Legislative Bulletin – Friday, October 31, 2014
Assistant Director for Immigration Policy and Advocacy
October 31, 2014
Bills Introduced and Considered
- There were no new bills introduced or considered this week.
Nominations and Confirmations
- There were no significant developments on nominations or confirmations this week.
Legislative Floor Calendar
- The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are in recess through the November mid-term elections.
- There are no scheduled hearings or markups this week.
Themes in Washington This Week
Immigration and the 2014 Midterm Elections
- As the 2014 elections enter their final week, the role of immigration and the Latino vote remains a significant source of commentary. With Democrats struggling to regain the trust and enthusiasm of Hispanic voters disappointed by the Obama Administration’s delay in taking administrative action on immigration, Democrats are looking for Hispanic support in key races in Colorado, North Carolina, and elsewhere to help preserve their Senate majority.
- Activists from DREAMer groups have been visible on the campaign trail, with protesters confronting Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) for her opposition to the Obama Administration taking administrative action on immigration. DREAMers also have sought to pin down 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton on administrative action, even as her “Ready for Hillary” super PAC hosts leading Hispanic Democrats in a reception next month.
- On October 31, DREAMer activists held a protest in front of the White House, calling on President Obama to “go big” in taking administrative action on immigration after the election.
- The DREAM Act itself received a boost last week when Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate Minority Whip, declared his support for the legislation in a debate with his Democratic opponent. Cornyn maintains a considerable lead in his reelection bid and endorsed DREAMer relief despite prior opposition to DREAM Act legislation.
- In Colorado, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and his challenger, former CO Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff (D-CO), held a debate in Spanish as they run to win a key congressional swing seat. Both Coffman and Romanoff have worked diligently to court Latino voters in Colorado’s 6th
Partisan Battle Lines Drawn on Administrative Action
- On October 28, Buzzfeed reported that U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials are sending their final recommendations on administrative action to President Obama for approval. Speculation has mounted regarding what reforms the administration will adopt, with reports circulating that administrative relief could affect between one million and five million undocumented long-term residents in the United States. Under the rumored proposal, the administration would grant work permits and temporary relief from deportation to undocumented long-term U.S. residents with close family ties to others in the United States.
- Although some have speculated that a Republican victory on November 4 will lead President Obama to pull back on reform, indications are that the administration’s plans will not be affected by the election results.
- Republican leaders have continued to warn the Obama Administration against administrative action to reform the immigration system. Earlier this week, Republican members of the Senate “Gang of Eight” that drafted the 2013 Senate immigration bill announced their opposition to administrative action. In an October 30 letter signed by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) the Senators urged that “no action should be taken to legalize undocumented immigrants who are living and working in the United States until we have properly secured our southern border and provided for effective enforcement of immigration laws,” and that “Congress must fulfill its obligations under the Constitution and address this issue.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the fourth republican member of “the Gang” did not sign onto the letter, but released a statement in agreement with its sentiments.
- In a post-administrative action world, the next steps for Republicans are uncertain. Some have speculated that congressional Republicans could file a lawsuit against the president for abusing his executive powers, but previous efforts to sue the Obama Administration over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act have apparently stalled, with the GOP’s law firm withdrawing from representation this week.
- Leading Democrats and activists have called on President Obama to move forward with aggressive administrative action to provide relief to millions of immigrants who lack documentation, but possess long-standing ties to the U.S. Legal experts and congressional Democratic leaders have made the case that the president possesses broad authority over immigration policy and can take significant steps to use executive power to limit deportations and provide other relief to immigrants.
Obama Administration under Fire for Detention Policies
- The Obama Administration detention and immigration adjudication policies continue to face scrutiny from all sides of the political spectrum.
- Critics of mass-detention called for change in several forums. In a letter to the Obama Administration sent on October 28, 32 House Democrats urged the administration to end family detention, following a similar letter from leading Senate Democrats earlier this month. Also this week, advocates testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international human rights body, hammering the administration’s family detention and asylum policies and bringing attention to significant due process shortcomings.
- These criticisms were echoed by the right-leaning, libertarian CATO Institute, which published its own critique of U.S. asylum policy, pointing to “the systematic denial of due process in immigrant detention centers across the country,” which it characterized as “one of the most egregious offenses to the rule of law” in the U.S.
- The administration also has come under criticism for an unusual contracting process for the operation of a new family detention facility in Dilley, TX. In order to speed the opening of the facility, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) entered into an Intergovernmental Services Agreement (IGA) with the small town of Eloy, AZ, located hundreds of miles away, to nominally operate the facility. IGAs, which are typically struck with the jurisdiction in which a facility in question is located, circumvent the competitive bidding process, which can take months to complete.
- Calling for tougher detention standards, Republicans slammed the Obama Administration after a report in USA Today stated that that 2,200 people with criminal records were released from immigration detention last year, including a significant number of releases relating to the 2013 sequester cuts. A spokesperson for ICE said that the “discretionary releases made by ICE were of low-level offenders. However, the releases involving individuals with more significant criminal histories were, by and large, dictated by special circumstances outside of the agency’s control,” namely Supreme Court rulings requiring the release of criminals who have served their sentences and cannot be deported.
Pentagon Suspends MAVNI to Finalize Screening Process
- The Department of Defense (DoD) announced last week that it would be temporarily suspending the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program to finalize screening procedures for immigrants seeking to enlist under the program. Earlier this month, DoD announced that it would allow a small number of undocumented immigrants with specialized skills to join the U.S. military.
National Immigration Forum Launches Immigration 2020 to Advance the National Conversation on Immigrants and Immigration
- Last week, the National Immigration Forum launched Immigration 2020 with a day-long National Strategy Session to focus America’s conversation on immigrants and immigration. Panelists discussed how to provide new Americans with the opportunities, skills and status needed to reach their fullest potential. Following the event, panelist Linda Chavez published an op-ed touting the “lowered temperature” of the political debate surrounding immigration, while MSNBC reported on Public Religion Research Institute polling data presented by panelist Robert Jones. The data showed a rebound in the public’s view of immigrants since a decline this summer in the midst of the influx of unaccompanied children.
(1) The Office of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
The Office of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
The most recent edition of Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) annual report on wasteful government spending found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spent $1 million on worker’s compensation for employees who had not returned to work despite being cleared for duty. The report additionally found that the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General accused U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of wasting $4.6 million on the construction of 21 luxurious single-family homes for Border Patrol agents working in Ajo, Arizona. The homes, which contained upgrades such as quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, wireless ceiling fans, and three-car garages, each cost more than six times the average price of homes in the area. Notably, several of the homes sit vacant, likely due to the high rent rates. CBP also spent $2.4 million to purchase 20 park-model trailer homes in the same area to provide additional housing. Between October 2013 and March 2014 only two of those homes were occupied.
(2) Congressional Research Service
By William A. Kandel
October 29, 2014
This CRS report discusses the current policy and trends regarding permanent legal immigration to the United States. Currently, there are 675,000 immigrant visas available each year, and no country can receive more than 7 percent of the total number of visas available. Of that total, 480,000 visas are allotted for family-sponsored immigration, 140,000 for employment-based immigration, and 55,000 for diversity immigration. There are also immigrant visas available for refugees and those granted asylum.
In fiscal year (FY) 2013, approximately 1 million immigrants became lawful permanent residents (LPRs). About 53.6 percent of those people simply adjusted to LPR status from temporary status, while the rest of the immigrants were admitted to the United States as LPRs.
Due to the limited number of visas available, there is a substantial backlog of people who have been approved for LPR visas but are waiting for their visas to become available. At the end of FY 2013, there were 4.4 million approved LPR petitions awaiting visas. On average, the government currently has visas available for those who applied in FY 2006, though the backlog is much greater for those who come from countries such as the Philippines and Mexico.
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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Larry Benenson, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Larry can be reached at email@example.com. Thank you.