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Policy Update: With Reform Stuck, Advocates Gear Up for Washington March

March 04, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Since the last update, there has been no concrete action on immigration reform legislation.  The leadership in Congress has been pre-occupied with figuring out the meaning of the Republican victory in the special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy.  The economic crisis and high unemployment has increasingly become the focus of Congressional attention, and there is still the unfinished business of health care reform.

The Massachusetts Election – Reform Still Depends on Bipartisanship:  While Democrats have lost their (more theoretical than real) filibuster-proof majority, the impact of the switch of one D for one R doesn't much matter for immigration reform.  From the beginning of this Congress, it was clear that immigration reform would have to be bi-partisan.  Not all Democrats are going to support immigration reform.  Not all Republicans are opposed to immigration reform.  That was the case in the last two iterations of immigration reform and that is the case today.  (What may be different, however, is a more acute willingness to sacrifice the national interest in order to see the other party fail to get things done.)

So, we are left with the same job of finding the 278 votes (plus the President’s signature) for immigration reform. 

Reform Discussions Stalled in Senate: In the Senate, conversations continue between Senator Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) about the content of legislation, and efforts continue to draw other Republicans in to the conversation.  However, little progress has been made since last fall.

March for America: During the long lull in the action in Congress, most of the work of rustling up the requisite votes has been taking place outside of Washington.  The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign has undertaken unprecedented organizing all around the country to let lawmakers know that their constituents want immigration reform.  (You can get updates from the Campaign here.  

In an effort to get reform unstuck in Congress, the Campaign will be bringing some of that organizing energy to Washington on March 21.  On that day, thousands of Americans will come together to send a message to Congress that the time for immigration reform is now.  You can find out all about the March, whether transportation is being organized from your community, and sign up at

Shifting to Defense

Meanwhile additional legislation to stimulate economic recovery, plus the routine appropriations bills that Congress will soon consider, offer defenders of the broken immigration system opportunities to offer amendments that will have to be defeated. 

For example, there will undoubtedly be efforts to expand the E-Verify electronic employment verification system and make it mandatory.  E-Verify is a system in pilot project phase, and the bugs are still being worked out.  The latest evaluation report on E-Verify, produced by Westat (consulting firm), illustrates the problem with trying to enforce the rules of a system that has become untenable: its accuracy in flagging workers that were not authorized to work was a bit less than 50%.  In other words, in the absence of reform, workers and employers are finding ways around the system.

Other enforcement issues we are likely to see were set out in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and seven other restrictionist members of the Senate.  Their list includes (in addition to making E-Verify permanent and expanding its use) having ICE make more arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants; re-instating the Bush Administration's Social Security "No-Match" rule that would require employers to take specific actions against employees whose names and Social Security numbers don't match; stiffer fines on employers for hiring undocumented workers; and prohibiting employers from deducting wages paid to undocumented workers (in the context of a jobs bill).

It should be noted that one of the signers of the letter, Jim Bunning (R-KY), is the senator responsible for the recent impasse over a bill to extend unemployment benefits to millions of laid-off American workers.  This report  from America's Voice points out that Members of Congress who are restrictionist in their immigration views seem to be concerned about "protecting American workers" only when there is an opportunity to put an immigrant worker out of a job.

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