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Immigration Policy Update: Conservatives gather in Washington to Press for Immigration Reform

December 14, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Conservatives gather in Washington to Press for Immigration Reform

On December 4th and 5th, a group of 250 conservatives in favor of immigration reform came to Washington to discuss the issue and to tell members of Congress that there is a new consensus building for immigration reform, and that Congress must make immigration reform a priority next year.

The “National Strategy Session” was a culmination of a series of regional meetings held around the country over the past 18 months. The meetings have served as a forum for leaders in the evangelical Christian, law enforcement and business communities who understand something must be done to fix the immigration system.

Representatives of each of these constituencies, along with conservative public officials and others, spoke at a press conference kicking off the event or on a panel during the strategy session. You can find a list of speakers at the press conference and quotes attributed to them here. You can also find a list of panelists from the strategy session and some of their quotes here.

The strategy session was headlined by Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Co-Founder of America Online. He spoke about the urgency of immigration reform and the importance of immigrants to our economy: Steve Case, interviewed by Ron Brownstein. Photo credit: Jack Gordon

    “Ensuring that the best and brightest innovators and entrepreneurs start and help companies here in the United States, not in competitor nations abroad, will strengthen our economic competitiveness in the long term. This is why Democrats and Republicans should come together to fix our immigration system.”

Photo credit: Jack Gordon

The day after the strategy session, members of the group met with more than 60 House and Senate offices, the bulk of them Republican offices.

These conservative voices are relatively new to the immigration debate, and they bring an important perspective. Business owners are harmed when they cannot find the workers they need. Local officials see how their economies are harmed when states adopt laws that are hostile towards immigrants. Pastors see their congregations are changing, and that people are suffering because our immigration laws are breaking families apart. Law enforcement officials express frustration at the difficulty of gaining the trust of their communities because people who fear deportation or the deportation of a loved one won’t go to the police.

It was fortuitous that this meeting occurred just as Republicans have been examining their recent electoral setbacks and the need to reach out and be more inclusive with an electorate that is rapidly diversifying. The perspective of these new voices will be crucial in convincing conservatives in Congress that immigration reform is the right thing to do. [This article by Ron Brownstein of the National Journal does an excellent job of putting all this in context.]

The discussion thus far has focused on the need for reform and on principles for reform. Policy details will be developed in the new Congress. A report was released in conjunction with the Strategy Session, Voices of the New Consensus: Bibles, Badges, and Business. This report, based on interviews with participants in regional meetings in the Mountain West, Midwest, and South, lists general points of consensus and contains quotes from the participants.

You can watch videos of the press conference and of the various panel discussions from the National Strategy Session on the Web site of Forging a New Consensus.

On the same day as the meeting in Washington, former president George Bush opened a conference in Dallas, Texas, at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on immigrants and the economy. In his remarks, Mr. Bush, who pushed for immigration reform during his presidency, said that immigrants not only “help build our economy, they invigorate our soul.”

Immigration Diversions in the Lame Duck Session

With the prospects for broad immigration reform now looking much more likely in the next Congress, there has been a flurry of activity on the legislative front among members of Congress who have been opposed to immigration reform efforts up to now. The House passed legislation introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas that would provide additional visas to graduates of U.S. schools in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but at the expense of the Diversity Visa program and its 55,000 visas per year to persons from countries with low levels of immigration to the U.S. The Smith bill offered a zero-sum approach for making changes to an immigration system that already cannot meet current demand for visas.

In the Senate, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Baily Hutchinson of Texas introduced the ACHIEVE Act, aimed at immigrant youth who came to the U.S. when they were children with their parents. The bill is so complicated and contains so many hoops that applicants must jump through that it would ultimately help few people. (DREAM Activists immediately started a satirical twitter campaign purporting to be recruiting ACHIEVE Activists, promising a free membership in—meaning that with the ACHIEVE Act and marriage to a U.S. citizen, one could gain a path to citizenship.)

Neither bill will be taken up in the Senate. A lame duck Congress that is attempting to deal with critical fiscal problems before the end of the year is not the place for careful consideration of the kind of immigration reforms that are long overdue.

The Hill, White House, Begin to Gear Up for the Next Congress

The serious work on immigration reform has begun informally among a “gang of eight” Senators who will be key players next year as Congress takes up this issue. As noted in this article from Politico, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Bob Menendez of New Jersey are beginning to discuss the issue with Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Senator-elect Jeff Flake of Arizona.

In the House, informal discussions have also begun, but members of the group having those discussions have not been publically disclosed.

The president has indicated that he would like to take up the issue soon after the inauguration and, according to this report in the Los Angeles Times, White House officials have told congressional offices the president will be “all in” on the push for broad immigration reform.

DREAMers Fight Graduates to Comprehensive Reform

At the beginning of December, young immigrant leaders from the United We Dream network gathered for a three-day congress in Kansas City, Missouri, to plot the future of their movement. In this meeting, the leaders voted to expand their goals and fight for broader immigration reforms that include legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. As one participant quoted in the New York Times put it, “Our families’ dreams were to get a better future, but our future is with our families together.”

Hispanic Caucus Releases Principles for Immigration Reform

On November 28, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released Principles on Immigration Reform and our Commitment to the American Dream, in which the caucus promises “to work tirelessly toward common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.” The principles include a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for the undocumented, protecting family unity, inclusion of the DREAM-Act eligible students, a “balanced, workable solution for the agriculture industry” among others. The principles represent a consensus of the Caucus and will guide the Caucus’ work in the upcoming Congress.

Committee Assignments in the New Congress

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) will head the House Judiciary Committee, replacing Lamar Smith who is ending his leadership of that Committee due to term limits. Mr. Goodlatte practiced immigration law before he came to Congress in 1992. His leadership does not signal a shift in position on immigration for the chair of the Committee. Mr. Goodlatte has been an opponent of immigration reform, including the DREAM Act. One new member of the Judiciary Committee who is expected to be involved in the negotiations over immigration legislation is Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who had been an immigration lawyer before he came to Congress.

Representative Mike McCaul of Texas will head the Homeland Security Committee, taking over from New York Representative Peter King.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee will continue to be chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). Chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee will be assumed by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.)

One House election that was decided late was that of Brian Bilbray, leader of the House “Immigration Reform” Caucus. Caucus members have led the effort to block immigration reform in the House. Mr. Bilbray lost to his Democratic challenger Scott Peters.

DACA Application Statistics

According to the latest officially-released statistics on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), there had been 368,000 applications as of December 13. Nearly 103,000 had been approved, and more than 157,000 were under review.

Job Openings at the National Immigration Forum

The National Immigration Forum is hiring to fill several positions, including a Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs and a Manager of Integration Programs. For the current listings and for more information, go to the Job Opportunities page on our Web site.

Fiscal Cliff Foretold?

It’s an eerie thought, but could the ancient Mayans have predicted the fiscal cliff? The ancient Mayan calendar supposedly ends on 12/21/12, and that fact has been the subject of scholarly articles, popular movies and bouts of recreational paranoia. Could they have been referring to the fiscal cliff? They’d be only 10 days off.

In any event, whether you will celebrate the end of the calendar or the end of the calendar year, happy holidays, and stay tuned for what promises to be a very eventful 2013.

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