National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Waiting for the lame duck

October 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Members of Congress are out campaigning for re-election, and there will be no more consideration of legislation until after they return later in November. 


Just before the election recess, on September 29, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S.3932, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010.


The bill contains the same basic elements that have comprised other comprehensive reform bills in recent years:


Title I focuses on border enforcement.  Title II pertains to interior enforcement, and includes a subtitle on detention reforms.  Title III focuses on worksite enforcement, including an electronic worker verification program and authorizes a voluntary “enhanced” verification system with a biometric identifier. 


Title IV reforms the current admissions system.  It establishes a commission that will study the labor market and make admissions recommendations based on economic conditions.  It creates a new temporary worker program with visa limits set by the commission.  The new worker visa will be issued for a three-year period, renewable once, but it will be possible for workers to adjust to permanent status.  It reforms the family visa system in a number of ways, among them: reclassifying spouses and minor children of permanent residents as “immediate relatives” (thus eliminating long waits for visa availability); raising the “per-country ceiling” from seven to 15 percent of total admissions; and including the concept of “permanent partners” in the admissions system.  AgJOBS is incorporated in this title.


Title V provides for the legalization of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of September 30 (2010).  After six years, the legalized immigrants may adjust to permanent status.  Title V incorporates the DREAM Act.  Title VI pertains to immigrant integration, and includes the “Strengthen and United Communities with Civics Education and English Skills” Act introduced by Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  It also contains other miscellaneous provisions.


Senator Menendez offers a brief summary of the bill in his statement about its introduction.


More information about the bill can be found on the Web site of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, including text of the bill (before it was assigned a number), a “brief” (16-page) summary of the bill, and a longer (73-page) section-by-section summary of the bill.


The bill was introduced just before the recess; no action was taken.  Critics charged that the last-minute introduction of this bill, along with the very-late-in-the-session consideration of the DREAM Act on the Senate floor, was a cynical ploy to appeal to Latino voters just before an election.  It is absolutely shocking that politicians would offer policy proposals aimed at mobilizing their base voters prior to an election.  It just never happens.  The next thing you know, politicians will be promising prospective voters they will not raise taxes.  OK, never mind.


The truth is that New American and Latino voters have had little to be encouraged about from this Congress, and there had been indications that they would be much less enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming mid-term elections.  The debate about the DREAM Act and the introduction of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate (and before that the enactment of Arizona’s SB 1070) helped to clarify the positions of the parties for voters, and there are some signs that the immigration debate will help push Latinos to the polls.


A Pew Hispanic poll, released on October 5th, found that Latino registered voters favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by a margin of 65% to 22%.  Latinos who had discussed the immigration policy debate with others during the past year are more motivated to vote, according to the Pew poll.  Weekly tracking polls conducted by Latino Decisions indicate that the “Latino enthusiasm gap” seems to be closing, with 75% of Latino registered voters now saying they are “almost certain” to vote in November.


In light of all this, it will be interesting to see if motivation provided by last-minute pro-immigration legislative battles will overcome a disinclination to vote by a lot of disappointed New American and Latino voters.  As America’s Voice notes, voter mobilization efforts are just getting underway. 


After the election, Congress will return for a lame duck session.  The “lame ducks” are those Members of Congress who will not be returning next year, either because they lost their election or they had decided to retire.  Activity in a lame duck session can be hard to predict.  Members who have lost an election will be freed from having to please voters, and may not feel beholden to the purity police within their own parties.  These Members may feel free to vote their conscience.  That might improve prospects for some immigration legislation to pass.  On the other hand, if Democrats lose control of the House or Senate, Republicans may feel emboldened to hold the line against change, knowing they will control the next Congress.


In any event, there remains a fair amount of essential business to complete.  Topping the agenda is funding the government for the fiscal year that began October 1st.  Right now, the government is being funded through a “continuing resolution,” which continues the previous year’s level of funding through December 3rd.  It is expected that, instead of separate bills allocating funds to the various agencies, there will be one giant “omnibus” spending bill that will fund the entire government.  In any event, decisions on budgetary priorities will not be finalized until the spending bill is done. 


The way things have gone so far in the 111th Congress, the final spending bill will be delivered to the White house in a sled driven by a team of reindeer.

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