On Capitol Hill
Serrano Votes against Anti-Immigrant Provision
On Thursday, Congressman Serrano voted against an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that would put an end to the President's policy of allowing people who might be eligible for a DREAM Act type reform to remain in the country. After the provision passed with mostly Republican support, Serrano also voted against the underlying bill which was carrying the new provision
"While it is unlikely that this provision will survive a conference with the Senate, it is deplorable that House Republicans chose to go after this vulnerable group of immigrants," said Serrano after the vote. "This just goes to show why we need to continue to push for a comprehensive immigration solution to protect people from such arbitrary measures."
Serrano Criticizes Surveillance Program
After learning of the extensive government surveillance of telephone and internet data this week, Congressman Serrano expressed his deep discomfort with the programs.
"While our government clearly must take steps to prevent terrorism, I am worried that this program represents an overreach and an invasion of Americans' right to privacy," said Serrano. "There seems to be no constitutional basis for such broad surveillance activities. Additionally, I am particularly troubled that these programs were reportedly authorized by a secret legal opinion based on a section of the Patriot Act.
"Americans rightly believe that while the government must take steps to keep them safe, it should do it within the boundaries of the Constitution and clearly established law--not by using secret opinions to interpret controversial laws.
"If the security agencies want authority to conduct this sort of widespread surveillance, they should come to Congress, explain the need and its uses, and let us pass updated legislation if we believe it to be correct.
"Secret legal opinions and tortured legal logic were hallmarks of the last Administration--and actions that we had hoped were left behind as our nation moved forward. We cannot have widespread phone and data surveillance without a full and frank discussion of the proper balance between safety and Americans' civil liberties.
"If we give away our rights in the pursuit of an elusive sense of safety, we have let those who would intimidate us win, because they will have changed our society from one based on openness, freedom, and rule of law to one with fewer rights and protections. We cannot let that happen."
Serrano Discusses Scandal with IRS Commissioner
On Monday, in a hearing of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Serrano helped continue the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's inappropriate examinations of applications for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Testifying before the subcommittee were Danny Werfel, the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at the IRS. Serrano is the Ranking Democrat on the subcommittee with funding oversight of the IRS.
"Like many other Republicans and Democrats, I was appalled by the actions taken by the IRS in determining how to examine the tax-exempt status applications of a number of groups," said Serrano. "Although this is an area in which a large amount of abuse has occurred, determining who to scrutinize further based solely on their name or mission is terribly wrong, and failing to correct it is an enormous organizational failure. The agency has lost the confidence of the American people, and it is this Committee's job to help institute the reforms necessary to ensure these actions don't happen again."
The hearing focused on the controversy that recently erupted over an IRS division's techniques for deciding which applications for tax-exempt status to delay for further scrutiny. The Inspector General's report concluded that the criteria used for further scrutiny, the long delays, and the information asked for by career IRS employees was inappropriate, and that numerous reforms were necessary to avoid this in the future.
"We need to realize that at the level of funding this subcommittee has been given, the IRS will be simply unable to enact all of the reforms necessary to avoid this type of situation again in the future. There is an almost $3 billion cut from last year's levels, which will require enormous cuts to the IRS and elsewhere. We are simply asking for more trouble, and future problems, if we underfund the IRS in this way."
An increasing number of groups have applied for social welfare tax-exemptions in recent years. Despite a requirement to engage in "primarily" social welfare activities, many of these groups have engaged in significant political activity.
Serrano Applauds MLB Changes in Puerto Rico
Congressman Serrano applauded a new initiative that Major League Baseball unveiled this week which is designed to boost Puerto Rican player development and signings. For many years, Congressman Serrano has called for action in Puerto Rico to end the decline in major leaguers produced by the island.
"As a baseball fanatic and a proud Puerto Rican, I have watched with increasing dismay as the numbers of Puerto Rican professional ballplayers has declined over the years," said Congressman Serrano. "I have brought my concerns about the many causes of this issue to Major League Baseball on numerous occasions. For this reason, I was thrilled to hear in a recent meeting with representatives of Major League Baseball about the details of a new plan to invest directly in player recruitment and development in Puerto Rico.
"I am glad to see them make the public announcement of the initiative today. This is correct first step in reinvigorating the pipeline of talented Puerto Rican baseball players and ensuring that those with the skills make it into the major league system for development into top level prospects and beyond.
"Major League Baseball will be investing in the baseball academies, relaxing the rules on Puerto Rican prospects playing in the Venezuelan and Dominican Summer Leagues, sponsoring an island-wide top-shelf prospect league, and developing comprehensive after school instruction for elite athletes. These steps, I believe, will begin to create new pathways for top players to get the development, experience, and exposure that they need to be ready to compete with players from elsewhere in the U.S. in the draft. I continue to have doubts about Puerto Rico's inclusion in the draft, but I believe that until we have seen if this investment makes a difference, we cannot fairly judge if it is time to discuss that issue.
"Baseball is our national pastime but in Puerto Rico it is more -- it is a passion. We need to ensure that Puerto Ricans get to play this sport that we all love in the numbers that reflect their passion. There is no reason that the island that produced players like Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Pudge Rodriguez and so many other All-Stars should be seeing declining numbers of MLB-bound players. We cannot have the next Juan Gonzalez decide to play a different sport because the options are too limited in baseball.
"Puerto Ricans have long been committed to baseball. Many Puerto Ricans were excited by Puerto Rico's march to the final of the recent World Baseball Classic. Now is the perfect opportunity to build on that excitement, and to rebuild and renew baseball's commitment to Puerto Rico.
"I look forward to watching the results of this investment and hope that one result is the next Puerto Rican top draft pick, All Star or even Hall of Famer. The talent exists, it just needs to identified and ushered into the big leagues. I salute MLB for taking a pro-active stance on this issue and look forward to working with them to tweak the program to improve it as we move forward. Baseball is a passion and we cannot turn our backs on the most passionate culture of baseball under the U.S. flag."
For further comments by Serrano on the issue: http://youtu.be/FvVqgxw5dTg
Serrano Joins Immigration Rally
Last week, Congressman Serrano joined the New York Immigration Coalition for an immigration rally on the steps of New York's City Hall. At the event advocates and allies called on national legislators to continue to move towards comprehensive immigration reform. The rally was part of a nation-wide campaign called "Remember November" and focusing on the impact Latino voters had during the 2012 election. Rallies were held in 30 states in support of immigration reform.
"There needs to be a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, said Serrano. "Piecemeal approaches to this problem will simply not work. We need everyone to be able to come out of the shadows so they can continue to contribute to their communities. We need to provide people with the opportunity to legitimize their status and move on in a way that will benefit the entire nation."
Serrano speaking at the immigration rally
Last week, Congressman Serrano joined the New York City Parks Department for the official opening of Orchard Beach. Having sustained very little damage from Hurricane Sandy, Orchard Beach continues to offer beachgoers more than a mile of swimming access, picnic areas, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and handball courts this season. "Orchard Beach is a historic part of the Bronx that I visit regularly and that I support in every way I can," said Serrano. "We were fortunate that Orchard Beach was not as severely affected by Hurricane Sandy as some of its counterparts elsewhere and I am excited to be here to help launch what I am sure will be another very successful beach season."
Conservation Innovation Grants
Deadline: July 8, 2013
The United States Department of Agriculture is making funds available through the New York State Natural Resources Conservation Service to motivate the development and adoption of innovative energy conversation approaches and technologies. The funding is meant to spur research into innovative conservation projects and to fund programs that will encourage their implementation. Institutions of higher education, nonprofits, small businesses, and individuals are all encouraged to submit projects for consideration.