National Immigration Forum

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Immigration Policy Update for June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Playing to the Base

In the House, the Immigration Subcommittee has so far held several hearings that have focused on immigration enforcement.  We are now beginning to see the introduction of several bills that pick up on the enforcement theme.  What we are unlikely to see, however, is a whole lot of legislating.

Republicans in the House have begun to introduce a number of bills that would toughen the enforcement of our broken immigration laws.  For the most part, these bills are unlikely to be taken up by the Senate, let alone be signed by the President.  The bills are being advanced mainly to please a segment of the voter base of sponsors of these bills.


The centerpiece of the enforcement-without-reform agenda is expressed by a mandatory e-verify bill introduced on June 14th by Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. 

In brief, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164) would require the use of an electronic employment verification system for new hires.  Mandatory use of the system would be phased in for different categories of employers over a period of three years.  Certain categories of current employees would also have to be screened and, beyond those categories, current employers may voluntarily screen their current employees.  Employers who comply with the requirements would not be liable if it was subsequently found they had undocumented workers in their workforce.  The system established by this legislation would pre-empt local laws (except in the case of business licensing).  Penalties for violation would be increased.  The legislation would establish a pilot program for adding a biometric identifier to the system. 

Rep. Smith asserts that “the Legal Workforce Act will open up jobs for millions of unemployed Americans.”  However, without immigration reform, and with the economy now so dependent on the relatively large percentage of the workforce that is undocumented, Rep. Smith’s bill is more likely to lead to fewer jobs, not more jobs. 

For more information on the legislation, see our e-verify legislation information page, which briefly summarizes the bill and its status, and contains links to materials produced by the Forum and other organizations that summarize the bill and make arguments against it.

We expect Rep. Smith’s bill will be “marked up” in the Immigration Subcommittee during the week of June 27.

In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a companion bill (S. 1196), along with nine co-sponsors, also on June 14th.  According to a press release from Sen. Grassley’s office, S. 1196 would go even further than the House bill.  For example, all employers will have to begin using the system within one year of the date of enactment of the bill (the House bill phases in use of the system over three years, depending on the type of employer) and employers will have to check current employees within three year of the law’s passage.

One of the original cosponsors of the Grassley bill is the new Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.  For his support of enforcement-only policies, the Latino Republican group “Somos Republicans” issued a release on June 16 stating they were “permanently” putting Rubio and Texas senatorial candidate Ted Cruz on their “unfriendly to Latino list.”

The Senate bill, unlike the House bill, is unlikely to be taken up by the Judiciary Committee.

Associations of large businesses, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have released statements of support for Rep. Smith’s bill, in particular because it would pre-empt state-enacted E-Verify laws.  However, it is small businesses, as well as agriculture, that will feel a greater adverse impact from the bill.

The Forum’s press release reacting to Rep. Smith’s bill can be read here.


Other Bills 

A couple of other immigration-related bills that have been considered in committees in the House so far this year including the Secure Border Act (H.R. 1299), introduced by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), and H.R. 1922, introduced by Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), a bill to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with access to Federal lands.

The Secure Border Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to Congress a comprehensive strategy for gaining “operational control” of the international borders of the United States within five years.  The bill specifies that “operational control” means operational control as defined by the Secure Fence Act.  We discuss the feasibility of using that definition in this blog post.

H.R. 1922 would grant U.S. Customs and Border Protection unfettered access to federal lands for security activities, including routine motorized patrols, and the deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure.  “Federal lands” are defined as any land under the control of any federal department or agency that is located within 150 miles of the Southwest border region—including land preserved as wilderness.

Both of these bills were passed out of subcommittee on June 2.

Refugee Protection, Victim Protection Bills Introduced 

On the positive side, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Refugee Protection Act (S. 1202) on June 15, and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act (S. 1195) on June 14.

The Refugee Protection Act, introduced in advance of World Refugee Day (June 20) and co-sponsored by Senators Akaka (D-HI), Durbin (D-IL), and Levin (MI), will reform the expedited removal process, fix problems that result in asylum seekers being denied asylum due to broad interpretations of terrorism bars, and make other changes in law to increase protections for asylum seekers.  A companion bill (H.R. 2185) was introduced in the House by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI).  For more on the Refugee Protection Act, see this release from Sen. Leahy’s office.

The POWER Act would provide temporary relief from deportation for witnesses or victims of certain labor law violations and other crimes.   A companion bill (H.R. 2169) has been introduced in the House by Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA).  The Department of Labor recently announced it would begin to certify U Visa applications for victims of certain workplace crimes, with the aim being to have immigrants assist in the prosecution of the employer.  For more on this subject see this blog post from the Forum.


On June 2nd, the House passed a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.  During the debate on the House Floor, there were a few amendments added to the version of the bill passed by the Appropriations Committee and summarized in our last update (which you can obtain here).


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) got just under $132.4 million for immigration verification programs, “including E-Verify.”  An amendment from Representative Mike Honda struck language that specifically prohibited direct appropriation for integration grants.  However, as we noted last time, the bill does not allocate any of the money requested by the Administration for refugee and asylum application processing, the integration initiative, or for the Office of Citizenship.  Language in the Committee’s report accompanying the bill allows a funding stream for the integration grants from the USCIS application fee account.


There was an amendment from Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) to increase funding by $1 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to facilitate new 287(g) agreements with state and local police agencies.  The House approved three amendments by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)—one to prohibit the Administration from spending money to defer removal action or to offer humanitarian parole except on a case-by-case basis; one that aims to restrict certain community policing practices regarding communication between local enforcement agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and one to provide an additional $10 million to improve cell phone communication on the border.  An amendment by Rep. Cynthia Lumis (R-WY) struck a provision that would have allowed DHS to pay for environmental mitigation related to border security.  The House accepted an amendment by Rep. Chip Cravaack that would prohibit DHS from offering alternatives to detention to undocumented immigrants who have committed a crime that already triggers mandatory detention under current law.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) successfully gained an additional $1 million in the Customs and Border Protection budget for support of the “Shadow Wolves,” Native American trackers who perform border patrol functions mainly within the Tohono O'odham reservation.

The final bill passed by a vote of 231 to 188.  The Senate will consider its version of the Homeland Security bill later this summer.

Revolt against Secure Communities Grows

In a previous Policy Update, we reported that Illinois had withdrawn from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program, and that the California legislature was considering legislation to do the same.  On June 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that New York State is suspending its participation in Secure Communities in order to “review the mounting evidence that the program is not meeting its stated goal and has serious consequences for witnesses, victims of crime and law enforcement.”  Two days later, according to a report in the New York Times, a letter from the Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety and Security indicated that Governor Deval Patrick had concluded that he would not sign an agreement to join Secure Communities for the same reasons that the New York Governor decided to opt out.

On June 17, ICE announced changes to the program that the agency characterized as improvements.  Among other things, ICE is setting up an advisory committee that will consist of “chiefs of police, sheriffs, state and local prosecutors, court officials, ICE agents from the field and community and immigration advocates” to suggest ways the program can be improved.  The committee will make its first report to ICE Director John Morton within 45 days.  Other changes include:

  • A new prosecutorial discretion memo has been issued. 

  • A new policy has been developed to protect victims and witnesses to crime.

  • A new detainer form has been developed to emphasize “longstanding guidance that state and local authorities are not to detain an individual for more than 48 hours.”  (Read more about problems with detainers in this paper from the Forum.)

  • Enhancements have been made to the DHS complaint system for civil rights violations.

  • ICE and the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will review and publish program statistics quarterly “to examine data for each jurisdiction where Secure Communities is activated to identify effectiveness and any indications of potentially improper use of the program.”


Information concerning these developments with Secure Communities is now on the ICE Web site here.  The Forum has produced a brief analysis of the changes to Secure Communities, which you can obtain from our Web site here.

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