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The Week Ahead: February 24-28

February 26, 2014 - Posted by Communications Intern

“If I can do anything in Washington, I’d like to solve this problem.”

— Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (NC-02) at Feb. 19 Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform panel with North Carolina faith and business leaders


Republican House Leadership Faces Choice on Immigration
As House Republicans return to the Hill this week, they will quickly face a choice on which direction they want to take their party on immigration. While Congressman Steve King (IA-04) continues to be the voice of the small but vocal far-right minority, many other members of Congress are stepping forward with real intent to fix our broken immigration system.

In the past week alone, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (NC-02), Congressman Mick Mulvaney (SC-05), Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) have commented on the importance of addressing immigration reform. These remarks build on the continuing narrative from faith, business and law enforcement leaders from across the country that now is the time for commonsense reform.

For leaders and voters nationwide, the choice is clear on which path Republicans should take. The question that remains is if House leadership will follow their constituents’ lead.

CALENDAR: Please visit our Events page to find this week's immigration-related events.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READS: NEW YORK TIMES: G.O.P. Congressman in South Carolina Takes a Risk With a Foray Into Immigration
February 21, 2014
GAFFNEY, S.C. — After the sterling conservative voting record he has established during three years in Washington, Representative Mick Mulvaney, a Republican, can take a few political risks in his South Carolina district, one of the most conservative in this reliably Republican state. This week he did just that.
Mr. Mulvaney convened a town-hall meeting in this country town on the troublesome issue of immigration, with an audience of Latinos. He held forth for an hour, parsing policy and answering questions about the prospects for immigration legislation in the House — entirely in Spanish.
Even more surprising to the spellbound crowd at the First Baptist Church, Mr. Mulvaney said he and other conservative House Republicans were open to some kind of legal status, although not a path to citizenship, for many immigrants living in the country illegally.
But he also said it would not happen this year: Republicans just do not trust President Obama to carry out any law they might enact.
“We are afraid that if we reach an agreement,” the congressman said, making the most of the Spanish skills he acquired years ago in college, “he will take the parts he likes and he won’t take the parts that he doesn’t like.”
The politics of immigration are gradually shifting in South Carolina and some other Southern states, where not long ago most conservatives passionately rejected legalization as amnesty that rewarded lawbreakers. Like Mr. Mulvaney, a number of Republicans are moving toward the view that the immigration system needs fixing, and that 11.7 million illegal immigrants will not be deported and need a path to legal status.
Read more:

NEWS & OBSERVER (Editorial) (North Carolina): Ellmers shows courage on immigration reform
February 20, 2014
Republican Renee Ellmers, who won a seat in Congress by beating long-time Democratic incumbent Rep. Bob Etheridge in the 2nd District in 2010, is a conservative by anyone’s definition.
Unless that anyone is Frank Roche, her GOP primary opponent. The radio talk show host is blasting away on the immigration issue, taking the easy way out. He wants no immigration reform and no “amnesty” for any of the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States. He can be expected to attack Ellmers on the issue even more now.
Why? Because Ellmers has had the gumption to veer away from the ridiculous tea party hard-line and say, as she did recently in Cary, that she believes in immigration reform.
“If I can do anything in Washington,” she said, “I’d like to solve this problem.”
Better duck, Rep. Ellmers. That sounds positively reasonable and therefore foreign, no pun intended, to the tea partyers who have their blinders firmly in place and want to believe that immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. can somehow be deported or deport themselves.
Ellmers’ rather broad ideas about immigration reform include an emphasis on border security. That’s a catch-term used by Republicans who want to try to appease, somehow, the more conservative elements in their party by talking about border fences and guards as a first step in reform.
Read more:

GREENVILLE NEWS (Eason, Goodroe and Castillo Op-Ed) (South Carolina): God often reminds us to welcome immigrants
By Ricky Eason, Jim Goodroe and Greg Castillo
February 22, 2014
Late last month, House Republicans released standards that will guide their efforts as they move forward on immigration reform. As evangelical leaders, we join voices from the business and law enforcement communities to strongly support this step.
We applaud any progress toward a solution for one of our nation’s most complex and critical issues. With President Barack Obama’s comments in the State of the Union address, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ mention in her Republican response, and now the release of these standards, bipartisan support for immigration reform is clear.
In a time of bitter division and partisan politics, we call on our nation’s leaders to transcend their differences and pass commonsense, broad reform that will strengthen our economy, make our nation safer, and give our undocumented neighbors an opportunity to come out of the shadows and earn legal status.
As faith leaders who call ourselves “The Three Amigos,” we represent the three largest ethnic groups in South Carolina. Although we come from communities with different cultural and political perspectives, we stand united in our Christian commitment to share the Gospel with all peoples (Matthew: 28:19), welcome and love the strangers in our midst (Leviticus 19:34, Matthew 25:31-46), and seek justice in our communities (Isaiah 1:17).
Read more:
The Rev. Ricky Eason is pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship Church in Spartanburg. The Rev. Jim Goodroe is director of Missions for the Spartanburg County Baptist Network, a Southern Baptist association of 95 churches who worship in six languages. The Rev. Greg Castillo is pastor of El Buen Pastor and associate pastor of United Baptist Church Spartanburg.

Policy Update - Ups and Downs: Republican Leaders Backing Off from Immigration Reform

February 24, 2014 - Posted by Josh Breisblatt

If the immigration reform debate was an amusement ride, it would be a roller coaster. At the end of last month, House Republican leaders released a set of “standards” that, they said, would guide their work on immigration reform in this Congress. A few days later, on February 6, House Speaker John Boehner went before the press to say that,

    “…there’s widespread doubt about whether [the Obama administration] can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Mr. Boehner appeared to be dampening hopes he had raised the week before that the House would act on immigration reform. This latest news won’t be the end of the immigration reform ride in this Congress.

Fire from the Right: Mr. Boehner’s public rationalization for tamping down expectations was that it was the president’s fault—Mr. Obama can’t be trusted to enforce the law, should immigration reform be passed. That idea is quite a stretch to those who have watched this administration deport approximately two million immigrants in less than six years, about as many as the previous administration did in eight years. In any event, Senator Charles Schumer, one of the authors of immigration reform in the Senate, suggested that immigration reform could be passed now and implementation delayed until 2017, after President Obama leaves office. The idea was rejected by Republican leaders.

In reality, as has been widely reported, the Speaker’s latest pronouncements on immigration reform have much more to do with longstanding internal divisions within the House Republican Conference. They were a reaction to strong pushback against the leadership’s immigration standards from the most conservative elements of the Conference and from outside tea party-aligned groups.

Messaging to the Wrong Electorate: It is unlikely that many beyond the Republican Party's conservative base will accept Republican distrust of the Obama administration as a valid excuse the House's inaction on immigration reform. Republicans need to attract more voters from the fastest-growing segment of the electorate—Latinos and immigrants—and continued inaction on immigration reform will only make that job more difficult. Instead of re-branding themselves as the party of inclusion and the party of the future, lack of action on immigration reform for that group of voters reinforces the idea that the Republican Party is not interested in inclusion, and is the party of the past. (See, for example, this February 8th editorial from the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinion.)

For their part, Democrats will be happy to reinforce that message. On February 13, Senator Schumer suggested that House Democrats file a discharge petition on the Senate bill in the House. (Earlier this month, Minority Leader Pelosi floated the same idea.) The procedural maneuver would require a majority of the House—including more than a dozen Republicans—to sign-on to the effort. While a number of House Republicans favor reform and have expressed openness to the Senate bill’s approach, a discharge petition is not expected to succeed. Republican members willing to vote for an immigration overhaul may not be willing to back a Democratic-sponsored petition to circumvent their leadership and move a bill to the floor. That said, even if a discharge petition has little chance of success, if pursued it will further shine a spotlight on the failure of Republicans in the House to act on immigration reform.

As we reported last time, absent congressional action, there will be tremendous pressure on the president to use his executive authority to protect immigrants who would otherwise be eligible for a legalization process. Action by the President prior to November’s election would further reinforce the message that Democrats are acting while House Republicans are not.

Lame Duck for the Rest of the Year? One school of thought within the House Republican Conference is that, with Republican fortunes boosted by administration blunders in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress should stay away from significant legislation that may highlight internal divisions. If this reasoning is followed, the 113th Congress is essentially over—not only will immigration not be addressed, but there will be no significant legislation to address any number of the country’s pressing problems until the next Congress.

It Doesn’t Get Easier: A counter-argument says that if Republicans put off immigration reform until the next Congress, presidential politics will make it even more difficult to address the issue. Republican primary candidates will feel pressure early on to appeal to the anti-immigrant segment of their base, creating incentive to further delay immigration reform. The resulting lack of progress on reform will, once again, drive Latino and immigrant voters into the Democratic camp, making it nearly impossible for Republicans to capture the presidency.

Waiting for the Right Moment? Republican leaders surely know all of this, so this latest reversal of fortune for immigration reform may reverse yet again. As Charlie Cook notes in the National Journal,
    “While it could be that Boehner really has had a change of heart about bringing immigration up this year, it could also be that his backing off is a strategic retreat, or a feign, to defuse at least some of the opposition until the optimal time comes.”

That optimal time may be after the majority of filing deadlines have passed for Republican primaries. (Or it could be later, in a post-election "lame duck" session, for example.)

Rules Eased for Certain Refugees

On February 5, the Departments of State and Homeland Security published a “Notice of Determination” in the Federal Register that will remove a roadblock to refugee status for certain refugees who have been barred by provisions of immigration law known as Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Bars. Since harsh and inflexible rules were adopted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, persons fleeing persecution have been barred from refugee status for even very minor and inadvertent acts defined as “material support” for terrorists or terrorist groups.

According to the Notice, refugees would no longer be barred for “limited or insignificant material support” if such support involves “certain routine commercial transactions or certain routine social transactions,” “certain humanitarian assistance,” or “substantial pressure that does not rise to the level of duress.” Individuals applying for refugee status must still pass all the relevant screening and must prove to the government’s satisfaction that any material support they may have provided to groups or individuals deemed to be connected to terrorist activities did not contradict any of a list of specifications included in the Notice.

Refugee advocates have been trying to have the rules changed for years, as many would-be refugees have been barred based on very minor or unintentional interactions with individuals or groups deemed to be connected to terrorist activities. The Notice was praised by refugee resettlement groups as a partial solution for individuals who have been unfairly barred from refugee status. (See, for example, this release from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.)

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, noted in a press release that the current interpretation of existing rules “resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred from the United States for actions so tangential and minimal that no rational person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities.” The changes announced by the administration, Leahy said, are an “important step” in returning our nation “to its historic role as a welcoming sanctuary to the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

ICE Acting Director Resigns

The Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Sandweg, resigned as of February 21, according to press reports. Sandweg was named Acting Director after the departure of Director John Morton in July of 2013. The President has yet to nominate a new director for the agency.

The Naturalization Application Just Got Longer

On February 4, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a revised Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Revisions to the form have been in the works since December 2012, when a draft was published in the Federal Register for public comment. The new form is longer, containing several new questions. In brief, the questions attempt to determine whether applicants for citizenship may have run afoul of two laws enacted in the last decade—the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008.

A few formatting changes have added to the length of the form. These changes make it easier for officers to read the applications and assist the applicant in accurately answering those questions. Additionally, there is a new feature on the form adding to its length—a 2D barcode at the bottom of each page that will enable USCIS to scan data entered in to the forms when filled out on a computer. USCIS has also attempted to make the instructions clearer, which has made them longer as well. The old form will still be accepted by USCIS until May 5, after which time the new Form N-400 must be used.

Recent Release: Farm Bureau Study Projects Impact of Immigration Policies on Agriculture

On February 11, the American Farm Bureau Federation released a report it had commissioned on the impact of immigration policy on the American agricultural sector under various scenarios. According to the report, immigration reform that includes only enforcement would result in a decline in U.S. fruit production of 30 to 61 percent. Vegetable production would decline by 15 to 31 percent, and livestock production by 13 to 27 percent.

In a news release, Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted,

    “Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the sector, higher food prices, and greater dependence on imported products. … The bottom line of this study is that we either import our labor or we import our food.”

The agricultural sector has been very engaged in the immigration reform debate for years, and with each passing year that Congress does not act, life gets more difficult for farmers dependent on immigrant labor. The report can be obtained here.

The Week Ahead: February 18-21

February 19, 2014 - Posted by Communications Intern

“[With immigration reform,] we have the broadest coalition of support of any legislation I've ever been involved in: big business, small business, evangelicals, [the] Catholic Church, the list goes on and on. It's time for those people to weigh in and bring pressure to bear and say ‘Look, we need to act.’ I have not given up hope that we will act.”

— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), speaking on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Feb. 16


All Eyes Still on Immigration Reform in 2014
Despite reports that prematurely attempt to bury immigration reform for 2014, constituents across the political spectrum continue to support it and stress its urgency. A group of major GOP donors are not keeping their plans to shape the Republican path forward on immigration reform a secret, and members of Congress home for recess this week are finding that reform this year is important to their supporters.

Monday night in Gaffney, S.C., Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney (SC-05) gathered with constituents for what is believed to be the first town hall conducted in Spanish by a South Carolina member of Congress. Mulvaney spoke with attendees about our current immigration system and the prospects for reform in 2014 — and attendees urged him to help move reform forward this year.

Today, notable Michigan faith, business and education leaders met in Zeeland to discuss the economic and moral imperatives for passing reform this Congress, and on Wednesday in Cary, N.C., GOP Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (NC-02) will meet with local faith, law enforcement and business leaders in-district to talk about passing commonsense immigration reform this year.

New Polling Reinforces Support
A trio of new polls underscore the broad support for immigration reform in 2014. A recent bipartisan poll released by shows that six in ten Americans — including 51 percent of Republicans — support a roadmap to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants presently in the country.

In a Gallup survey released Monday, 44 percent of respondents said it's extremely important for the United States to develop a plan to deal with the large number of undocumented immigrants — outranking tougher border security as the top priority and suggesting support for immigration reform that addresses all parts of our broken system. The Gallup poll reinforces similar findings from a CNN/ORC International poll earlier in February.

While D.C. voices may continue to talk past each other, the message from Americans is unambiguous: 2014 is still the year for commonsense reform.

CALENDAR: Please visit our Events page to find this week's immigration-related events.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READ: WASHINGTON POST (Will Column): Why Immigration Reform Matters
By George F. Will
February 13, 2014
Distilled to their discouraging essence, Republicans’ reasons for retreating from immigration reform reflect waning confidence in American culture and in the political mission only Republicans can perform — restoring U.S. economic vigor. Without this, the nation will have a dismal future only Democrats can relish: government growing in order to allocate scarce opportunity.
Many Republicans say addressing immigration will distract from a winning focus on Obamacare. But a mature party avoids monomania, and Obamacare’s manifold defects are obvious enough that voters will not require nine more months of reminders.
Many Republicans say immigration policy divides their party. If, however, the party becomes a gaggle of veto groups enforcing unanimities, it will become what completely harmonious parties are: small.
Many Republicans see in immigrants only future Democratic votes. This descent into Democratic-style identity politics is unworthy of Republicans, and unrealistic. U.S. history tells a consistent story — the party identified with prosperity, and hence opportunity, prospers.
Read more:

FOXNEWS.COM: Congress Must Move Forward on Immigration Reform
By Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Mathew Staver
February 14, 2014
The past 10 days have been a roller coaster for evangelical Christians and other conservative Americans who are convinced that our nation’s immigration laws are woefully in need of reform.
On Jan. 30, the House Republican leadership released a set of pragmatic standards for immigration reform rooted in conservative values. Evangelical leaders nationally and locally applauded: The House GOP Standards for Immigration Reform closely mirror the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform endorsed by hundreds of nationally prominent Christian leaders in the past two years.
The principles include a commitment to secure borders and an approach to those immigrants who have violated the law that reconciles a healthy respect for the rule of law and a compassionate approach to people made in God’s image, avoiding the irrational extremes of either amnesty or mass deportation.
Just a week later, though, media reports have suggested that some of those who have in the past been strong proponents of reform consistent with these standards are now arguing—primarily for political, not principled reasons— that House Leadership should under no circumstance seek to tackle immigration reform in 2014.
Read more:
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Mat Staver is chairman of the Liberty Counsel and Dean of the Liberty University Law School.

THE HILL (Williams Column): Republican Leaders Must Keep Tea Party on the Run
By Juan Williams
February 17, 2014
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) are now in position to end the Tea Party’s death grip on the Republican Party’s political future.
Last week, Boehner and McConnell faced down the Tea Party’s threat to cripple the government when they supported raising the nation’s debt ceiling. That move prevented GOP political suicide.
If the nation’s credit rating, stocks and the recovery went down the sewer because of Republicans’ refusal to raise the debt ceiling, the GOP’s chances in the midterm elections would have been severely damaged.
Having successfully defied the Tea Party on the debt ceiling, now it is time for Boehner and McConnell to use that momentum to pass three bills: An extension of unemployment benefits for people suffering long-term joblessness; a minimum wage hike; and, most important of all, immigration reform.
The Tea Party caucus in the House and the Tea Party star in the Senate – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — are never going to love Boehner or McConnell. Both Congressional leaders have tried for years to accommodate Tea Party passions but they can never do enough.
Read more:
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

The Week Ahead: February 10-14

February 10, 2014 - Posted by Communications Intern

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why anybody would be opposed to fixing our broken immigration system … It’s hard to predict the future with great exactitude, but I will tell you this: If we don’t pass immigration reform this year, we will not win the White House back in 2016, 2020 or 2024.”

— John Feehery, GOP analyst and President of Communications and Director of Government Affairs for Quinn Gillespie and Associates, in a Feb. 6 post from his blog “The Feehery Theory”


Amid National Debate, Local Voices Continue Rallying for Immigration Reform
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged that moving immigration reform forward this year will be difficult, while also reiterating the need to get reform done.

While House lawmakers and leadership continue to debate how and when to address immigration this year, constituents nationwide remain deeply supportive of commonsense reform. With support from faith leaders nationally and across the country from Washington state to Michigan, as well as from local business and law enforcement leaders, the momentum for reform is undeniable.

The message to Capitol Hill from across the country is clear: The current Congress must move forward.

CALENDAR: Please visit our Events page to find this week's immigration-related events.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READ: WALL STREET JOURNAL (Editorial): Washington's Growth Retreat: The right kills immigration reform and the left freer trade
February 6, 2014
The U.S. economy has averaged about 2.5% growth for four and a half years in what is supposedly a recovery, median household income is below where it was when the recession ended in June 2009, and job growth is mediocre. But the political class seems intent on fighting over the blame rather than trying to escape the malaise.
The latest evidence is John Boehner's punt on immigration reform. Only days ago the House Speaker floated a set of reform principles that opened the door to a potential compromise with Democrats and the Senate. But the response from the anti-reform right was so intense that he emerged at the Capitol on Thursday to more or less declare that nothing will happen on immigration this year.
"This is an important issue in our country. It's been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with," Mr. Boehner said. But he added that "there's widespread doubt about whether this Administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
Read more:

CHRISTIAN POST: Boehner 'Taps Brakes' on Immigration Reform Due to Obama Distrust; Evangelicals Decry Inaction
By Stoyan Zaimov
February 7, 2014
Evangelical groups are asking how many more families will be broken apart due to lack of action on immigration reform in Congress, after House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday that such reform will have a tough time going forward due to Republican distrust of President Barack Obama.
"With a strong majority of Americans, including evangelicals, wanting leaders to fix our broken immigration system, immigration reform is going to happen. The only question is how many families will be broken up and how much our communities have to suffer until Washington acts," Sojourners President Jim Wallis, who is part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, told The Christian Post on Thursday.
While immigration reform groups praised Obama's call to action on the issue at the State of the Union last week, and have urged bipartisan support to fix America's broken immigration system, such legislation has stalled in Congress.
The Senate has passed its own version of an immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but the House of Representatives has refused to vote on that bill, instead suggesting at least four separate bills of its own.
Read more:

WASHINGTON POST (Cillizza Post): Why Republicans shouldn’t wait to pass immigration reform
By Chris Cillizza
February 9, 2014
A betting man, which The Fix is most definitely not, would say that the odds of some sort of immigration reform measure passing before the 2014 elections are decidedly less than 50-50 after a week when both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner talked down the idea.
The logic is simple: The Republican base — a.k.a. the voters the party badly needs in order to win back the Senate and hold the House in November — doesn’t like the idea of providing the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States with a path to legalization or, especially, citizenship. Those in the base also don’t believe that the Obama administration is up to the task of enforcing more-stringent border security measures, even if Congress passes some.
Given how few Republican members of Congress represent competitive districts with sizable Hispanic populations — there are only four House districts Republicans hold that have a Hispanic population of 25 percent or more and were carried by President Obama in 2012 — and the strong feelings against reform within the party base, it’s not hard to see why McConnell (R-Ky.) and Boehner (R-Ohio) have cooled on the idea of passing immigration reform before the midterms.
Read more:

The Week Ahead: February 3-7

February 03, 2014 - Posted by Communications Intern

“The support [for immigration reform] across political, geographic and vocational lines is unprecedented. Leaders on both sides of the aisle are willing to rise above partisan politics and take action. It’s clear that House leaders know they can’t wait for a solution, and as evangelical leaders we want Congresswoman [Cathy] McMorris Rodgers and her colleagues in Congress to know they have our support.”

— Mark Kadel, Director of World Relief Spokane, in a Feb. 2 op-ed in the Spokesman-Review


House Republican Standards Set Stage for Reform in 2014
On Thursday, House Republicans released standards for immigration reform, which include ways to reform our broken immigration system in a way that further secures our nation’s borders, meets the needs of employers and addresses legalization, including citizenship for DREAMers.

Following the standards’ release, local Bibles, Badges and Business (BBB) leaders expressed support, and national BBB leaders joined in during a press call. In addition, national Evangelical Immigration Table leaders praised the movement on immigration — and they were joined by local evangelical leaders in states such as South Carolina, North Carolina, California and Michigan. Continuing the groundswell, this morning local pastors from Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas joined national evangelical leaders on a Table press call.

Across the country, the depth of support for immigration reform continues to grow across geographic, political and professional lines. Tomorrow, former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will participate in a BBB and Illinois Business Immigration Coalition event in support of reform — and over the weekend, he published an op-ed in Politico applauding the standards and calling for further action from House Republicans. Meanwhile, in Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ district, the director of World Relief in Spokane published a supportive op-ed as well.

CALENDAR: Please visit our Events page to find this week's immigration-related events.

Summary of immigration legislation introduced and government reports on immigration:

MUST READ: POLITICO (Hastert Op-Ed): House GOP can't ignore immigration
By Dennis Hastert
February 2, 2014
Last week, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives published their immigration standards-a set of principles to guide debate about immigration in the House. This is a critical first step to fixing our broken immigration system.
The Senate bill, which passed last year with the support of both senators from my home state, Illinois, provides more money for border security, allows immigrants already here to work, expands visa programs and establishes an arduous 13-year path to citizenship.
The House will act in its own way, as it should. But it should act soon. Immigration reform will make our economy stronger and our country more secure.
The whole formula for immigration reform can fall into place if two basic issues are solved. First, securing our borders so we know who is entering our country and for what purpose. Second, a legalization of those folks who are already here, many of whom have been here for a decade or more. In addition, we should provide them with a path to citizenship much like any other immigrant would have. Those two things being satisfied, I believe immigration reform can move forward.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by 5.4 percent ($1.2 trillion) over the next 20 years, while jump-starting the housing recovery by dramatically increasing the demand for housing units. A report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform would also shave more than $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit over 20 years.
Read more:

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kadel Op-Ed): Immigration reform a moral, national duty
By Mark Kadel
February 2, 2014
So far, 2014 has brought nothing but positive movement on the immigration front. The release of Republican standards on immigration reform will be crucial to propelling this momentum forward, and we support this process.
Our current immigration system is broken. The release of these principles will show that Republicans recognize this too and are serious about passing reform in 2014.
The conservative principles, coupled with the president’s State of the Union address and the Republican response, highlight immigration’s continued prevalence in the 2014 congressional agenda.
I and other Spokane pastors – Doug Wagley at New Vision Lutheran, Daniel Bonney at Opportunity Christian Fellowship, Nick Block at Spokane Friends Church, Eric Blauer at Jacob’s Well Church, James Leman at First Free Methodist Church and Rod Cosgrove at Garland Church – are excited and privileged that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, asupporterof immigration reform, gave the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union, and we can expect positive bipartisan agreement on the need to act.
Our legislators are showing that the need for common-sense reform transcends politics.
Republican leaders in Congress clearly agree that further securing our borders and giving aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal status is a priority.
And they have the support of their constituents across the country as well.
Not only do our members of Congress have the support of evangelical leaders back home, but also law enforcement and business leaders. From farms to corner offices to church pews, leaders nationwide are calling for congressional action on immigration reform.
Read more:

House Republicans Get Ready to Move on Immigration Reform

February 03, 2014 - Posted by Josh Breisblatt

At a retreat of the Republican Conference at the end of January, Republican leaders released a set of “standards” for immigration reform. The standards acknowledge that the immigration system must be fixed, and Republicans will devise solutions through a “step-by-step” process. Their vision includes putting border security and interior enforcement first, implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system, a universal electronic employment verification system, reforms to the legal immigration system that include more visas for skilled workers and a workable temporary worker program, and some process for allowing the undocumented to live in the country legally (including legal residency and citizenship for young people brought to the country as children).

The standards leave much to interpretation. For example, regarding border security, the standards say, “[w]e must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure.” What does that verification look like? The standards say “[t]here will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws….” Does this preclude citizenship for the undocumented?

All of this will become concrete once legislation is drafted in the coming months. For the most part, advocates are cautiously optimistic—encouraged that Republican leaders are acknowledging the need for reform, but needing to see how these standards are interpreted in legislation. (Here is the Forum’s release.)

Also this week, the President, once again, included immigration reform in his January 28 State of the Union address.

    “…if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. …. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”

Outlook for Immigration Reform in 2014

With the release of their standards, House Republican leaders are ready to join the immigration debate in this Congress. There is a long pathway (and, I might add, no “special pathway”) between vague standards and concrete legislation. Still, there is reason to be optimistic that this latest development represents a step forward in finding a solution to the immigration problem.

The news comes in the context of unprecedented advocacy for immigration reform, steady public support, and a weakening of the obstructionist faction of the Republican Party that has created one crisis after another and has led this Congress to be among the least productive in history.

The “Tea Party” is weakened: The government shutdown in October weakened the influence of Tea Party-aligned conservatives when approval ratings for the Tea Party, and the Republican Party more generally, sank to record lows. By the end of the year, there was more bipartisan cooperation and Congress started accomplishing things. For the first time in years, both the Senate and the House passed a budget bill, setting spending limits for government programs. When Tea Party groups ginned up their networks to attack the budget bill for not being sufficiently austere, Speaker Boehner berated the groups, saying he thought they have “lost all credibility.”

The passage of the budget bill was followed on January 15 with passage in the House of a giant omnibus spending bill, containing all 12 appropriations bills setting specific spending levels for government agencies. Despite objections from Tea Party conservatives in the House, the bill passed overwhelmingly 359 to 67. The Senate followed, passing the bill 72 to 26. Passage of the spending bill averts the possibility of another government shutdown.

These and other examples of the decline of the obstructionist caucus have given House leadership more room to set an agenda.

Immigration reform veteran hired by Boehner: Another positive sign for immigration reform occurred in December, when Speaker Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force. Ms. Tallent was central to the drafting of immigration reform legislation in the Senate in 2007, when she served on the staff of Senator John McCain. The move by Boehner is a very good indication that the Speaker is serious about tackling immigration reform in the coming year.

Public support remains strong: Among the general public, support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship remains strong. In a Fox News poll released on January 22, 68% of voters supported allowing “illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.” Only 15% of respondents said they thought immigrants should be sent back to their home countries. Similarly, in a CBS News poll released on January 23 of adults nationwide, 54% of respondents said that “[illegal immigrants] should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship.” (See this summary of polling on the path to citizenship going back a year.)

(By contrast, the public views Congress much less favorably, with just 13% of voters saying they approve of the way Congress is doing its job, according to a Washington Post poll released on January 26.)

Positive public opinion is echoed in the editorial pages of newspapers across the country. Here is a map where you can find newspapers that have endorsed comprehensive immigration reform.

Consequences of Continued Delay

Pressure tactics escalate as frustration grows: During November and December, a group of activists participated in a “Fast for Families” in a tent on the National Mall. The fasters on the Mall were joined by others around the country, and included some prominent evangelical leaders who have been very active in the push for immigration reform in this Congress. Some of the fasters went without food for more than 20 days. The fasters received a constant parade of high-level visitors, including the President and First Lady. The attention the fasters received, especially in ethnic press, was a constant reminder that the country was waiting for the Republican House to join the Senate and act on immigration reform. The fasting campaign will continue this year, with fasters traveling the country visiting key Congressional districts and eventually ending up in Washington later in the spring.

The sacrifice being made by the fasters is just one manifestation of an increase in unconventional tactics being made by immigrant supporters whose frustration continues to be fed by Congressional inaction. Those tactics include confronting House Republican leaders in their offices, at their homes, and even at their favorite diners.

Tough enforcement environment in a broken system: It is a truism that one of the consequences of a broken immigration system is the inability to sort the people who are here to do us harm from the people who are here to work. Enforcement resources are wasted in the effort to remove productive workers who have lived here for years. A corollary of this principle is that enforcement agents do not get the same kind of support from the public as they would if they were able to focus on removing public safety threats.

On December 19, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released their tally of removals for the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2013. According to the agency’s release, ICE conducted 368,644 removals during the year. While the agency touts the fact that “98 percent of removals met one or more of the agency's civil immigration enforcement priorities,” many of those removed would be immigrants who would qualify for legal status if Congress would complete its work.

While the pace of removals, reflected in last year’s statistics, is marginally down, there are still a little more than 1,000 removals per day. Families continue to be torn apart at a shocking pace. In an effort to slow the pace of family separation, there has been an increase in civil disobedience actions in which activists disrupt Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations by, for example, surrounding buses of detained immigrants or blocking immigrant detention centers. It is very likely these actions will continue should Congress not act on reform.

As the debate drags on, there will also be escalating pressure on the White House to scale back the level of deportations. As one Democratic aide told Newsweek,

    “The concern is really that if nothing happens on immigration reform, the attention is going to turn to the White House. Either the White House does something and gets the Republicans really mad and again plays into that talking point of ‘We protect America from Obama,’ or he doesn’t, the deportations continue and Democrats go into 2014 with more lukewarm support from Latinos. We’re deporting 400,000 people a year, so there’s a cost to waiting as well.”

DHS Leadership Begins to Fill Out

Over the past several weeks, the Senate has confirmed (or is in the process of confirming) key leadership positions in the Department of Homeland Security.

Secretary Jeh Johnson: On December 16, by a strong bipartisan vote of 78 to 16, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security. He replaces Janet Napolitano, who departed the administration in July to run the University of California system. Mr. Johnson had served in the Pentagon as general counsel, where he shaped many of the administration’s national security policies.

Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: On December 20, the Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as Deputy Secretary of DHS. Mr. Mayorkas has been the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since the beginning of the Obama administration, and has transformed the agency during his tenure. The confirmation vote was along party lines, 54-41. Although Mr. Mayorkas might be considered exceptionally qualified with his experience at USCIS, Republicans were concerned about an ongoing investigation of Mr. Mayorkas having to do with his handling of the EB-5 Investor Visa program. That investigation, however, has dragged on for months, with no substantiation of allegations, and the DHS Inspector General who was conducting the investigation, Charles Edwards, was himself under investigation and resigned in December.

DHS Inspector General: After the departure of Charles Edwards, President Obama nominated John Roth to replace him. Roth most recently led the Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigation division. Prior to that, he served in the Justice Department, and was a member of the 9/11 Commission staff. On January 14, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed Mr. Roth’s nomination by voice vote. His confirmation vote in the full Senate has yet to be scheduled.

Director of USCIS: With Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed to be the DHS Deputy Secretary, President Obama on January 7 nominated Leon Rodriguez to be the Director of USCIS. Mr. Rodriguez currently is Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to that, he served as Chief of Staff and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. Mr. Rodriguez has yet to move through the confirmation process.

Commissioner of CBP: On January 15, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to be Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. President Obama nominated Mr. Kerlikowske on August 1st. Mr. Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House. Prior to that, he was Chief of Police in Seattle, Washington. Further action on Mr. Kerlikowske’s nomination has not yet been scheduled.

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