Posts Tagged ‘immigration reform’

Remaining an Optimist on CIR – It’s Becoming Harder and Harder Even After House Democrats Introduce a Comprehensive Reform Measure

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

In an effort to jumpstart stalled comprehensive immigration reform deliberations, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives introduced their version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill on October 2. “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” is modeled after S.744, the Senate bill that passed that chamber in late June. The introduction of the H.R.15 was part of an orchestrated series of events, including marches and vigils that took place across the country to remind the public that immigration reform is among the many pieces of business that remain unfinished while Congress is in fiscal lockdown. While perhaps more symbolic than realistic – the bill is unlikely go anywhere given the Republican House members’ preference for piecemeal legislation and a refusal to vote for any measure that includes a pathway for citizenship for the undocumented – it is at least an important step toward keeping immigration reform in the conversation. Nevertheless, the stalemate on immigration continues, as does other important legislative matters.

To recap where we are on immigration reform: In late June, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, a sweeping and long overdue overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. For months since its passage, the House of Representatives dragged its collective feet to consider the bill.  Instead, four piecemeal bills were approved by House committees, but have yet to be sent to the full House of Representatives for a floor vote, and none addresses legalization. Then, in mid September, two House Republicans who had been trying to draft a comprehensive immigration package dropped out of bipartisan negotiations. Texas Republican Representatives John Carter and Sam Johnson said that they had “reached a tipping point” in the talks and could no longer continue working on a broad approach to rewrite the country’s immigration laws. Their leaving basically dismantled the so-called Gang of Seven bipartisan group in the House that has struggled to draft legislation.   H.R. 15 has no Republican sponsors.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,  has promised action on immigration reform legislation and has been working on four separate bills in addition to the four already approved by the committee.  Optimists note that a piecemeal approach could result in House approval of a series of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromise immigration reform bill.  Pessimists, on the other hand, point to the remarks of House Speaker John Boehner, who has expressed reluctance to bring the bill to a vote.  The refusal appears to be an acknowledgment of the so-called “Hastert Rule,” a principle used to limit voting to only those bills supported by a majority of the majority party. This is the same rule that has prevented a vote in the full House of Representatives on a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government open from going forward.

Finding congressional common ground on the various immigration reform bills seems formidable – it always is – but a bigger obstacle may be the full agenda still awaiting lawmakers, including the budget and debt ceiling. According to one insider, the chance of CIR becoming law in 2013 is zero percent; the chance of enactment in 2014 is greater than zero.

Optimist or Pessimist?

Senate Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform; House Committees Deliberate on Piecemeal Legislation

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

On June 27, the Senate took a momentous step forward with a vote of 68-32 in favor of final passage of S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” The bill represents the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration and border control laws in nearly 30 years, and moves the U.S. one step closer to its enactment.

The most publicized provisions of the legislation focus on legalization — and a path of citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living and residing in the United States — as well as increased border security and enforcement. There are, however, many fundamental and significant changes to the current system that will, if the bill is ultimately enacted, affect the future flow of immigrants as well as those currently in the United States in status. Some of the most significant changes were detailed in our update in June.

Now, all eyes are on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Over the last several weeks, much speculation about the prospects of success for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has focused on GOP leaders who face a series of difficult policy and political dilemmas. For starters, CIR is popular with Hispanics (whose support is critical to win the White House in 2016) but not with the GOP’s base. Its approach thus far has been to deliberate on a series of piecemeal immigration reform measures, eschewing the comprehensive approach adopted by the Senate and favored by the Administration.

Those House committees that have jurisdiction over immigration already have passed several bills. These include: (1) the Agricultural Guestworker Act; (2) the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act; (3) the Legal Workforce Act (mandatory E-Verify); (4) the Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas (SKILLS) Act; and (5) the Border Security Results Act. Hearings have also taken place on the DREAM Act. A key reform element missing in the House is provision for other undocumented immigrants.

The full House must still vote on these proposals, and whatever is finally enacted in the House must be reconciled with what was passed in the Senate. Reconciliation — even of key issues and provisions including legalization — can and is likely to take place during joint House-Senate conference committee negotiations. Clearly, advocates for CIR have stressed that all key elements of reform must be covered in the final iteration of the bill.

With Congress adjourning for the summer in early August and not returning until after Labor Day, it is clear that the debate and discussion over comprehensive immigration reform will continue well into the fall. At this point, it seems that the earliest we can expect final legislation for the President’s signature is November or December.

Senate Expected to Introduce Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill on April 16

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The gang of eight senators working on comprehensive immigration reform have announced that they are almost finished with their work on the Senate’s legislative package and expect to introduce a comprehensive overhaul bill on April 16. Legalizing the status of the 11 million undocumented foreign nationals currently in the United States will be a centerpiece of the proposal. Also to be included are measures to eliminate, over 10 years, a backlog of some 4.7 million immigrants who are waiting for their green cards; eliminating siblings of U.S. citizens as a category of foreigners who are eligible for green cards; and removing the annual limitations on the number of green cards for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents (LPRs). The proposal is also reported to create, at the end of 10 years, a program offering 138,000 merit-based visas each year to foreigners based on their work skills, but also on other considerations including family ties. Permanent residency will be offered to workers in three categories: high-skilled foreigners in technology and science, employees with a middle range of white-collar skills, and low-wage workers. Farm workers are not included, as they will come under a separate program. Until the bill is introduced, these provisions can and may be changed as the Senate working group finishes its drafting.

After the bill is introduced, supporters will undertake a very public “sales” campaign as the bill moves through the normal legislative process. Proponents of immigration reform must hold together an uncommon coalition of labor, business, conservatives, and liberals. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the immigration reform after the full Senate has debated the bill; it is not expected to introduce its own legislation.

More details are likely to emerge over the next few days.

 

Comprehensive Immigration Reform on the Fast Track: Concrete Bill Expected in March; VAWA and Other Legislation

Friday, March 1st, 2013

For the last two months, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has dominated the airwaves — from President Obama’s inauguration address and State of the Union, to hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives, to almost daily news articles in major national and ethnic newspapers — on the immediate need to overhaul our country’s immigration laws, for the benefit of our country and for the more than 11 million undocumented currently living here. So far, the Administration and leading senators have issued two independent proposals to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive and common-sense approach, and their quick action demonstrates a real commitment to getting reform done in 2013.
While the precise legislative provisions of a immigration reform bill are not yet certain, the key points outlined by President Obama and the bipartisan group of senators working on a bill are similar. Overall, the Senate plan outlined the following key points:
• Creating a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S. that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
• Reforming our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
• Creating an effective, and probable, mandatory employment-verification system that prevents identity theft, ends the hiring of future unauthorized workers, and includes stiff penalties for egregious offenses;
• Establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers;
• Reducing backlogs in the family and employment visa categories;
• Providing permanent resident status to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM fields) from a U.S. university;
• Establishing a new agricultural worker program.
Where are we now? Leaders in the Senate have given themselves a deadline of March 1 to produce legislative language that embodies the principles they released. The Administration, which has privately drafted an immigration bill so that it can “be ready” if the Senate fails to continue to move forward, has made it clear that the President will take a back seat to lawmakers, but also wants to see real progress by March. Once a bill is introduced by the Senate, it will go through normal Senate procedure, including hearings and a markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Debate will follow, then a vote on the Senate floor. To overcome a potential filibuster – currently viewed as probable – the bill will need to receive at least 60 votes. Once passed by the full Senate, the bill would move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Already, a couple of congressional hearings have been held and more are to come. On February 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on immigration reform, featuring DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other witnesses. On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee kicked off its first immigration-focused hearing in the 113th Congress.

 

Meanwhile, the White House website has devoted a special section to President Obama’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform proposal, with basic resources for the public and as a way to help advance the legislation.

 

It’s hard not to be extremely encouraged by the lightening-fast pace taken by Congress and the Administration to enact CIR. And, while the fight for a fair and balanced immigration system will continue over the next several months, the momentum for change is breathtaking.

 

We will keep you posted.

What President Obama’s 71% of the Latino Vote Means for Immigration: Immediate Prospects for Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Almost immediately after President Obama’s re-election on November 6, 2012, the issue of immigration and the Latino vote dominated the news, and the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform rekindled.

National Journal Editorial Director Ron Brownstein recently described the election results and the politics of immigration this way:

“President Obama’s reelection doesn’t guarantee a breakthrough in the long stalemate over immigration reform. But it did instantly invert the debate.  Since the collapse of a bipartisan immigration-reform effort in 2007, Democrats have divided over the issue while Republicans have remained in lockstep, particularly in opposition to any plan that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. Now it’s the reverse.”

He added:  “Democrats are talking confidently about forcing the issue in 2013, while Republicans are fracturing. For the first time since George W. Bush’s presidency, a genuine debate over immigration is emerging within the GOP, with advocates of comprehensive reform regaining their voices. . . .”

While some who dominate the GOP still say the party should oppose any proposal that includes legalizing undocumented immigrants and that reform efforts should start by taking only very small steps, now other voices in the GOP are arguing for comprehensive change.

It is against this election backdrop that in early December a national coalition of leaders from across the political spectrum and representing dozens of religious, law enforcement, and business leaders (including the likes of AOL founder Steve Case) gathered in Washington to tell the Administration and Congress that there is a new consensus on immigrants and America. Their message is: common sense immigration reform must be a priority for 2013, our broken immigration system must be fixed, and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million foreign nationals who contribute to our communities and our economy must be included in the debate. The gathering, “Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America,” was organized by the pro-immigration National Immigration Forum.

Members of Congress are heeding the call. A bipartisan group of eight leading members of the Senate, four Democrats and four Republicans, have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss common ground on immigration. The working group members are Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). (Flake is moving to the Senate from the House of Representatives.)

At least one religious coalition is urging the introduction of comprehensive immigration legislation within 92 days of the start of Obama’s second term, choosing that number because a biblical word for immigrants, or “strangers,” appears 92 times in the Old Testament and 92 symbolizes the importance of protecting the stranger.

According to insiders, however, a framework for immigration reform is expected in January. The framework is expected to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented foreign nationals and additional work enforcement provisions, as well as a whole host of other provisions, ranging from increasing nonimmigrant and immigrant visa numbers to eliminating the “three- and ten-year” bars. A bill is expected to be introduced in the Democrat-led Senate in the spring of 2013, followed by hearings. Legislation that is introduced in the Senate will need at least a handful of Republican votes to advance to the House, which could happen in the fall.

Some conservatives who favor comprehensive immigration reform argue that a Republican partnership with President Obama means politically that they can claim a share of the authorship just as the Republican Congress did when it joined with President Clinton to restructure welfare. Conversely, they say, letting the Democrats and President Obama complete reform without real Republican support helps the Democrats further label the GOP as the anti-immigrant party to its longer-term detriment.

While supporting a pathway to citizenship will not guarantee Hispanic votes for Republicans next election, many believe that if the Republicans block comprehensive reform, they risk alienating Hispanics further. And, by embracing reform they can take immigration off the table and engage Latinos – and Asians too – on other issues.  In any event, the 2012 presidential election results have forced the GOP to question their message to newer Americans, many of whom heard Mitt Romney’s call for “self-deportation” as extremely offensive and synonymous with a call for them to start packing their bags.

Immigration reform alone probably will not be sufficient to significantly improve the GOP’s standing with Hispanics. But, it is an important and necessary first step.  More importantly, it is good for America.

Stay tuned. . . .

Comprehensive Immigration Reform – Remember That?

Friday, July 20th, 2012

It’s almost shocking how little positive immigration reform makes the news these days. Yet the plight of those residing in the United States without papers continues, unabated.  A banner, front-page article in the June 11 Washington Post poignantly described yet another heartbreaking story of an undocumented National Honor Society student, Heydi Mejia, who just graduated from high school in suburban Richmond. Mejia did not expect to go to college because in a few days she was to be deported back to Guatemala. Fortunately for her, a last minute, one-year reprieve was issued, but each year there are 65,000 high school graduates just like her who don’t get their stories in the Washington Post. While last year at this time all conceded that the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform remained dim until after the presidential election, Congressional attempts at least to keep some issues alive were underway and President Obama still spoke about immigration as being the bedrock of economic competitiveness and the DREAM Act as an important measure to allow hard-working, high-achieving immigrants to stay in this country. Neither Congress nor the President have uttered much about immigration reform lately.

In fact, of late, the Administration’s only real attempt to address the reality of 10 million undocumented foreign nationals living in the United States was its much publicized policy of reviewing over 400,000 cases of people in the “system” and implementing guidelines for exercising “prosecutorial discretion.” Prosecutorial discretion is an administrative decision not to deport an individual which provides very temporary relief and no status. But, figures just released by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) reveal that implementation of prosecutorial discretion has been far less effective or widespread than the Administration and its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) led the public to expect. While over 288,000 cases have been reviewed, less than 1.5 percent of those cases were actually granted prosecutorial discretion. Of over 56,000 detained foreign nationals, only 40 where granted this temporary reprieve.

In the absence of discussion on immigration reform, misconceptions about the system can only abound. The most recent comes from Senator Grassley, this time addressed to the Government Accounting Office, asking for an investigation into the alleged and unspecified “reports” of abuses of Optional Practical Training (OPT), the program under which foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities may work in the U.S. in their fields for a period during or after completion of their degree programs. Much of the hostility that comes out of Senator Grassley’s office toward high-skilled immigration programs seems to be premised upon a perception that these programs are rife with fraud and abuse even though USCIS’s own statistics report that the incidence of fraud is relatively low. Previously, Senator Grassley targeted the H-1B program for fraud, and expressed public concern about the misuse of B-1 business visa in lieu of H-1Bs and specialized knowledge intracompany transferees. Senator Grassley’s inquiries seem to make more headlines than the various legislative proposals that have been introduced this year to improve our country’s attractiveness to the highly educated.

Too bad we can’t have some honest debate in Congress about these issues.  After all, it is Congress’ job to tackle immigration.

Prospects for Immigration Reform Remain Dim

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Despite several recent high-profile speeches by President Obama on immigration, congressional action to fix our nation’s broken immigration system appears unlikely for the foreseeable future. The President recently spoke about immigration in El Paso where he cited an effective and efficient immigration system as being the bedrock of economic competitiveness in the 21st Century. This speech came on the heels of a commencement speech to the graduates of Miami Dade College in Florida where Obama stressed the need to pass the DREAM Act and other measures that allow hard-working, high-achieving immigrants to stay in this country.

But Obama’s words are unlikely to translate into action because Congress is stalemated on the issue. Split down party lines – with conservatives pushing an enforcement-first approach and liberals urging broader, comprehensive reform – lawmakers are struggling to find any common ground at all. Several stand-alone pieces of legislation have been introduced that address issues on the periphery. While many are restrictive, enforcement-minded (greater visa security, the stripping away of important due process protections by increasing the government’s already broad authority to detain noncitizens), other “benefits” bills also were reintroduced, including the DREAM Act and the Military Families Act, legislation that would grant permanent resident status to the immigrant relatives of active-duty military personnel.  Despite these attempts to keep some issues alive, it is very unclear whether these bills will muster sufficient support to work their way through Congress. Many key supporters of immigration reform in Congress have expressed their reluctance to take up piecemeal immigration legislation, at least not at this point in the legislative session.

Immigration Legislative Update: Comprehensive Reform Introduced in Senate

Friday, October 15th, 2010

On September 29, 2010, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a long-awaited Senate companion to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 4321) almost 10 months ago.  The Senate bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (S. 3932), fulfills a pledge that Senator Leahy made to rekindle stalled attempts to debate immigration reform in Congress. Its introduction now – in the middle of one of the most heated and well-funded midterm elections in recent memory – clearly is designed to shore up much needed support among Latino voters. But neither the Senate nor House bill will move forward in any meaningful way until after the November elections, and more likely not until after the 111th Congress is sworn in January 2011, at which time the bills will have to be reintroduced. While the fate of any legislative action is closely aligned with the election results and composition of the new Congress, some key details of the Senate bill are provided below.

Senate S. 3932, like its companion in the House, contains many of the core principles considered vital to any comprehensive immigration reform effort. These include a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers and students; family unity and labor provisions; smarter and more effective enforcement; improved worker verification systems; and increased visa numbers and backlog reductions.

Perhaps the aspect of S. 3932 (and H.R. 4321) that will get the most attention is the creation of a pathway to citizenship for those 10-12 million undocumented residents currently in the United States. The initial registration process, as contained in the Senate bill, includes a series of requirements:  First, individuals would be required to register with the U.S. government, pay back taxes, pay a fine for being in the country illegally, learn English, and pass a criminal background check. The bill ensures that no one would skip ahead to the front of the line for a green card. Then, individuals would wait in line for an opportunity to become a permanent resident. Registration and applications for permanent residence would each cost several hundred dollars. The pathway to citizenship would take some 17 years: six years to get a green card and 11 years to gain citizenship.  But, before any of this can take place, S. 3932 requires that a series of spending and enforcement conditions – or “triggers” – must first be met.

These “triggers” specify the allocation of immigration resources to various immigration enforcement agencies and departments. CBP, for example, would be required to maintain 21,000 active Border Patrol agents and seven unmanned patrol planes to enforce border jumpers.  Other triggers include the expansion of the immigration judicial system through the hiring of hundreds of new immigration judges and assistant U.S. attorneys by the Department of Justice, and the development of immigration fraud task forces and criminal investigative units within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Each agency would be required to certify that these conditions have been met before the process of legalization for undocumented residents can begin.

Worksite enforcement also plays prominently in S.3932 (and H.R. 4321). For example, every employer in the U.S. would be required to participate in E-Verify within five years and would face tougher penalties for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. The bill would also revamp the types of documents that would be allowed to prove employment authorization, would create a new, tamper-proof Social Security card, and would establish a pilot program for individual workers to submit biometrics (such as retina scans) to authenticate their work authorization.

S. 3932 also incorporates the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2009, which would offer residency to certain young immigrants who complete college or military service; the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security (AgJobs) Act of 2010, which would authorize work permits and temporary residency for qualifying farm workers; and the Uniting Families Act, which would provide opportunities for significant others and children of qualifying applicants to take up residency in the United States.

Can Immigration Reform Happen in 2010? Here’s the Latest

Monday, May 10th, 2010

With health care reform finally enacted and pressure mounting to fulfill his campaign promise, will President Obama turn to comprehensive immigration reform next? Will Congress be able to muster enough Republican support to move a bill forward? These are the million dollar questions. Jobs, energy, and cap-and-trade each have the potential of thwarting the Administration’s agenda in the run-up to the 2010 mid-term elections, derailing immigration in the process. So, what are the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in 2010? The answer, like health care, lies in the degree of bi-partisan support that a bill can garner and the degree to which President Obama is willing to exert his political capital.

Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), longtime advocates for immigration reform, met with the President last month to chart a course forward for an immigration bill in the Senate. Such a bill is likely to include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and tough, new enforcement provisions, including a biometric national ID card for all workers, citizens and immigrants alike.

Also in late March, 200,000 people packed the National Mall in Washington DC demanding comprehensive immigration reform. Providing a loud and cohesive voice on behalf of the nation’s millions of immigrants and immigrant communities, the rally was the movement’s largest show of strength since 2006, when mass rallies in favor of legalization erupted in cities across the country. Significantly, President Obama sent a televised message in which he pledged his continued commitment to immigration reform and warned of the cost of inaction. Some, including Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who introduced a comprehensive immigration reform package in the House in December, were inspired by Obama’s speech, noting “a new focus on the part of the president.” Hispanic groups were more circumspect and reacted with skepticism and demanded more urgency.

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