but he does want you to know about a nationwide problem with a huge price tag.
He came to 13 Investigates to blow the whistle.
“We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar fraud scheme here that’s taking place and no one is talking about it,” he said.
The scheme involves illegal immigrants – illegal immigrants who are filing tax returns.
How it works
The Internal Revenue Service says everyone who is employed in the United States – even those who are working here illegally – must report income and pay taxes. Of course, undocumented workers are not supposed to have a social security number. So for them to pay taxes, the IRS created what’s called an ITIN, an individual taxpayer identification number. A 9-digit ITIN number issued by the IRS provides both resident and nonresident aliens with a unique identification number that allows them to file tax returns.
While that may have seemed like a good idea, it’s now backfiring in a big way.
Each spring, at tax preparation offices all across the nation, many illegal immigrants are now eagerly filing tax returns to take advantage of a tax loophole, using their ITIN numbers to get huge refunds from the IRS.
The loophole is called the Additional Child Tax Credit. It’s a fully-refundable credit of up to $1000 per child, and it’s meant to help working families who have children living at home.
But many undocumented workers are claiming the tax credit for kids who live in Mexico – lots of kids in Mexico.
“We’ve seen sometimes 10 or 12 dependents, most times nieces and nephews, on these tax forms,” the whistleblower said. “The more you put on there, the more you get back.”
The whistleblower has thousands of examples, and he brought some of them to 13 Investigates. While identifying information such as names and addresses on the tax returns was redacted, it was still clear that the tax filers had received large tax refunds after claiming additional child tax credits for many dependents.
“Here’s a return right here: we’ve got a $10,3000 refund for nine nieces and nephews,” he said, pointing to the words “niece” and “nephew” listed on the tax forms nine separate times.
“We’re getting an $11,000 refund on this tax return. There’s seven nieces and nephews,” he said, pointing to another set of documents. “I can bring out stacks and stacks. It’s just so easy it’s ridiculous.”
20 kids = $30,000
Several undocumented workers who confirmed it is easy.
They all agreed to talk with WTHR investigative reporter Bob Segall and a translator as long as WTHR agreed not to reveal their identity.
One of the workers, who was interviewed at his home in southern Indiana, admitted his address was used this year to file tax returns by four other undocumented workers who don’t even live there. Those four workers claimed 20 children live inside the one residence and, as a result, the IRS sent the illegal immigrants tax refunds totaling $29,608.
13 Investigates saw only one little girl who lives at that address (a small mobile home). We wondered about the 20 kids claimed as tax deductions?
“They don’t live here,” said the undocumented worker. “The other kids are in their country of origin, which is Mexico.”
He later explained none of the 20 children have ever visited the United States – let alone lived here.
So why should undocumented workers receive tax credits for children living in a foreign country, which is a violation of IRS tax rules?
“If the opportunity is there and they can give it to me, why not take advantage of it?” the worker said.
Other undocumented workers in Indiana told 13 Investigates the same thing. Their families are collecting tax refunds for children who do not live in this country. Several of the workers says they were told it was legal for them to claim the tax credit for a child who does not live in the United States.
IRS was repeatedly warned.
“The magnitude of the problem has grown exponentially,” said Russell George, the United States Department of Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
And he says the IRS has known about the problem for years.
George has repeatedly warned the IRS that additional child tax credits are being abused by undocumented workers. In 2009, his office released an audit report that showed ITIN tax filers received about $1 billion in additional child tax credits. Last year, the inspector general released a new report showing the problem now costs American tax payers more than $4.2 billion.
“Keep in mind, we’re talking $4 billion per year,” he said. “It’s very troubling.”
What George finds even more troubling is the IRS has not taken action despite multiple warnings from the inspector general.
“Millions of people are seeking this tax credit who, we believe, are not entitled to it,” said the inspector general. “We have made recommendations to [IRS] as to how they could address this, and they have not taken sufficient action in our view to solve the problem.”
Other information obtained from the TIGTA audits include:
* Claims for additional child tax credits by ITIN filers have skyrocketed during the past decade, from $161 million in 2001 to $4.2 billion in tax year 2010.
* Undocumented workers filed 3.02 million tax returns in 2010. 72% of those returns (2.18 million) claimed the additional child tax credit.
* In 2010, the IRS owed undocumented workers more in claimed additional child tax credits than it collected from those workers in taxes.
Agency responds – sort of
What does the IRS have to say about all this?
The agency sent a statement, defending its policy of paying tax credits to illegal immigrants.
“The law has been clear for over a decade that eligibility for these credits does not depend on work authorization status or the type of taxpayer identification number used. Any suggestion that the IRS shouldn’t be paying out these credits under current law to ITIN holders is simply incorrect. The IRS administers the law impartially and applies it as it is written,” the statement said.
George disagrees with that position and believes the IRS should be doing more to prevent undocumented workers from getting billions in US tax dollars.
“The IRS is not doing something as simple as requesting sufficient documentation from people seeking this credit,” he said. “Once the money goes out the door, it’s nearly impossible for the IRS to get it back.”
Over the past month, WTHR has tried to ask the IRS more questions about its efforts to prevent abuse involving additional child tax credits.
Despite repeated phone calls, e-mails and a visit to IRS headquarters in Washington, the agency said none of its 100,000 employees had time to meet with 13 Investigates for an interview. An IRS spokeswoman said all staff were too busy because of the tax filing deadline in mid-April.
Apparently, the IRS doesn’t have time to respond to some tax preparers, either.
Last year, whistleblowers noticed dozens of undocumented workers had used phony documents and false income to claim tax credits. He reported all of it to the IRS.
“These were fraudulent, 100% fraudulent tax returns, but I got no response; absolutely none. We never heard a thing,” he said. “To me, it’s clear the IRS is letting this happen.”
The IRS says it can do nothing to change the current system unless it gets permission from Congress. In other words, according to the IRS, closing the loophole would require lawmakers to pass a new law specifically excluding illegal immigrants from claiming additional child tax credits.
The big questions now: Is Congress willing to do that?
Full statement to WTHR from the Internal Revenue Service:
The law has been clear for over a decade that eligibility for these credits does not depend on work authorization status or the type of taxpayer identification number used. Any suggestion that the IRS shouldn’t be paying out these credits under current law to ITIN holders is simply incorrect. The IRS administers the law impartially and applies it as it is written. If the law were changed, the IRS would change its programs accordingly. The IRS disagrees with TIGTA’s recommendation on requiring additional documentation to verify child credit claims. As TIGTA acknowledges in this report, the IRS does not currently have the legal authority to verify and disallow the Child Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit during return processing simply because of the lack of documentation. The IRS has procedures in place specifically for the evaluation of questionable credit claims early in the processing stream and prior to issuance of a refund. The IRS continues to work to refine and improve our processes.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s Dream Act into law Saturday, clearing the way for illegal immigrants to receive state financial aid to attend California universities and community colleges.
The law gives illegal immigrants in California more education benefits than in any other state.
According to a statement from the governor’s office, Brown said he signed the California Dream Act because it makes sense to allow high-achieving students access to college financial aid, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”
Under the law, illegals who are accepted into state universities can receive, beginning in in 2013, Cal-Grant assistance, which last year provided grants averaging $4,500 apiece to more than 370,000 low-income students, according to the Times.
It also allows students without citizenship papers to get institutional grants while attending the University of California and California State University systems, and to get fee waivers in the California community college system. To qualify under the law, students must have arrived in the country before the age of 16 and graduated from a California high school after having attended school in-state for at least three years. They also must show financial need and meet academic standards.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed several similar bills in the past.
AB 131 is a companion bill to AB 130, which Brown signed in July, that gave illegals access to privately-funded scholarships and grants.
Brown said that California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants as a result of AB 131, at a cost of $14.5 million.
“The overall Cal Grant program is funded at $1.4 billion, meaning that 1% of all Cal Grant funds will be potentially impacted by AB 131 when the law goes into effect,” Brown’s statement said.
That differs from other reports about the program’s cost. According to the Sacramento Bee, it is expected to cost the state between $23 million and $40 million annually.
The Homeland Security Department said Thursday it will halt deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis against illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria such as attending school, having family in the military or are primarily responsible for other family members’ care.
The move, announced in letters to Congress, won immediate praise from Hispanic activists and Democrats who had chided President Obama for months for the pace of deportations and had argued he had authority to exempt broad swaths of illegal immigrants from deportation.
“Today’s announcement shows that this president is willing to put muscle behind his words and to use his power to intervene when the lives of good people are being ruined by bad laws,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.
In the letters to Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department and the Justice Department will review all ongoing cases and see who meets the new criteria on a case-by-case basis.
“This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety,” she said. “Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons.”
The new rules apply to those who have been apprehended and are in deportation proceedings, but have not been officially ordered out of the country by a judge. Miss Napolitano said a working group will try to come up with “guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration” for “compelling cases” in those instances where someone has already been ordered deported.
It was unclear how many people might be affected by the new rules, though in fiscal year 2010 the government deported nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants who it said did not have criminal records.
The Obama administration has argued for months that it did not have authority to grant blanket absolution, and Miss Napolitano stressed that these cases will be treated individually, though the new guidance applies across the board.
In June, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles interior immigration law enforcement, issued new guidance expanding authority to decline to prosecute illegal immigrants. The goal, ICE leaders said, was to focus on their priority of catching illegal immigrants who have also committed other crimes or are part of gangs.
The chief beneficiaries of the new guidance are likely to be illegal immigrant students who would have been eligible for legal status under the Dream Act, which stalled in Congress last year.
“Today is a victory not just for immigrants but for the American people as a whole because it makes no sense to deport Dream Act students and others who can make great contributions to America and pose no threat,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “It is not in our national interest to send away young people who were raised in the U.S. and have been educated here and want only to contribute to this country’s success. “
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who earlier this year wrote asking Homeland Security to exempt illegal immigrant students from deportation, said the move will free up immigration courts to handle cases involving serious criminals.
Both men said, though, that they will continue to push for legislation that would grant a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants and expands new pathways for more immigrants to come legally in the future.
But groups pushing for a crackdown on illegal immigration said the administration’s move abused the Constitution by usurping a power Congress should have.
“Supporters of comprehensive and targeted amnesties for illegal aliens have consistently failed to win approval by Congress or gain support from the American public,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Having failed in the legislative process, the Obama administration has simply decided to usurp Congress’s constitutional authority and implement an amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens.”
Utah’s enforcement-only immigration law was on the books for less than 15 hours before a federal judge blocked it from being enforced Tuesday afternoon during a hearing that took less than an hour.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued the temporary restraining order after the lawyer for the state couldn’t argue that there wouldn’t be “irreparable harm” to people if the law remained in effect.
Attorneys for the state and the civil-rights groups that brought the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction will argue the case for a preliminary injunction before the judge July 14.
The law, HB497, was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, and took effect midnight Tuesday. It was modeled after Arizona’s enforcement-only law signed more than a year ago by Gov. Jan Brewer. Jerrold Jensen, Utah assistant attorney general, argued in court, however, that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center were arguing the wrong state’s law.
“What they want to do is argue the Arizona case all over again,” Jensen said.
But Darcy Goddard, an attorney for the ACLU of Utah, said Utah’s law only made “cosmetic” changes to what existed in Arizona. She said the Utah law violates the federal supremacy clause, the constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure and the right of people to travel freely.
When Waddoups asked Jensen if the ACLU had made sufficient arguments to show that by having the law in effect it would cause irreparable harm to people in Utah, Jensen didn’t put up much of a fight.
“I guess,” he said.
“I’ll take that,” Waddoups replied.
Jensen said he was confident the law would hold up when it goes to trial in July.
“I think it’s absolutely constitutional, and we will defend it vigorously,” he said.
He said the Utah law is different than Arizona’s in several instances, namely that Arizona’s version required local police to arrest and detain those who couldn’t prove legal status in the United States. Jensen said HB497 has no such provision to detain those suspected of being in the country illegally.
Arizona’s law also required local police to check the legal status of a group of people – even if only one was suspected of committing a crime. But Sandstrom’s bill was written to allow a check of legal status of a group only if a police officer suspects the individuals are victims of human trafficking.
Goddard said, however, that portion of the law, as written, could be broadly interpreted by any police officer to require checking status on any crime and that groups of people could be targeted by using racial profiling. Both of those parts of SB1070 were struck down by a federal judge in lawsuits filed against Arizona by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department is not a participant in the lawsuits against Utah. Jensen argued the federal government was the only party that had legal standing to file a lawsuit to try to stop HB497.
The ACLU also took issue with the law’s allowable forms of identification, saying the provision that only accepts driver licenses issued after January 2010 puts everyone at risk.
“Like Arizona’s SB1070, the Utah law violates the Constitution and is even worse in requiring all Utahns to carry their ‘papers’ at all times to prove they are lawfully present,” Goddard said. “Wherever civil liberties are threatened, be it in Utah, Arizona or elsewhere, we will continue to challenge unconstitutional laws like these.”
Gov. Gary Herbert, who is named in the lawsuit, issued a statement after the ruling.
“Utah’s attorney general and state Legislature worked hard to craft a bill that would withstand constitutional scrutiny,” he said. “Utah will have ample opportunity in court to demonstrate this bill is on solid footing.”
Sandstrom, who underwent surgery to put stents in his left coronary artery Tuesday and missed the hearing, said from the hospital that he found the ACLU’s argument – that HB497 was worse than Arizona’s law – “silly” after many changes were made.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised that the court would issue a temporary restraining order,” Sandstrom said. “But I believe it will hold up at the hearing in July.”
Daniel Argueta of the Brown Berets, a Latino-rights activist group, called the ruling “a victory, for now… Hopefully, with this result, people will calm down and realize that we still have a long way to go.”