Obama, Biden Presidents’ Day Weekend Vacations Cost Taxpayers $295,437 According to Records Obtained by Judicial Watch
New documents reveal Michelle Obama and daughters spent more than $1,000,000 on 2011 six-day trip to Africa, including a private family safari.
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained U.S. Secret Service records from the Department of Homeland Security detailing expenditures of $295,437.04 by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden during separate luxury vacations over the 2013 Presidents’ Day Weekend. A separate group of documents show that taxpayers paid more the $1,000,000 for Michelle Obama’s controversial 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
President Obama spent the Presidents’ Day Weekend (February 15-18) on a golf trip in West Palm Beach, Florida. First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters spent the same holiday weekend on a ski trip in Aspen, Colorado. Vice President Biden and his family spent that weekend skiing in Aspen.
Judicial Watch obtained the vacation documents pursuant to a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Secret Service. According to the billing records:
- Transportation and lodging costs for the President’s trip totaled $98, 135.79. This includes $32,406.50 for the flights, $16,466.25 for rental cars, and $48,490 for hotel rooms.
- The vacation costs for First Lady Michelle Obama totaled $81,523.64, including $13,221.30 in flights, $3,925 in rental cars, and $64,377.34 in lodging.
- The expenses for Vice President Biden’s weekend in Aspen totaled $115,777.61, including $5,315 in flights, $92,596 in accommodations, and $17,866.61 in rental cars.
On October 4, 2011, Judicial Watch obtained documents pertaining to the full costs of the June 21-27, 2011 trip taken by Michelle Obama, her family, and her staff to South Africa and Botswana. According to the records obtained from the United States Air Force through a FOIA lawsuit, during the six-day trip, the First Lady and her entourage spent $668.702.01, including hotel and lodging costs of $430,614.18. The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve. The $668,702.01 was in addition to the $424,142 taxpayers were billed for the cost of the flight and crew alone, according to earlier documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
“The Obamas and Vice President Biden are oblivious to the costs to taxpayers for their vacation travel,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And the stonewalling over releasing these travel numbers suggests that the Obama administration is embarrassed by the personal travel of President Obama and Vice President Biden.”
Documents Reveal that ‘Dreamers’ Order Opened Door to Relatives of Illegal Immigrants, “Inundating” Border Towns with Petitions for Admission
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that documents obtained recently through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) abandoned required background checks late last year, adopting, instead, costly “lean and lite” procedures in effort to keep up with the flood of amnesty applications spurred by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) directive, which grants illegal aliens a two-year deferment from deportation.
Acting on a tip from a whistleblower at a federal law enforcement agency, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with DHS, for “all communications, memoranda, emails, policy guidance, directives, initiatives, and any other correspondence respecting the scope and extent of background checks to be performed (or not) on aliens applying to the Obama administration’s DACA program.” The FOIA was filed on October 26, 2012. The Immigration and National Security Act (INA) mandates a “coordinated, uniform, and efficient,” system of background checks. Instead, the FOIA documents reveal a costly, haphazard process, with only cursory review for the backgrounds of illegal aliens seeking “deferred status.” Document highlights include:
- In a series of agency memos beginning in September 14, 2012, field offices were told to expect the National Benefits Center (which collects all DACA applications) to conduct only “lean & lite” background checks on illegal alien applicants, and that, henceforth, “NBC will not perform full TECS checks or any evidence review on these cases before we ship to the field.” An October 14 memo reiterated that under the new “lean and lite” policy, “Hits will be sent to the field without resolution.” On October 25, the St. Paul Field Director conceded to staffers that the new “lean & lite” procedures were for an indefinite period of time, saying, “I just can’t tell you when things will revert back to the way they used to be.”
- An email chain from September 5 and through November 14 indicates managerial pressure not to turn any illegal alien applicant away for lack of ID, including the explicit directive in an October 3 memo, “Biometric processing should not be refused solely because an applicant does not present an acceptable ID.” In an October 1 memo further restricting independent action by agency personnel, they were instructed, “Every two weeks field offices will report the number of DACA requestors who appear for biometrics collection at an ASC during the previous two week period, but were turned away without fingerprints or photographs being taken. Field offices will also need to provide the reason why the DACA requestor was turned away by the ASC ISO.”
- The documents suggest added taxpayer costs for the new deportation deferral program. On June 28, 2012, all Regional Service Managers were informed that they were to “come up with the number of guards that would be required and a dollar amount” in order to meet the new DACA processing requirements. On July 31, 2012, the agency announced, “In support of the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, USCIS is procuring 40 additional biometrics workstations.”
- On November 9, 2012, just three days after Obama was reelected, in an “!!! IMPORTANT DACA MESSAGE!!! The agency was directed to: “Please put all DACA work on hold until further notice.” There are no later-dated documents in the production to indicate how or when USCIS resumed DACA background checks or application processing.
The documents also reveal that, contrary to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that DACA applied only to minors who came to this country illegally “through no fault of their own,” the directive actually created a new avenue of chain migration, whereby immediate relatives of DACA requesters could be approved for amnesty. As a result, according to a June 18, 2012, agency memo from District 15 Director, David Douglas, “some of the districts closer to the U.S./Mexico border have been inundated.”
“The Obama administration seems to be throwing public safety and national security out the door in implementing its illicit and unilateral amnesty program for illegal aliens. The costs and security lapses of this program show that this administration can’t be trusted to implement any of the new security measures in the amnesty bill in the Senate,” stated Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton. “These documents show a crisis in law enforcement and national security caused by President Obama’s unilateral decision to grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands illegal aliens.”
Recent documents obtained by Judicial Watch, Inc., pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, show that U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) went on a spending binge and created abandoned ordinary background check procedures in order to keep up with the flood of amnesty applications spurred by President Obama’s extralegislative DREAM Act. The documents also show that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, announced by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano as applying only to minors who came to this country illegally “through no fault of their own,” actually created a new avenue of chain migration, whereby immediate relatives of DACA requesters could be approved for amnesty, literally “inundating” border towns with petitions for admission.
Based on a tip from a whistleblower at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Judicial Watch filed a records request on October 26, 2012 for “all communications, memoranda, emails, policy guidance, directives, initiatives, and any other correspondence respecting the scope and extent of background checks to be performed (or not) on aliens applying to the Obama administration’s DACA program” from “November 1, 2011 through the present.” The Immigration & Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., directs USCIS to maintain “direct and continuous” contact with the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – among other law enforcement agencies – “for the purpose of obtaining and exchanging information” necessary to determine whether an alien is ineligible to enter or remain in the United States due to criminal conduct, among other disqualifying factors. INA also mandates the “coordinated, uniform, and efficient” implementation of such background checks among all classes of immigration applicants. The statute concurrently directs the Attorney General and FBI actively to assist in determining an applicant’s eligibility for admission or continued stay by proactively alerting the State Department and USCIS whether an alien applying for permission to enter or remain in the United States is indexed in the National Crime Information Center’s Interstate Identification Index (NCIC-III), Wanted Persons File, or any other files maintained by the National Crime Information Center, which allows users to interface with all 50 states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS).
Instead of the foregoing, what Judicial Watch found was an ad hoc background check protocol that changed from week to week in price and application. For instance:
- In a July 25, 2012 email to New York Field Office Director Timothy Houghton and Senior Immigration Officers Brenda Cinotti and Penny Metaxas, Northeast Region Associate Counsel James D. Paoli said: “Fee is 465, no waivers!” Yet, a manual published on August 30, 2012 by the Service Center Operations Directorate devoted five pages to explaining the process for salvaging applications submitted with worthless checks and another page on how to establish sufficient economic necessity so that the fee might be waived altogether. The waiver page concludes by saying:
“There is a general presumption that DACA requestors . . . are not generally anticipated to have independent means. Absent evidence of sufficient independent financial resources, the Form I-765WS is sufficient to establish economic need, without any further economic analysis.”
- In a June 18, 2012 email, Kansas City (KC) District Director David M. Douglas warned his Field Officers that, “Apparently, some of the districts closer to the U.S. / Mexico border have been inundated.” This was followed by a September 5, 2012 email in which St. Paul Field Office Director Sharon Cooley alerted all St. Paul Area Immigration Service Officers (SPM ISOs): “Due to the volume of DACA work at the Service Center, it has been determined that the field will be sent I-130’s to adjudicate. We should get immediate relatives only.” But the limitation was far from clear to Gary Garman, Associate Regional Director for Operations of the Central Region who asked all district and field office directors in an email the same day to let him know “if that is not the case.”
- As early as June 26, 2012, Coast Guard Trainee James Hawkins emailed USCIS Management & Program Analyst Sheila Rawls and Vermont Area Administrator Alan Nye for guidance “processing the projected 890K individuals that may take advantage of the guidance referenced in the Prosecutorial Discretion memo.” Two days later, Michael D. Harman emailed all Regional Service Managers that the agency was calculating the cost of extra security guards and janitorial services involved in extending the hours of certain immigration offices from 5:45 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. He noted, also, that: “I also understand these extended shifts at some of these locations have an increased risk to employee safety due to the late evening hours.” In the end, the agency bought 40 new biometric workstations and offered continuing overtime funds to all employees, according to a July 31, 2012 email from IT Manager Geneva “Jess” Gatlin and a July 27, 2012 email from KC District Director David Douglas, respectively.
- Lastly, Donald Monica, Associate Director for the Field Operations Directorate, in an email September 14, 2012 alerted colleagues that the National Benefits Center (which receives all DACA applications in the first instance and formerly conducted all background checks of aliens’ fingerprints) was undertaking a “hiring initiative.” In the meantime, field offices could expect the Benefits Center to conduct just “lean & light” background checks, with only random samples of these modified cases being sent to the field for verification, according to a September 17, 2012 email from Associate Regional Director for Operations Gary Garman. About the inadequacy of the applications submitted under the “lean & light” system, St. Paul Field Office Director Sharon Cooley emailed staffers on October 25, 2012, the following observation:
“As you are already aware they will not be as complete and interview ready as we are used to seeing. This is a temporary situation – I just can’t tell you when things will revert back to the way they used to be.”
Then, without warning or further explanation, the entire agency was directed to halt all background checks in an email chain starting on November 9, 2012, that was relayed from staffer to staffer through November 14, 2012. The Washington Times reports that it was on November 9, 2012, that Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH) expressed to Obama (re-elected as president three days earlier) a willingness to engage in a compromise respecting “immigration reform.”
There are no later-dated documents in the production to indicate how or when USCIS resumed background checks of DACA applicants, if at all. However, documents Judicial Watch obtained via FOIA from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month reveal that a former intern of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) had filed a fraudulent DACA application with the Vermont Service Center on September 3, 2012. USCIS did not issue a denial, however, until more than three months later, on December 4, 2012.
La Raza President Janet Murguia testified on April 22, 2013 before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States would like to learn English. However, she said the cost of filing for amnesty is prohibitive. That said, if illegals must spend all their time scrimping to apply, she concluded, it leaves them no time to assimilate.
As for scrimping to apply for status adjustment, documents uncovered from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) show that the Obama administration’s Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program contains a complex system for DHS to follow in the case of an application that is unpaid due to Non Sufficient Funds. DHS and ICE are famous for saying that all amnesty programs are self-funded by the applicants. But that is obviously not possible where no payment was collected and the deficit is exacerbated when the agency bends over backward to keep unpaid cases alive.
The problem is that legal taxpayers have already fronted the cost of processing an application that is abandoned. Moreover, time, energy, and resources spent attempting to prod applicants into compliance is never offset, even if an applicant ultimately pays because the cost of applications is based on payment in the first instance. So, American taxpayers not only front the cost for abandoned applications but in fact wind up subsidizing the applications of late payers.
This initial release of DACA policy documents came in response to an October 26, 2012 request for records filed with several law enforcement agencies pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552. Judicial Watch launched this investigation based on an anonymous tip that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been ordered not to conduct background checks on DACA applicants.
Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Department Homeland Security (DHS) for failure to respond to its requests for public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents relate to the nature of health services and birth control services prescribed and/or provided to female and transgender detainees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) based on revised detention standards published by ICE in 2011 (Judicial Watch v. United States Department of Homeland Security (No. 12-cv-0215 and No. 12-cv-0216)).
As stated in the ICE document Performance-Based National Detention Standards 2011, “upon request, appropriately trained medical personnel within their scope of practice shall provide detainees with non-directive (impartial) advice and consultation about family planning and birth control, and where medically appropriate, prescribe and dispense birth control.” The revised standards also specify conditions under which “ICE will assume the costs associated with a female detainee’s decision to terminate a pregnancy” in the case of rape or incest.
With regard to transgender detainees, the document notes that those “already receiving hormone therapy when taken into ICE custody shall have continued access to” and shall be provided with “transgender-related health care and medication based on medical need.”
On September 24, 2012, Judicial Watch sent a FOIA request to ICE, which is part of the DHS, seeking access to the following:
- Any and all records pertaining to family planning or birth control services provided to detainees in ICE’s custody.
- Any and all records pertaining to the termination of pregnancies by female persons in ICE’s custody, including records concerning transportation arranged for or provided to detainees for the purpose of receiving abortion services and any and all records regarding costs associated with such services.
On the same day, Judicial Watch sent a separate FOIA request to ICE seeking access to any and all records pertaining to hormone therapy and other health care services and medications provided to transgender detainees of ICE, as well the cost of any such services.
In both cases, the records being sought are for Fiscal Year 2011, or from October 1, 2010, through September 30, 2011. The requests specifically stated that no information was being sought about the identity of any detainee or health care provider.
ICE has acknowledged receipt of both requests. A response regarding Judicial Watch’s request for records related to birth control services was due on November 19, 2012. A response to Judicial Watch’s request for records related to health services for transgender detainees was due on November 6, 2012. To date ICE has failed to respond to either these FOIA requests, prompting Judicial Watch’s lawsuits.
“It will surprise most Americans to know that illegal alien detainees can receive birth control, sex change procedures, and abortions courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This is an embarrassing scandal for the Obama administration, which is why the administration has violated the law in refusing our requests for information.”
The Obama backdoor amnesty plan is in full force, with a record amount of illegal immigrants spared from deportation and a huge increase in the number of those allowed to remain the United States.
The shift is striking, according to the nonprofit university group that obtained government records outlining the drastic change. The New York-based nonpartisan research center, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), provides detailed information about the operation of hundreds of government agencies. Immigration is one of many areas it researches.
This week TRAC revealed that during the first three months of fiscal year 2012, cases disposed of in the nation’s immigration courts showed a serious drop in deportation orders and an increase in the number of individuals allowed to stay in the U.S. That means that individuals were ordered removed in only half of the cases, the lowest rate in the past two decades.
An additional 14.0 percent received a “voluntary departure” order to leave the country, up slightly from 13.2 percent during the previous quarter, the records show. Counting both removal and voluntary departure orders, slightly fewer than two out of every three cases (64.8 percent) in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012 ended in a deportation order, also a historic low.
The government records also show that, among individuals determined by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to have violated immigration laws, more than one in three (34.4 percent) were allowed to stay in the U.S. This also represented a historic high, which is illustrated in a chart that includes figures for the last several years.
Clearly, the Obama Administration’s stealth amnesty plan to suspend the deportations of most illegal aliens is in play here. The scandalous measure, which has led to a monstrous increase in the dismissal of deportations, was first reported by Texas’s largest newspaper in 2010. Shortly after the story broke, Judicial Watch requested records on the deportation suspensions from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
After DHS stonewalled the release of records for nearly a year, JW filed a lawsuit last spring. A few weeks ago the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling criticizing the Obama DHS for failing to abide by FOIA law. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly chastised the agency for its inadequate explanations for withholding certain documents, ruling in part that the agency failed to provide sufficient factual context for much of the information withheld.
While on the combined subject of lying and illegal immigration, last month TRAC exposed DHS records that show the agency repeatedly lied to Congress, the American people and the media by drastically increasing the number of individuals that have been apprehended, deported or detained. Check that story out here.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has distributed $19 million to nonprofit establishments in urban areas that are considered at high risk of a terrorist attack, including abortion clinics and an Islamic center.
The idea is to give the groups the necessary resources to improve security and make them less susceptible to an attack. The DHS calls it “target hardening activities” and the official program is known as Urban Areas Security Initiative, specifically the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
A total of 269 nonprofits across the U.S., all considered high-threat, high-density urban areas, will split the cash and the money will be used for security-related training and to install physical security equipment. The goal is to help them prevent, respond and recover from acts of terrorism.
But a look at the long list of recipients raises questions about how the money is allocated for this particular cause. While the majority of the grants went to Jewish centers and groups that could feasibly be targeted by radical Islamic terrorists, some are private medical facilities, catholic groups and a profitable Baptist hospital. In California and New York Planned Parenthood abortion clinics got the target hardening grants.
In Maryland, the Islamic Society of Baltimore got a target hardening grant as well as an interfaith center that includes a Roman Catholic church and a Methodist/Presbyterian church. All 30 of the grants distributed in Illinois went to Chicago-area nonprofits, including a politically-connected college foundation with more than $5 million in assets and several Catholic hospitals.
Funds are allocated based on risk analysis, effectiveness and integration with broader state and local preparedness efforts, according to the DHS. To be considered, nonprofits must demonstrate that they are at high risk of a terrorist attack and located within one of the specific eligible urban areas. How exactly does a group do this?
The government has a formula that includes the following: Identification and substantiation (e.g., police reports or insurance claims) of prior threats or attacks against the nonprofit or closely related group by a terrorist organization, network, or cell ; symbolic value of the site as a highly recognized national or historical institution that renders it as a possible target of terrorism; role of the applicant nonprofit organization in responding to or recovering from terrorist attacks; findings from previously conducted risk assessments including threat or vulnerability.
The Obama amnesty plan officially begins this week, according to a mainstream newspaper that obtained internal Homeland Security documents outlining “sweeping changes” in immigration enforcement that will halt the deportation of illegal aliens with no criminal records.
Much has been reported about the administration’s intention to implement a stealth amnesty plan if congress doesn’t act to spare the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal aliens, but this is the first confirmation that it’s come to fruition. Beginning this week the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will review all deportation cases and start a nationwide “training program” to assure that enforcement agents and prosecuting attorneys don’t remove illegal immigrants who haven’t been convicted of crimes.
About 300,000 immigration cases are currently pending before overwhelmed U.S. courts and the goal is to expedite them, according to DHS officials cited in the news report. To accomplish this, the agency will focus on removing only those who committed serious crimes or pose a national security risk. Immigration agents will be instructed to close deportations that “fall outside” these department “priorities,” which means a large class of illegal aliens will be granted de facto amnesty.
This backdoor amnesty plan has been in the works for some time and has actually been implemented unofficially for more than a year. In fact, in 2010 Texas’s largest newspaper published an exposé about a then-secret DHS initiative that systematically cancelled pending deportations. The remarkable program stunned the legal profession and baffled immigration attorneys who say the government bounced their clients’ deportation even when expulsion was virtually guaranteed.
Judicial Watch has been a front runner in investigating the Obama Administration’s stealth amnesty program by pursuing DHS records concerning “deferred action” or “parole” to suspend removal proceedings against a particular group of individuals. Earlier this year JW sued DHS to obtain information because the agency ignored a federal public records request that dates back to July 2010.