Understanding Immigration

Preston Huennekens, FAIR's government relations manager and Jason Peña from our research department discuss illegal alien voting in New York, benefits for illegal aliens in California, and how the Texas synagogue terrorist entered the United States.

What is Understanding Immigration?

The Federation for American Immigration Reform's podcast bringing you the most important news and information about U.S. immigration.

Preston:
All right welcome back to another episode of understanding immigration presented by fair this is preston huennekens fair’s government relations manager and I’m joined today in the studio by jason peña from fair’s research department today we're going to be talking about a topic that's been in the news lately two topics that actually have been in the news lately the first we're going to talk about cities and states doling out all kinds of perks and benefits to illegal aliens and to aliens that are here legally including voting as many people saw in the new york city law that just took place we're also going to be talking about the unfortunate event that occurred in texas with the synagogue attack with an alien from the united kingdom so let's pivot first to what happened in new york so for some background the incoming new york city mayor eric adams said that he is planning to allow a law passed by the city council that allows aliens to vote in city elections by not vetoing this it pretty much goes into effect so jason I wanted to get your thoughts on this you know why did the city's 51-member council vote this through you know what's the background behind this bill what's the purpose of it

Jason:
for sure preston it's good to be here so just for some background on the on the bill itself when we look at a jurisdiction like new york city one can almost think this is a long time coming this is a city that has provided so many benefits to illegal aliens over the years but the bill's original co-sponsor council member rodriguez from the brooklyn area I believe he has been pushing for immigrants in general whether they're here lawfully or unlawfully to have extended benefits and this is just this comes on the heels of that he's been pushing for lawful immigrants to have a say in the city's elections at the municipal level so I believe since last year he was able to corral a super majority of the council members to come and support this bill interestingly enough we had a bipartisan opposition to it both republicans some republicans and many and some democrats came out against councilman rodriguez's proposed bill

Preston:
eI think even at the time I remember hearing that then mayor bill de blasio also opposed the bill and I think he came at it from a unique perspective you know he didn't say anything about you know oh this is a terrible idea just for the sake of it being a you know a really kind of hair brained proposal but he said that by allowing this to happen it would actually disincentivize people from pursuing citizenship this bill applies to pretty much anyone that's not a citizen of the u.s. so that it applies to people that are here legally on people that are pursuing green cards that are trying to become citizens it applies to people that are just here on work visas whether that's an h1b an h2b an ov you know there's all obviously there's all kinds that they could be in here and it also it could the way the bill is written apply to some illegal aliens they tried to make it so that won't be happening but we know that there's going to be so much fraud there are going to be illegals voting under the auspices of this bill and it was interesting that he that he came at it from that perspective and then even the incoming mayor eric adams initially shared some of those concerns but then after meeting with some of the supporters of the bill decided he was going to let it go into law

Jason:
no of course it's an interesting situation because you even have former mayor bloomberg you know he has come out against this bill I remember he recently released an op-ed saying expressing his opposition to the bill for this very same reasons is it first of all it violates new york state's constitution moreover he also made the same point of it dilutes the purpose almost defeats the purpose of becoming a u.s. citizen you know he feels that like you have individuals who you know that are here lawfully for you know 30 days who meet the requirements but let's say you have here someone here who's here on a non-immigrant visa they're as it as it implies they're not here to stay indefinitely so what sense does it make to have somebody who's only going to be here for a short period of time whose vote who can't put roots down here who won't have who won't deal with the actions of the consequences of their vote it doesn't make much sense when you have former mayors even the current mayor expressing opposition towards this bill

Preston:
right and I think the 30-day threshold is very interesting too because the united states issues tourist visas for 90 days in some cases and so you know there's an interesting thought experiment is you could be a citizen of another country with family in the u.s. you know in new york city you could come visit in the in new york city and stay for two three months and potentially vote in new york city elections and just list your family members address as your local registered address and it really is shocking that new york would pursue this and again I’m not quite sure what the benefit is because you know new york is already an overwhelmingly democratic city so there's really no it's not like you're diluting the votes of those nasty republicans over you know over on the other side of the bridge so you know I do see the sense where they say well a lot of these people live here full-time they should be able to vote on things that affect them particularly if they're if they're guest workers that are living here for a year two years and that is some of the language that we've seen in other similar legislation for instance in montgomery county maryland who passed a similar but different law allowing aliens to vote in school board elections because they say well even if you're an illegal your kids can still go to public schools you should have a saying who sits on the school board but yeah the new york law really does not make a whole lot of sense to me in that angle because you know it's hard like you said there's already a super majority of democrats on the city council and yes even though there's a huge immigrant population in new york city it's not as if their voice isn't heard through the people who are already being elected

Jason:
no you're you're absolutely right preston I mean it it's interesting how we've seen some strange bedfellows and this in the opposition towards this bill you know for instance we have a councilwoman inna vernikov who is originally from the ukraine I believe she's a representative out of the brooklyn borough and you know she's a naturalized citizen and she expressed her opposition to this saying that I went through the steps to come to this country lawfully I became I went through the emotions to become a naturalized citizen and to a certain extent you know it's a slap to the face to all the hard work that she did abiding by our laws only for someone to again who may not who's only going to be here for a temporary amount of time or what have you to have her vote diluted by somebody else like that and you know we saw this with a with former majority leader laurie cumbo a democrat from the brooklyn area one of her concerns was is that there is a she was concerned over her constituents as a voting influence and in the sense of she was concerned about foreign nationals from different parts of the world diluting her constituency's vote you know and one of the arguments and she's absolutely right it came down to the allocation of resources you know she's (exactly) she represents an area that you know that is underserved when it comes to allocating nypd officers to you know to certain neighborhoods or distributing education or healthcare services how are these services can be distributed are they going to be going to you know struggling americans underserved families who are going through tough times and need these services to help get back on their feet or are they going to go to individuals who don't have the right to vote for in the first place even though they are here lawfully present another thing that's interesting again several people have pointed this out is that this could honestly get lawful permanent legal immigrants in trouble because they may think oh well I’m allowed to vote here in the big apple in these municipal elections but it could also lead to them voting in state or federal elections which they are expressly prohibited to do right (that's a great point) you know you know and that's not fair you know you have somebody here who votes in I don't know in a school board election or you know a mayoral election happens to coincide with the 2024 presidential election if a new administration starts cracking down on foreign nationals voting in our elections that could have some dire consequences for that immigrant’s status here

Preston:
right and it's unfortunate because you know these people they thought they were following the rules because they were told oh I can vote you know and of course this is the education that would be required here a lot of these people are relying on what they're being told from immigrant service groups from politicians who are not exactly the most scrupulous people in the country and so yeah like you say there is a there's a huge certainty where there are going to be people who think they are following the rules because they've been told oh I can vote in new york city elections and they end up I have no idea how the city would even separate lawful votes for governor race state you know state delegates that kind of thing yeah how do you separate that if and like you said some of these people are going to vote thinking that they're allowed to and then when they apply to uscis for benefits or for to adjust their status to get a green card they're going to find out that they've broken state and federal law and they're not eligible for those benefits or for that adjustment of status and then so someone who again thinks they've been following the rules has been screwed by the very people who supposedly are helping them

Jason:
no of course and I want to harp back up on to your point about illegal aliens voting in like taking advantage of this new law to vote and you have to remember you know new york city has the green light laws they don't I mean illegal aliens can obtain driver's licenses and I forgot it may have been former mayor bloomberg who brought this up who said that or maybe it was the new york state that doesn't they don't have secure election laws so can you imagine the bureaucratic nightmare as you say like trying to keep track of like okay who's here legally this individual or do they live at this address I can't imagine this whole logistical nightmare

Preston:
Or are they giving different ballots to different classes of people so for instance if a u.s. citizen registered to vote in new york city are they given a separate ballot from then a you know a lawful permanent resident or you know a guestworker who just wants to vote in the city elections I have a hard time thinking that there that the bureaucracy is going to be able to handle that or check to make sure that's just that's just a nightmare and it's going to lead to exactly a lot of questions about you know whether votes were fair what you know who was voting for what and it again yeah it's just a bureaucratic nightmare I don't see how they can navigate that something I wanted to hit on finally that you brought up is the allocation of resources and vote you know this is something especially in a city like new york that is so important so about one million people voted in the last mayoral election this could enfranchise about 800,000 people and not every single one of them are going to vote right but that's still a huge huge number of people that could impact city-wide races and if you're talking about only a million people voted in this last election and you're enfranchising close to 800,000 that could have a massive impact on where resources go on you know what public schools get certain funding like you brought up where nypd you know allocates time and resources where the fire department allocates time and resources water sewage electricity these are all things that are a part of the fabric of local government that now you have people who are not u.s. citizens determining where those resources go

Jason:
exactly I mean you know one of the issues that mayor adams campaigned on was you know public safety in you know in new york and I can't imagine he didn't think about this and saying like look if we allow potentially 800,000 for nationals to vote in our elections how will that influence his plans to keep new yorkers safe you know for sure of course public safety extension to everyone for sure but it's just a matter of like how we go about that and other city resources it

Preston:
yeah and you know we'll close the book on this chapter of the podcast but I did want to just mention that this was challenged by the republican party of new york they claim as jason you brought up earlier that this violates state law it likely violates federal law governing elections so this will be a very interesting court case to follow and I’m sure we'll talk more about this as it as it navigates the court system in the future but a concern that I think we all have is if this succeeds will we start to see other large cities large counties start to pursue similar legislation and I think unfortunately we will I think that new york city has kind of been the vanguard on this effort and you might start to see other cities other localities pursue similar things and so speaking of other localities and state-level governments pursuing benefits for aliens and for people that are not citizens of the united states let's move on to california on the other side of the country and talk about what governor gavin newsom is up to these days over there so the state of california has a 47 and a half billion dollar budget surplus and governor newsom proposed using that money to significantly expand the medi-cal health insurance program to cover all low-income undocumented adults the state calls this and I’m quoting here a historic expansion that would make california the first state in the nation to provide universal health care access for all residents regardless of legal status medi-cal is california's medicaid health care program so both state and federal taxes support this program so jason this has got to have a huge impact on the people of california right

Jason:
absolutely I mean you know similar to new york this comes down to a matter another instance of allocation of resources you know you have you have the california has one of the largest populations in the country so naturally logic would hold that more people would be enrolling in the state-based medical version what's what I find interesting about this is that governor newsom had actually put the brakes on this because of the financial viability of this program yeah you know and that drew the ire of a lot of open borders groups saying that like you're not doing in fact they are still upset with them because they believe that this program does not go far enough I mean when we look at the programs that illegal aliens in the state of california are eligible for they're eligible for snap public housing in some instances I mean in state college tuition state college tuition yes in many instances you know if you go on certain government websites you could find oh here's a hotline phone number for you to call or a website to help you with your immigration status and many of these are free of charge you know and you know to top it all off the big magnet for all are sanctuary jurisdictions which have they've almost been the catalyst for all these social programs for illegal aliens into the for the state

Preston:
right and there's really no better place in the country to be an illegal alien than the state of california like you brought up there are so many benefits that are doled out to them on the taxpayer expense and I think what's interesting is the use of even though medi-cal is a california program it appears the way that it's written that there is federal money going into if it is their extension of medicaid I mean that does you know there's federal dollars that go to support that so you know this is something that everyone across the country in a way is supporting and paying for with their with their tax dollars and it's again similar to what new york city is doing with alien voting and that being a vanguard for other cities localities to try that I also wonder if california is doing a similar thing with this with allowing aliens to access certain programs that otherwise have really been excluded to only u.s. citizens and legal permanent residents people that are on the path to becoming citizens right and it's again it begs the question you know what is the point of ever pursuing citizenship if you get all the benefits of it and you never have to go through the bureaucratic hoops navigating uscis to become one

Jason:
no of course I mean when a lawful immigrant you know applies for citizenship and once they become a naturalized citizen there are more responsibilities and more rights that come with that naturally but if you have states like new york california that offer these benefits to you regardless of your legal status and you face little chance of facing the consequences of using those social programs then yeah why wouldn't you just stay not adjust your status or become a u.s. citizen to begin with I mean you have these state and local governments that are doing out these benefits for you on the basis of your of your immigrant status here in the united states

Preston:
yeah and it's again it's just another episode of states locality cities that are really going above and beyond to make it easier for illegal aliens to live in the country and it doesn't really help anyone because that just encourages more and more people to come it makes the problem at the border worse it encourages people to make the horrible journey to the united states to subject themselves to those horrors to get to the country and they still have you know if they still can run into immigration enforcement it's not it's not as if ice isn't arresting people in california they are it's harder to do because of some of the sanctuary laws but they're still doing it and so there's nothing really moral about encouraging people to stay in a country they have no business being in and I think we're going to see more and more of this as the immigration issue gets more and more polarized of you know blue states enacting these laws and encouraging more and more illegal immigration and making it easier for people to live in their states who are undocumented in here illegally

Jason:
no of course it's important that that these jurisdictions here's hoping turn off these magnets as soon as possible

Preston:
yeah all right so we're gonna now move to our final topic today which is the really unfortunate terrorist event that occurred in texas there was a british national who held four people hostage at a texas synagogue and I want to get into the immigration aspect of this because it's important and this is someone who is a british national he traveled to the united states on a tourist visa he arrived at john f kennedy international airport in new york either in late december or in early january and he traveled to texas he illegally bought a gun and he held up four people in this synagogue to call for the release of a convicted terrorist who's being held in texas thank god that no one was killed aside from this terrorist fortunately everybody in the synagogue was safe it sounds like thanks to the actions of the rabbi who had taken active shooter training and was able to get those members of his congregation out before anything happened but you know jason how was this how is this person led into the country you know he had according to his brother I’m not sure I've seen this confirmed by anyone in authority in the uk but his brother speaking to the associated press noted that he had that he had criminal convictions in the uk which should have barred him from entry to the u.s.

Jason:
of course it boggles the mind of how somebody with an extensive rap she and definitely has some red flags in terms of national security was able to enter the united states when looking at his rap sheet you know he's had convictions for robbery aggravated assault on a family member with a baseball bat threats against court staff in the uk he's even had this individual has made irregular several trips to pakistan and he is suspected to be a member of a of a terrorist group that is banned in many in many countries throughout the world so what's more so is that mi5 which serves as an intelligence agency for the uk they knew this they'd marked this individual to be a problem like he was a he was a national security concern because of his prior criminal history and his flight patterns to pakistan moreover what's more interesting about this is that once he departed the country mi5 did not pursue anything else I can't I don't want to misspeak here but I don't think they got a hold of any u.s. intelligence agencies or any officials on our side of the pond in terms of hey there's an individual who left the country we should definitely keep an eye out for this individual to prevent something from happening

Preston:
yeah and it's particularly interesting because of the you know the laws that we currently have with the united kingdom they're a member of the visa waiver program which is it's only open to not a handful of countries it's open to (about 40) yeah about 40 most if not all of them I believe are formal treaty allies of the united states they keep you know we keep records of overstays and so on of people from these countries and it's a privileged status to have it allows people to travel to the u.s. for temporary reasons without having to go through the hoops of applying for a visa in their home country and britain obviously is one of our oldest allies and hundreds of thousands if not millions of people have used the visa waiver program to travel from the uk into the united states and you know there were some questions arising of did this individual use the visa waiver program to come to the u.s. so far and I want to be very clear here there has not been any official remark from either the from either the united kingdom or from u.s. authorities whether or not that was the case so that's still kind of up in the air but when you look at it on paper he's a british national he seemingly came in for a temporary visit all of this would have fallen under the visa waiver program really the only question is how were his criminal convictions not flagged which would have led him to be ineligible

Jason:
no of course I mean again it boggles the mind as to how this lack of vetting or not enough scrupulous vetting led to this individual to enter the united states I mean while the visa waiver program again assuming this is how this individual entered the country to begin with there should have been more vetting to make sure to ensure that this individual could not have entered the united states I mean while most if not all the countries that are in this program have you know relatively low levels of their nationals have low relatively low levels of illegal immigration generally don't cause trouble for the united states so to speak it there's no excuse there's this should not have happened this individual should have been flagged and prevented from boarding a flight to the united states from and thank you and thankfully for law enforcement they prevented anything from happening but the point being is this incident should not have occurred to begin with had it I there needs to be a better way of screening these individuals from both sides with our allies and here on here at the home front

Preston:
right and again I want to be very careful with what we're about to talk about because this has not been confirmed and we're not we're not accusing people of doing things that they that might end up being not true but you know the state department did recently waive interview requirements for I think it was 49,000 visa applicants to both because of covid concerns and also because of staffing issues some of which has to do with the border crisis you know someone that was that had this kind of background it seems like they should have there should have been an interview process there should have been more screening and also you know we had there were immigration executive orders issued by president biden on his first day of office that revoked some of the orders that former president donald trump had put in including one that sought to enhance vetting of foreign nationals who were traveling to the united states obviously it's a little bit different because this was a british national right so he wouldn't have the kind of scrutiny that someone traveling from pakistan or from iran or any of these other countries would have faced but again it goes back to you know are we are we sharing enough intelligence with our counterparts in the uk and in the you know the european union and other allies are we monitoring people who are no who are known or suspected of having ties to countries like pakistan that you know have some really really shady operations and I think if nothing else I think this is maybe an opportunity for the biden administration to really examine the information that we're sharing with foreign intelligence agencies to look at ways we can enhance vetting even in cases where we do have programs like the visa waiver or other preferential visa treatment to certain countries I just think this is this shouldn't be something that we just ignore and push under the rug and move on there clearly he fell through the cracks

Jason:
correct you know and the interesting thing is preston is that one of the few things that the bidet administration has retained from the trump administration is well while president trump was still in office he had he had created a system or his administration rather created a system to streamline the vetting process here in the states so he essentially got people from the fbi what have you all these individuals in a building or in a room so to speak and basically it allowed for easier communication saying hey this individual from such and such nation what do we know about them are they on anybody's watch list so the biden administration has still retained that program of having a more cohesive intelligence information sharing network however it needs to go step further we know we know that the biden administration doesn't want bad actors to enter the country however removing executive orders such as enhanced screening to me that's just reckless we cannot be having that especially with how porous our border is we really need to be tightening every procedure up as soon as possible

Preston:
and I think it really kind of boils down to this is that president biden really should have taken the time to understand his predecessor's border security efforts on day one to just remove all of them without even taking a cursory glance and saying hey you know what some of these we might and to president biden's credit they've done this with some other you know they've kept title 42 in place right and they're defending it in court why wasn't there a similar effort to look at some of these other executive orders particularly with international travel and saying you know what this makes sense this is something that can only help the u.s. it's not hurting anyone why don't we just keep this in place and I think that's really I hope the lesson to be learned from this is that there are still they're not loopholes but there's still blind spots in our the way that we vet people coming into the u.s. even from allied countries and it leads to tragedies like this and again this could have been much worse you know fortunately it wasn't but I hope that the biden administration takes the opportunity to look at this as a learning moment and to maybe reimplement some of these efforts that were put in place by the trump administration to stop this from happening

Jason:
no absolutely preston I mean when it comes to national security the you know it's obviously a topic that should not be taken lightly we're talking about the lives of countless americans you know many obviously many legal immigrants who whose lives could be potentially in danger because we chose to cut corners when it came to our vetting screening and our own border security so let's hope that as you said that the biden administration can look at this as a flash point and say you know what this is a common sense procedure that we can do that tightens the security for everybody here in the united states

Preston:
and I think that is as good a point as any to end on I want to thank our listeners for tuning in and we hope that you continue listening to the understanding immigration podcast please share the pod with your friends family co-workers or anyone who you think would be interested in learning more about the impacts that immigration has on our country you can find our podcasts on all listening platforms and you can learn more about fair by visiting our website fairus.org we also encourage you to check out our facebook youtube and twitter accounts for up to the minute updates on what's happening in immigration policy so that will be it for us today and until next time this has been understanding immigration presented by fair