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Immigration Policy Update for January 15, 2013

January 15, 2013 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

New Members in Key Congressional Committees

The new Congress convened on January 3rd, and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans have appointed members to their standing committees. Following is a list of new members of Committees that have jurisdiction over immigration.

Senate Judiciary Committee
Republicans joining the Senate Judiciary Committee include Ted Cruz of Texas, who during his campaign argued for a tripling of the border patrol, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has been a supporter of immigration reform in the past. The new Democrat on the committee is Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), who is expected to be an immigration reform ally.

The Judiciary Committee will continue to be led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Senate Homeland Security Committee
There will be two new members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, both Democrats—Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.).

Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.) will Chair the Homeland Security Committee.

House Judiciary Committee
There will be 12 new members of the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans include Spenser Bachus (Ala.), who has co-sponsored many of former Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s restrictionist immigration bills; Raul Labrador (Idaho), who favors incremental changes in immigration law over comprehensive reform; and Doug Collins (Ga.), who while in the Georgia state legislature voted to support the Georgia law modeled on Arizona SB 1070. Other Republicans new to the Judiciary Committee are Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Blake Farenthold (Texas), George Holding (N.C.), Keith Rothfus (Pa.) and Mark Amodei (Nev). Four new Democrats on the committee—Joe Garcia (Fla.), Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Suzan Delbene (Wash.) and Karen Bass (Calif.)—are expected to support immigration reform and have made statements to that effect.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will chair the Judiciary Committee. The Immigration Subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Va.), who told a local South Carolina television station that he expects to conduct hearings to inform legislation that Republicans will be able to support. See this article for Rep. Gowdy’s views on immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, long a champion of immigration reform, announced that he will take a leave from the House Financial Services Committee to join the Judiciary Committee in order to participate in efforts to shape a reform bill.

House Homeland Security Committee
There will be 14 new members of the House Homeland Security Committee, including seven Democrats—Ron Barber (Ariz.), Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Filemon Vela (Texas), Eric Swalwell (Calif), Steven Horsford (Nev), Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.)—all of whom are expected to be supporters of reform. Republicans include Richard Hudson (N.C.), who favors building a fence along the entire length of the southwest border, Chris Stewart (Utah), who favors cutting funding to “sanctuary cities,” and Steven Palazzo, who co-sponsored immigration enforcement legislation in Mississippi when he was a state legislator. Other Republicans new to the committee are Susan Brooks (Ind.), Keith Rothfus, Steve Daines (Mont.) and Scott Perry, (Pa.).

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will Chair the Homeland Security Committee. He has said that one of his areas of focus this year will be enhancing border security. Rep. Candice Miller (R) of Michigan will continue as Chair of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) of South Carolina will be the new Chair of the (re-named) Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency.

Napolitano, Holder, to Stay in Cabinet

On January 14, The Washington Post reported that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will stay on as Secretary of the Department in to the second term. Secretary Napolitano will likely play a key role in the coming debate on immigration reform.

Last week it was announced that, over at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder will also be staying on for the second term.

President Expected to Press for Immigration Reform Early

Press reports continue to indicate that President Obama will push for immigration reform early in his second term. The President may outline his principles for immigration reform in his State of the Union address, now scheduled for February 12.

Discussions are taking place in the House and Senate leading up to the formulation of legislation. Within the Republican party, while there will be strong resistance from restrictionist members of the party, there is also more interest in reform beyond merely more support for immigration enforcement. Senator Marco Rubio, who is expected to play an important role in the upcoming debate, summarized the importance of reform to the Republican Party in this New York Times story:

    “We are going to have a struggle speaking to a whole segment of the population [Latinos] about our principles of limited government and free enterprise if they think we don’t want them here.”

(You can read a more in-depth story about Senator Rubio’s immigration views in this Wall Street Journal article.)

Family Unity Final Rule Published

On January 3, USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register governing a new procedure by which certain immigrants may apply for a waiver of bars to reentry that will allow them to wait in the U.S. while their waiver is processed, instead of in his or her home country, as is currently the case. The standards for the waiver itself are not changed, and an individual must prove that his or her U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse or parent will suffer extreme hardship from being separated from the immigrant applicant. The new procedure merely allows family members to remain together while the waiver is processed.

The new process is available only for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, minor children, parents) who are otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa. USCIS noted that it received many comments asking that the new procedure be applied as well to other categories of immigrants (in particular, to family members of legal permanent residents). USCIS decided not to expand eligibility, but said that, “[a]fter assessing the effectiveness of the new provisional unlawful presence waiver process and its operational impact, DHS … will consider expanding the provisional unlawful presence waiver process to other categories.” Except for a few minor changes, the final rule was little changed from the proposed rule. It takes effect on March 4, 2013. A press release about the final rule publication can be read here.

Comprehensive Report on Immigration Enforcement Released

The Migration Policy Institute released a report on January 7 that takes a comprehensive look at U.S. immigration enforcement over the past 25 years. Growth in resources devoted to immigration enforcement has received strong bi-partisan support in this time period, and the report looks at how enforcement has grown and become more sophisticated in six areas: border enforcement, visa controls and travel screening, data systems and their ability to pull information from each other, workplace enforcement, detention and removal, and the intersection of the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems. According to key findings in the report, the U.S. has come to a turning point in meeting immigration enforcement challenges. However, despite dramatic changes in recent years, public perception has not caught up to today’s realities. This report is an effort to catalogue the new reality.

ICE Announces FY 2012 Removals; Termination of Some 287(g) Programs

On December 21, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it had removed a record 410,000 individuals from the country in its Fiscal Year 2012. While the announcement specified that 55 percent of these individuals had been convicted of “felonies,” it cannot be judged from the announcement whether these were serious crimes. For example, certain immigration violations are felonies, and in immigration law even certain minor crimes can be counted as “aggravated felonies” due to changes enacted in 1996.

In the same announcement, ICE said that it had decided not to continue the 287(g) “Task Force” program. This program empowers state and local officers in certain circumstances to enforce immigration laws while on patrol if they are trained by ICE to do so. All of the Task Force agreements will expire and not be renewed. ICE said that it had concluded that other enforcement programs, including Secure Communities, were more effective in focusing agency resources on priority cases. The 287(g) Jail Model agreements are not being terminated, but most are being extended until June 30 of this year. (With Jail Model agreements, specially-trained state and local enforcement officers are delegated authority to enforce immigration laws once individuals are booked into a local or state detention facility.)

Undocumented Immigrants to get Driver’s Licenses in Illinois

On January 8, the Illinois House approved legislation that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses from the state. The Senate had previously approved the bill, and the Governor issued a statement indicating he will sign it. The bill gives undocumented immigrants access to an existing document, the Temporary Visitor Driver’s License, which is visually distinct from the ordinary Illinois driver’s license and may not be used for identification in situations requiring compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Illinois becomes the fourth state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

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