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Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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The Week Ahead: February 25 – March 1

February 25, 2013 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Rep. Eric Cantor

“I applaud the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO for coming together to find common ground in an effort to reform our broken immigration system. Their goal of protecting American workers and ensuring we have the workforce we need to grow the economy and remain globally competitive is one I share.”
—House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reacting to the Chamber and AFL-CIO’s join statement for immigration reform. Feb. 21, 2013


Senators to Meet with President Obama

Sen. McCain and other senators working on bipartisan immigration reform will meet with President Obama on Tuesday to discuss legislation. This is President Obama’s most direct involvement on the Senate negotiations as he has kept his distance to allow the bipartisan process to move forward.
Sen. McCain said he was “guardedly optimistic” that a deal could be reached by the end of March. Tuesday’s meeting with President Obama signals negotiations remain on track for a bipartisan bill.

Senate and House committees continue to move forward with hearings about immigration policy related to reform. This week, the House will host three hearings on immigration including two hearings in the House Judiciary subcommittee on E-Verify and the agricultural H-2A visa system and a third hearing in the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border security.

Virtual March for Immigration Reform
A coalition of business leaders coordinated by New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy is launching a “virtual march” on Washington in April to push for “innovation-focused immigration reform”. The goal of the “March for Innovation” is to harness the digital activism that last year derailed antipiracy legislation to push for better immigration policies for entrepreneurs and skilled workers in the technical fields. The March enjoys support from AOL co-founder Steve Case, venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Kevin Ryan, founder and CEO of Gilt Groupe among others.

For more information about the virtual march, please visit:

CALENDAR: Please visit our Events page.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READ: POLITICO: Scott Walker supports path to citizenship
By KEVIN CIRILLI | 2/22/13 4:24 PM EST
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that he supports a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants but said that people who are waiting in line should have “first preference.”
“You’ve got to find a way to say that people who are in line right now have first preference,” the Republican governor said at POLITICO’s third annual State Solutions Conference in Washington.
And while Republicans — including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — have recently been outspoken about the need for immigration reform, Walker said that the issue is the country needs to deal with and not just Republicans.
Walker said that in addition to not having enough visas for immigrants is that the system in general is broken.
“We just have a broken system. And to me, if somebody wants to come in and live the American dream and work hard … we should have a system that works and let’s people in,” Walker told POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin at the event.
He added: “The vast majority of people want to come here for the right reasons. They want to live the American dream.”
Walker dodged questions about whether he’s interested in running for president in 2016 but sized up both the Democratic and Republican field.
First up, former GOP Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“I think it would have a major impact just because he’s a great performer. And I mean that in the best of sense,” Walker said. “You look at his two terms of governor of obviously a tremendously large and significant state — and he turned things around in terms of the economy… He’s got a great record of success.”
Read more:

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Conservative evangelical Christians sign on for immigration overhaul pitch
Senior Political Writer
Published: 20 February 2013 11:12 PM
AUSTIN — After years of silence and even hostility to modifying immigration laws, conservative evangelical Christians have become unlikely allies in pressing for a path to citizenship for those here illegally because, they say, the Bible told them so.
A coalition of religious leaders in Texas and elsewhere, many with strong credentials as social conservatives, is engaging congregations in a coordinated call for Congress and the White House to deal with 11 million illegal immigrants.
“Circumstances culturally and politically have thrown evangelicals back on their biblical authority to ask, ‘What does the Bible really say about this?’” said George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “There may be lots of political positions that differ on how we accomplish it, but they want to be on the side of God in their minds.”
While moderate and liberal religious groups have long been a part of the immigration debate, the increasingly active involvement of conservative evangelicals marks what Mason called “a sea change” by an important group that could help move Washington toward political consensus.
“I can assure you our folks are strongly conservative — an overwhelming majority vote Republican and conservative in every way, socially and politically,” said David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston. “But this is an issue that transcends that category.”
“I’ve had people say to me and write me, ‘You’re going to get fired because you’re out of step with your people,’” said Fleming. “Look, I pastor these people. I know their hearts. And if you can show them from the Scriptures that we’re to be both just and compassionate and, practically speaking, must solve the problem, they’ll say of course we do.”
White evangelical Protestants have been among the least supportive religious groups on a comprehensive immigration approach. A Pew Research poll conducted six years ago found a majority of white evangelicals believe immigration to be a threat to American culture and a burden on the economy.
But a recent survey found considerable evangelical support for keeping families together and following the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger — two themes in a campaign by a national network of diverse religious leaders, the Evangelical Immigration Table.
Read more:

Immigration Policy Update: House, Senate Committees Consider Reform

February 22, 2013 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

In both the House and the Senate, Immigration Reform has taken a step in the path from principles to legislation. With their first hearings, the House and Senate had very different discussion. Nevertheless, both chambers have begun to grapple with the problem and give indications of the direction they may go in.

House Judiciary Committee Hearing
On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing, titled “America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration.” There were two panels. The first panel focused on the immigration of high-skilled immigrants, while the second panel focused generally on enforcement.

Among the themes emerging from the first panel was that we should be making it easier for high-skilled immigrants to come, while eliminating opportunities for legal immigration for other immigrants. Michael Teitelbaum, who had served on the Commission on Immigration Reform (the Jordan Commission) in the 1990s, said that the Commission had recommended prioritizing immediate family members and high-skilled immigrants. In the family immigration system, he said that the U.S. should give visas only to spouses and minor children of citizens, parents of citizens, and spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. Visas for brothers and sisters of citizens and for adult children of citizens (and Diversity Visas) should be reallocated. The admission of low-skilled workers, he asserted, was not in the national interest. Both Rep. Goodlatte (R-Virginia, Chair of the Committee) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) seemed to agree with the elimination of family immigration categories beyond the “immediate” family members.

Another theme that emerged from Republican members of the Committee is that there should be an opportunity for compromise between the “extremes” of mass deportation and a path to citizenship. “If you want a political solution,” said Rep. Labrador, “you will insist on citizenship. If you want a policy solution, there is willingness in the House to explore options.” Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and one of the witnesses, made the point that the Senate compromise embodied in the principles released last month was the best place to start.

The second panel was more focused on enforcement. One of the witnesses, Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, weighed in on another theme that was repeated in this hearing, but has also been very much a part of the immigration reform debate. The lesson from IRCA was not, as is commonly repeated in the media, that the laws were not enforced. In fact, there were three key problems that lead us to the current immigration situation: First, IRCA established a cutoff date that made undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. within five years of the law’s enactment ineligible for legalization. That left a nucleus around which a new population of undocumented immigrants would grow. Second, there was not a good implementation strategy to enforce employer sanctions, which relied on a menu of documents, many of which could be easily forged. Most importantly, however, IRCA did not deal with legal immigration, and in the years since that law passed, demand for immigrant visas has grown and our legal immigration system has not adjusted.

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
On February 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first meeting on comprehensive immigration reform. There were two panels, the first consisting only of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Much of her testimony focused on the progress the administration has made in border and interior immigration law enforcement.

Some of the opponents of immigration reform on the Committee tried to challenge the Secretary—not very successfully—on her claims of progress on the border. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), for example, said that he understood that, for every person arrested while attempting to cross the border, three are successful in crossing illegally. However, that was a statistic/guess that was thrown around in the 1980s, when the number of Border Patrol agents was less than 4,000. Today, there are more than 21,000. Sen. Cornyn also used parts of a Government Accountability Office report to back up his claim that the border was not under “operational control,” while neglecting to mention that the broader point made by the same report, as Secretary Napolitano noted, was that fewer people are crossing illegally and much progress has been made. Still, the issue of how progress is measured on control of the border will be one that Senators will continue to grapple with.

Another theme challenging the bipartisan movement towards broad reform came from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). He said that Senators should not assume that “comprehensive” is the way to go. He said that “we have an historic opportunity to make progress on areas where we have consensus,” and mentioned some enforcement measures and high-skilled immigration bills that he has sponsored. The problem is that some of the consensus on these issues is achieved in the context of broader reform, and may fall away if the Senate tries to leave big pieces of the immigration system unfixed.

Another topic raised repeatedly was the exit system—a system that will tell us when someone who has entered the country on a temporary visit has left the country. Several Senators noted that securing the border against persons crossing illegally does not stop the individuals who come legally and overstay their visas. Secretary Napolitano said that DHS has implemented an “enhanced biographic exit system,” and plans eventually to implement a biometric exit system at airports, which will be very expensive. Thus far, she said the money hasn’t been there for such a system.

Yet another theme, coming from Senators from dairy states (and this was flagged in the House hearing as well), was a complaint that dairy farmers cannot bring in people legally through the H-2A non-immigrant visa program, which is for seasonal agriculture. As Senator Franken (D-Minn.) put it, “If cows were milked seasonally, there would be a lot of uncomfortable cows.”

The second panel included Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist and undocumented American who gave powerful personal testimony on his life since being brought here by his grandfather in 1993. (His testimony is worth a read.) He concluded his statement by asking the Senators a few questions of his own: “What do you want to do with me? What do you want to do with us? How do you define American?”

In his testimony, Vargas highlighted a phenomenon that is not much discussed in the immigration debate today, but perhaps has been a key weakness of the enforcement-only approach. In the room with Mr. Vargas were some of the individuals who had supported him since he was a teenager—a high-school principle, a school superintendent, a benefactor who gave him a scholarship so he could attend college. “Across the country there are countless [others] who stand alongside their undocumented neighbors. They don’t need to see pieces of paper…to treat us as human beings. This is the truth about immigration in our America.”

Among others who testified on this panel was Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and co-founder of America Online. Mr. Case argued persuasively for more visas for immigrants with science and technology skills. He was not there, however, to argue for a narrow course of action:

    "I believe that the smart and responsible course is passing one comprehensive bill that deals once and for all with these issues. This is the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. Sensible immigration policies will ensure America remains a beacon of hope and opportunity.”

White House Legislation

As we reported last time, the President, in a speech in Las Vegas on January 29, released his principles for immigration reform and made clear that, should the Senate fail to introduce legislation soon, he would send his own bill to Congress.

On February 17, portions of legislation being drafted by the administration were leaked to USA Today. While the release of the draft caused a stir in Washington, there was nothing to be surprised about. The President said he would introduce legislation if the Senate failed to act, so it makes sense that legislation is being drafted now, in case it is needed. What was leaked was incomplete and in draft form. (For a quick summary, see this blog post from Immigration Impact.) As of now, the Senate is still expected to produce its own legislation in the coming weeks.

Support Builds for Immigration Reform

During the Senate hearing on immigration reform, Senator Sessions (R-Ala.) complained that the White House has been meeting with “interest groups,” but he was not aware there were any representatives of “the American people.”

Public Support for Reform
Well, there is good news for Senator Sessions, because two recent polls have shown strong support for immigration reform along the lines of the principles of the bipartisan group of Senators. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted late in January and early February found that approval for President Obama’s handling of immigration is at an all-time high. The same poll found that a majority, 55%, favor a path to citizenship for the undocumented. A Quinnipiac poll conducted during the same time frame produced similar results—56% of adults believed that undocumented immigrants “should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for US citizenship.” By contrast, only 10% believed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and never become citizens.

Bibles, Badges and Business for Reform
Meanwhile, a variety of new voices are being raised in support of immigration reform. Conservative evangelical Christians, law enforcement and businesses (Bibles, Badges and Business) have been meeting with Republican members of Congress to push for immigration reform. During the House immigration reform hearing, Chairman Goodlatte seemed surprised when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, introduced into the hearing record an op-ed from the Washington Times by Matthew Staver, Dean of Liberty University Law School, which is in Rep. Goodlatte’s district. Staver wrote in his op-ed that for him, “establishing a challenging but achievable path to citizenship is key.” Liberty University was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and is often on the itinerary of Republican presidential hopefuls.

Former Officials form Task Force
On February 11, the Bipartisan Policy Center launched a high-level task force on immigration, which will be co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and former governors Haley Barber (Mississippi) and Ed Rendell (Pennsylvania). According to this release announcing the task force, the task force “will develop and advocate for consensus recommendations to guide national immigration policy.” The task force will be directed by Rebecca Tallent, who was Sen. John McCain’s point person on immigration when the Senate considered the Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill. She had also been a staffer for former Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), another key ally in the immigration reform effort.

There will be more hearings in the coming weeks. Some say an immigration bill could be introduced in the Senate by the end of March. There are many details to be worked out between now and then.

Immigration Reform

The Week Ahead - February 11 - 15

February 11, 2013 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mayor Julián Castro

    “If we look at our history, Congress over time has chosen that option, that path to citizenship.”
    –San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. He defended the inclusion of a path to citizenship in immigration reform legislation Feb. 6, 2013

Bibles, Badges and Business

The National Immigration Forum is officially announcing the “Bibles, Badges, and Business” network for immigration reform on Monday. This national network of faith, law enforcement and business leaders aims to build momentum for immigration reform. The coalition will organize regular events in districts where members of Congress need support from these key constituencies as well as regular lobby meetings with lawmakers in Washington.

On Wednesday, the Bibles, Badges and Business (BBB) network will team up with the Texas Business Coalition for the “Texas Immigration Summit” in Austin. The event will feature Grover Norquist, Barrett Duke from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, and the Texas Border Coalition.

Immigration in Congress, SOTU address
The Senate is expected to vote and pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as early as Monday. The bill expands protections for immigrant women by broadening the qualifications for a U Visa, a visa for immigrant survivors of crimes who assist law enforcement. However, unlike a similar reauthorization bill in 2012, the 2013 version does not increase the number of U Visas available each year. In 2012, that increase stalled the bill in the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, the Senate will hold its first hearing on immigration reform featuring the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, AOL co-founder Steve Case, Jose Antonio Vargas, and Jessica Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies. Secretary Napolitano is also testifying on Thursday for a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the impact of sequestration of federal funds on homeland security.

President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday. While we don’t know what the President will say in his address, we expect that he will mention immigration reform and would likely cast its benefits in economic terms. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver the Republican response. Senator Rubio is part of the bipartisan group in the Senate working on immigration reform legislation. He will deliver his response in both English and Spanish.

Monday, February 11

• Noon. A new network, “Bibles, Badges and Businesses for Immigration Reform,” will launch with a press call. Participants include Bill Hammond, President and CEO, Texas Association of Business; Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Mark Shurtleff, Member of the Board of Directors of the National Immigration Forum and Republican Former Attorney General of Utah; Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, Sheriff, Hidalgo County, Texas; and Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum. Call 1-866-952-1907; Conference ID: REFORM.

• 2:15 to 3 p.m. Press call with Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and former governors Haley Barbour and Ed Rendell, co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new Immigration Commission. Rebecca Tallent of the BPC, former chief of staff and longtime aide to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), is leading the effort and also will be on the call. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for dial-in information. Contact: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), 202-637-1456.

• The Senate is likely to vote on S. 47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which includes provisions regarding immigrant survivors.

Tuesday, February 12

• 5 p.m. Pacific time. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) will hold a community viewing party of the State of the Union Address, followed by a “People’s Rebuttal” that will include analysis and testimonies by immigrant families. CHIRLA, 2533 West Third St., Ste. 101, Los Angeles.

• 9 p.m. President Obama is scheduled to give his State of the Union address. Following the speech, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is scheduled to deliver the Republican response in both English and in Spanish.

Wednesday, February 13

• 9:30 a.m. The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a full committee hearing, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Witnesses include Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas, Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, Revolution LLC Chairman and CEO Steve Case, ICE union president Chris Crane and National Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguía. 216 Hart Senate Office Building.

• 1 to 3 p.m. Central time. The Texas Immigration Solution and the National Immigration Forum host "The Texas Summit: Taking a new consensus on immigrants and America to Congress," to urge Texas's congressional delegation to support broad immigration reform. First Baptist Church of Austin, 9th and Trinity Streets, Austin, Texas. RSVP to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

• The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) holds its 16th annual National Legislative Conference Feb. 13 and 14, including an Immigration Policy Briefing from 2:45 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Salon G, JW Marriott, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. Information, registration and live stream available at, or contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), 202-833-6130 ext. 103.

Thursday, February 14

• 1:30 p.m. During a press call, the National Partnership for New Americans is scheduled to release a study on naturalization fees as a barrier to citizenship among low-income legal permanent residents. Details to follow.


• United We Dream’s “Own the Dream” campaign lists events and workshops related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Find this week’s events here. Local organizations are looking for volunteers for all events; the page includes contact information.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READ: POLITICO: Immigration's new ally: Christian right
FEB. 6, 2013

The usual suspects pushing immigration reform have a new ally in the fight this time — the religious right.

Christian conservatives, who stayed on the sidelines in 2006 or opposed reform outright, have sprung into action for the cause.

They’re talking to their congregations from the pulpit. They’re urging lawmakers in private meetings to support reform. And they’re even calling for change publicly.

The efforts have dramatically changed the dynamics of the debate, so much so that Republicans anxious to vote yes on a deal might have the political cover to do it.

“I think it is night and day, particularly among social conservatives,” Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed told POLITICO of the support for immigration reform.

Reed’s group released a letter Tuesday that outlines broad goals for reform, like keeping families together, reforming the visa system and securing the border.

High profile leaders are also weighing in. Mathew Staver, vice president of Liberty University, the college started by former TV minister Jerry Falwell, is on board. Focus on the Family, which for years has focused on issues like opposing abortion rights and gay marriage, is supporting immigration reform for the first time in its history — even using its radio broadcast that reaches millions to push its message.

“The issues had been so demagogued for the last five or six years, it was hopeless to get seriously into this,” said Tom Minnery or Focus on the Family. “It seems the time is better. The time has changed…That’s why we’ve become more active.”

Social conservatives are directly targeting GOP offices and trying to show that they can give cover to lawmakers in the South, West and Midwest, who are worried about facing retaliation at the ballot box in 2014.

“Many of the most hostile critics got beat, a fact not lost on the other House members,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, referring to Republicans who have lost their seats since 2006. “I think there’s a bigger coalition in the House for immigration reform than people think.”

Read more:

WASHINGTON POST (Sargent Blog): Second class citizenship: Not the answer to the GOP’s problems
by GREG SARGENT ON FEBRUARY 7, 2013 AT 3:37 PM FEB. 7, 2013

GOP Rep. Raul Labrador is being closely watched for clues to the House GOP’s leanings in the immigration debate, and today he came out against a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country — and voiced support for second class status instead.

“The people that came here illegally knowingly — I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship,” Labrador said, according to TPM. “If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty. I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship.” Labrador added that House Republicans are “not going to be able to vote for” citizenship. This echoes other House Republicans who have derided the pro-citizenship position as “extreme.” John Boehner and Eric Cantor have both declined to endorse it, too.

Obviously it’s hard for House Republicans to embrace citizenship, given the right’s passions about the issue, and hopefully GOP leaders are engaged in an elaborate dance to move Republicans to the point where they can ultimately embrace it. But here’s the question: Isn’t embracing second class legal status the worst possible option? Today’s Quinnipiac poll is the first I’ve seen that polls the range of immigration policy options with the right degree of nuance:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for US citizenship. B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. C) They should be required to leave the U.S.

Stay/citizenship: 56

Stay/not citizen: 10

Not stay: 30

Read more:

WASHINGTON TIMES (Mat Staver Op-Ed): A Christian approach to immigration reform

Americans are ready for just immigration reform that keeps our borders secure, respects the rule of law and creates a pathway to earned legal status for our hardworking neighbors who lack documentation. This earned legal status should include temporary worker visas and citizenship.

As an evangelical leader, I applaud leaders in Congress for recognizing that a better immigration process is urgent. Republicans in particular are showing leadership by prioritizing the debate.

As the House of Representatives holds a hearing Tuesday to take up the challenge of creating a better immigration process, evangelical Christians across the country are participating in their own challenge: to reflect on what the Bible has to say about how we treat our immigrant neighbors.

My own contemplation has led me to conclude that we must unite behind an immigration process that is fair, that respects every human being’s God-given dignity, that protects the unity of our families and that preserves our standing as the world’s standard-bearer for freedom.

As members of the Evangelical Immigration Table affirmed in June, just immigration reform will strengthen our economy and our communities. Policy that reflects our shared principles — accountability, fairness, dignity and hard work — will strengthen us.

The principles that a bipartisan group of Senate leaders announced last week represent a solid start. Now is the time for our legislators to move beyond partisan rancor and come to consensus that honors our heritage.

Immigrants always have contributed to our country. Both our history and our legacy call on us to enable American immigrants to come out of the shadows and participate fully as American taxpayers, voters, workers and leaders.

Establishing a challenging but achievable path to citizenship is key. There are only three options for addressing undocumented immigrants: deportation, amnesty and a middle, more reasonable alternative that provides an opportunity for earned legal status. Mass deportation would be impossible and morally wrong. Amnesty would flout the law. Let me be clear: I oppose amnesty. What I do support is providing an opportunity for earned legal status that allows people to come out of the shadows and participate in the American dream.

Read more:

Policy Update: Reform Moves to the Fast Track

February 04, 2013 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Senators Release Principles

Immigration reform has moved to the top of the Congressional agenda. On January 28, a bipartisan group of Senators held a press conference in a packed Senate TV-Radio Gallery to announce they had come to agreement on a set of principles that will form the basis of legislation to reform our immigration system.

The principles are based on four “legislative pillars.” The first is creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants “contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays.” In the effort to get enforcement-focused Senators on board with a proposal to move forward and deal realistically with the undocumented population, the proposal presents an interesting twist on the “enforcement first” concept. Undocumented immigrants would immediately be given a temporary status that would allow them to live here legally and work. The temporary status would continue until certain enforcement goals are reached. Once the enforcement benchmarks are met, a lengthy process of obtaining permanent status and eventually citizenship would begin. DREAMers (certain young people brought to the U.S. as children) and agricultural workers would gain legal status through a different, less lengthy, process.

Regarding enforcement, the principles document predictably talks about strengthening border security, providing the Border Patrol with “…the latest technology, infrastructure, and personnel….” At the same time, there will be more scrutiny of Border Patrol agent conduct, and opportunities for border communities to give their input. The document talks about completing the entry-exit tracking system at air and sea ports of entry. A commission consisting of Southwest border leaders will monitor progress of border security measures and “make a recommendation” regarding the accomplishment of enforcement goals. The key word is “recommendation.” The commission is not intended to be a forum for any individual to hold veto power over a national policy on immigration.

Regarding the legal immigration system, the principles include backlog reduction in family and employment visa categories. Advance degree students in science, technology, engineering and math graduating from U.S. universities would be offered permanent residence. More lower-skilled immigrants would be allowed in to the country, depending on the state of the economy, and the principles mention creation of a “workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry…” The document also includes mention of strong labor protections in the section on new workers.

The principles also contain a section on “strong employment verification,” which will include “…requiring workers to demonstrate both legal status and identity, through non-forgeable electronic means prior to obtaining employment….”

For now, these are just principles. There are hundreds of details to work out.

At the press conference were Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Three other senators were part of the group—Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). In the question and answer session with reporters after the press conference, one reporter asked what made the prospects for this deal different than a deal announced in 2007 by a similar bipartisan group of senators. Senator McCain answered simply, “Elections.” He went on to say,

    “The Republican Party is losing support of our Hispanic citizens, and we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced that his committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration, will hold a hearing on immigration reform on February 13, the day after the president’s State of the Union address.

The President’s Principles

The day after the Senate press conference, President Obama spoke in Nevada, outlining his principles for immigration reform. The president’s principles were a bit more detailed, but largely similar in structure to the Senate principles. Enforcement and border security would be strengthened, in part by investing more in ports-of-entry infrastructure, focusing on removing criminals, and beefing up the immigration courts. There would be a mandatory electronic employment verification system, coupled with fraud- and temper-resistant identification. There would be a multi-step process for legalizing the undocumented, beginning with a provisional status before permanent residence.

Regarding the legal immigration system, the president would eliminate backlogs in the family and employer immigration systems, and give immigrant visas to students graduating with advanced degrees from American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The president said he expects to see legislation emerge from the Senate. If the Senate fails to act, he said he would send his own bill to Congress.


In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged in a statement on the Senate floor that he will do everything in his power “to get a bill across the finish line.” On the House side, Speaker Boehner is reported to have said that it is “time to deal” with immigration, and that conversations are taking place in the House on an immigration deal.

Outside of Washington, there is broad support for reform along the lines of the Senate principles. In a newly released public opinion survey, 1,000 registered voters were asked whether they support an immigration plan that contains four elements very similar to what the Senate is discussing. Such a plan was supported by 77 percent of respondents, with only 14 percent disapproving.

While there is more bipartisan movement on immigration reform than there has been in years, it is still a long road from principles to legislation to law. Many Republican leaders, after last year’s election, see immigration reform as essential to the long-term viability of the party. On the House side, however, members running in gerrymandered districts are not concerned about the party’s national viability. And of course, there are the talk show hosts who don’t have to worry about running in any election. Some hardline voices have aimed their fire at Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was part of the Senate’s “gang of eight,” and whose own principles, published in an op-ed in the Las Vegas Review Journal, track those of his colleagues in the Senate.

Among Democrats, some are concerned that the principles have already given up too much—in particular, the length of time between legalization and eventual citizenship.

That issue of citizenship may be the most contentious. Some Republicans, even if they support immigration reform, may oppose citizenship in favor of a legal status that will never turn into citizenship. Democrats and many of the constituencies that have been pushing immigration reform, insist that citizenship must be part of the deal. Ultimately, however, if getting immigration “off the table” is a political goal, citizenship will have to be included. Otherwise (assuming a bill could pass without it), immigration will only be partly cleared from the table, and the same demographics and political dynamics that revolve around the issue of legalization will coalesce around the issue of citizenship.

The fun begins this week, with the House holding a hearing titled, “America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration.” That hearing will be in the full Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of the new chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Immigration Reform

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