National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Legislative Update for July 13, 2009

July 13, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Senate Passes Homeland Security Appropriations with More Immigration Amendments


Last week, before leaving for the weekend, the Senate passed the bill that will fund the Department of Homeland Security for the governments’ Fiscal Year 2010.  Immigration restrictionists in the Senate were able to tack on more amendments, in addition to the Sessions and DeMint amendments reported in the last update. 


SSA No Match: Senator Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment (1375), that would stop the administration from carrying out its plan announced on July 8th to rescind the Bush administration’s regulation spelling out for employers what they must do if they receive No Match letters from the Social Security Administration. The amendment prohibits the administration from spending any funds to change the regulation.  The amendment was adopted by unanimous consent. 


The Bush administration’s No Match regulation has never been implemented due to litigation in the courts.


E-“Re-Verify”:  Senator Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment (1415) that would allow employers who use E-Verify to re-verify their existing workers if they chose to do so.  Currently, E-Verify checks are only done for new hires.  The problem with this amendment is that if employers use the system for all of their current employees, they will be required to terminate even long-time employees who will not be able to present the government-issued identification they will be required to produce or who are misidentified by the database as not eligible to work.  (For example, approximately 11% of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification.)


The amendment was adopted without a recorded vote. 


Operation Streamline: Senator Kyl (R-AZ) offered an amendment (1455) that requires DHS to submit a report on “Operation Streamline” that provides details on which “additional Border Patrol sectors” should employ it and what resources are needed to expand it and make it “more effective.”  (Apparently, learning whether Operation Streamline is a good idea in the first place is not an objective for this report.  Learn more about Operation Streamline in this blog post from Lena Graber.)


The amendment was adopted without a recorded vote.


Widows and Orphans, Doctors, and Religious Workers: In the good news department, Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Menendez (D-NJ) offered an amendment (1428) that will allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to apply for immigration status even if their petitioning spouse or parent dies before the process of obtaining their status is completed.  This amendment also extends a special visa program for foreign doctors who are recruited to work in rural or inner-city areas.  The amendment extends the program (the “Conrad State 30 J-1 Visa Waiver”) to September 30, 2012.  (It otherwise is set to expire on September 30, 2009.) In addition, the amendment extends a visa program for non-minister religious workers to September 30, 2012. (This program was also set to expire on September 30, 2009.)


The amendment was agreed to by unanimous consent (no recorded vote).


Senator Schumer says Comprehensive Reform Bill to be Ready by Labor Day


In an interview with the Associated Press on July 8th, Senator Charles Schumer, who heads the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee, declared that he expects a comprehensive immigration reform bill to be ready by Labor Day, and to be done by the end of the year or early next year.  Schumer stated his belief that “the fundamental building blocks are in place to do comprehensive immigration reform.”  Such a bill, he said, would be tough on future illegal immigration, but would also include some way for people already here to gain legal status.


Schumer’s subcommittee has already conducted two hearings on comprehensive reform, and more are planned for later this month, although those hearings have not yet been scheduled.


Last week in immigration: What does it mean?


With Senator Schumer announcing a schedule for the introduction of a bill, and previous statements from the White House and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate affirming their intent to push comprehensive reform, Congress is now set on a path to consider comprehensive reform in the near future.  The early votes on immigration, on display last week in the context of the Homeland Security appropriations bill, should not be taken as an accurate snapshot of where Senators stand on comprehensive immigration reform.  On the one hand, a number of Democrats broke with their leadership and supported restrictionists amendments offered by Senator Sessions and others.  It appears that these Senators are still afraid of stirring up a restrictionists backlash, and they haven’t gotten the message that playing to the restrictionists is bad politics.


On the other hand, these votes don’t tell the whole story.  Some Senators will support comprehensive reform, but feel that the government must show it can enforce the laws now.  For example, Senator Amy Klobucher (D-MN) was quoted as saying,


“If people have worked in this country, if they pay their taxes and abide by the laws, basically they should be able to earn citizenship in this country. But I don’t believe we are going to be able to have the political will to get there until the government is able to show we have made a very good effort, and some changes here, to make it harder to come in illegally.”


The lesson is that we have to continue to pressure Members of Congress to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way, until they become more afraid of a backlash from pro-immigrant reformers than from restrictionists.  We have a ways to go, but we are making progress.


The Forum commented on events of the week in this press release.  You can also listen to a recording of our telephonic press briefing, giving reporters interpretation and analysis for the events of the week.

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