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Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Policy Update: With Reform Stuck, Advocates Gear Up for Washington March

March 04, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Since the last update, there has been no concrete action on immigration reform legislation.  The leadership in Congress has been pre-occupied with figuring out the meaning of the Republican victory in the special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy.  The economic crisis and high unemployment has increasingly become the focus of Congressional attention, and there is still the unfinished business of health care reform.

The Massachusetts Election – Reform Still Depends on Bipartisanship:  While Democrats have lost their (more theoretical than real) filibuster-proof majority, the impact of the switch of one D for one R doesn't much matter for immigration reform.  From the beginning of this Congress, it was clear that immigration reform would have to be bi-partisan.  Not all Democrats are going to support immigration reform.  Not all Republicans are opposed to immigration reform.  That was the case in the last two iterations of immigration reform and that is the case today.  (What may be different, however, is a more acute willingness to sacrifice the national interest in order to see the other party fail to get things done.)

So, we are left with the same job of finding the 278 votes (plus the President’s signature) for immigration reform. 

Reform Discussions Stalled in Senate: In the Senate, conversations continue between Senator Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) about the content of legislation, and efforts continue to draw other Republicans in to the conversation.  However, little progress has been made since last fall.

March for America: During the long lull in the action in Congress, most of the work of rustling up the requisite votes has been taking place outside of Washington.  The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign has undertaken unprecedented organizing all around the country to let lawmakers know that their constituents want immigration reform.  (You can get updates from the Campaign here.  

In an effort to get reform unstuck in Congress, the Campaign will be bringing some of that organizing energy to Washington on March 21.  On that day, thousands of Americans will come together to send a message to Congress that the time for immigration reform is now.  You can find out all about the March, whether transportation is being organized from your community, and sign up at

Shifting to Defense

Meanwhile additional legislation to stimulate economic recovery, plus the routine appropriations bills that Congress will soon consider, offer defenders of the broken immigration system opportunities to offer amendments that will have to be defeated. 

For example, there will undoubtedly be efforts to expand the E-Verify electronic employment verification system and make it mandatory.  E-Verify is a system in pilot project phase, and the bugs are still being worked out.  The latest evaluation report on E-Verify, produced by Westat (consulting firm), illustrates the problem with trying to enforce the rules of a system that has become untenable: its accuracy in flagging workers that were not authorized to work was a bit less than 50%.  In other words, in the absence of reform, workers and employers are finding ways around the system.

Other enforcement issues we are likely to see were set out in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and seven other restrictionist members of the Senate.  Their list includes (in addition to making E-Verify permanent and expanding its use) having ICE make more arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants; re-instating the Bush Administration's Social Security "No-Match" rule that would require employers to take specific actions against employees whose names and Social Security numbers don't match; stiffer fines on employers for hiring undocumented workers; and prohibiting employers from deducting wages paid to undocumented workers (in the context of a jobs bill).

It should be noted that one of the signers of the letter, Jim Bunning (R-KY), is the senator responsible for the recent impasse over a bill to extend unemployment benefits to millions of laid-off American workers.  This report  from America's Voice points out that Members of Congress who are restrictionist in their immigration views seem to be concerned about "protecting American workers" only when there is an opportunity to put an immigrant worker out of a job.

Policy Update: Budget and Appropriations

March 04, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The Administration submitted its budget for Fiscal Year 2011 in February, and Congress has begun to hold hearings on the Administration's request. 

Some budget highlights:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:  The administration is asking for appropriations as part of its "fee reform" initiative begun in the last budget.  It is asking for appropriations to pay for the processing of refugee and asylum applications ($207), for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) ($34 million), and for the Office of Citizenship ($18 million).  Currently, these functions are funded through the Examinations Fee Account, which is the account that comes from the collection of fees from immigration applications.  Refugees are not charged a fee, and processing costs for refugee and asylum applications are currently offset by a surcharge on other applications.  The SAVE program and the Office of Citizenship are not directly related to immigration applications.  The Administration says that appropriations for these functions will be reflected in an upcoming fee adjustment.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement:  ICE is proposed to get $5.8 billion, including $2.6 billion for detention and removal; $146.9 million for Secure Communities; and $5.4 million for the 287(g) program.

Customs and Border Protection: The Administration is asking for $11.2 billion for CBP, with more than 40% of that, $4.6 billion, going to the Border Patrol to maintain a force of 20,000 agents.  There are also funds requested to enhance screening and beef up infrastructure at ports of entry to facilitate legitimate travel and the flow of goods.

Department of Justice: The Executive Office for Immigration Review (the immigration courts) is proposed to get an $11 million increase, bringing that budget to $316 million.  The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (which last year got no funding) is proposed to get $330 million in FY2011.  $10 million will be spent on services related to victims of trafficking.

Hearings:  There have been hearings on the DHS budget request in the House and the Senate.  In the House Appropriations Committee (Homeland Security Subcommittee), the budget request was criticized by Republicans as not focusing enough on enforcement.  Hal Rogers, the lead Republican on the Committee, went so far as to say that he was "troubled" by what he sees as a "greater emphasis on political correctness" rather than on the next attack. He claimed he had "never seen a budget that so poorly prioritizes and places less emphasis on security."  (In his specific criticisms, however, Rogers seemed less concerned about the "next attack" and instead complained about a decline in the arrest of non-criminal immigrants and immigrants in the workplace.)

There is plenty in the budget for immigration enforcement, including such wasteful programs as Operation Streamline, which Secretary Napolitano said in the hearing she supports.  There was also much criticism for DHS plans to hire more administrative personnel—many of whom are being hired to produce some 300 reports that the Committee has mandated the Department produce.

Other hearings produced similar criticisms from Republican members about there not being enough focus on enforcement.

Resources:  Here are some resources relating to the budget:

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