The immigration bill debate began this week in the US Senate, though concerns remain for its passage there and (more so) in the less-friendly House. However, notably conservative House member and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan weighed in defending the bill: he stated during an immigration forum that he would 'debate anybody' who says immigration bill is 'amnesty' and asserted his confidence that the bill could pass the House...
The immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 22 and is now headed for the Senate floor. The main controversies in getting the bill through the committee were amendments: Orrin Hatch's raising the number of visas for skilled foreign workers (to fill jobs in Utah's burgeoning tech industry) passed, to labor leaders' chagrin; Patrick Leahy's allowing same-sex partners to apply for green card/legal permanent resident status was withdrawn--to the dismay of many.
The immigration bill is chugging along, with proposed amendments from both Democrats and Republicans still being debated in Senate committee. Jeff Sessions' proposal for a biometric/ fingerprinting system for foreigners leaving every airport (instead of limiting implementation to major airports) failed resoundingly. Although momentum seems to be in favor of the bill's supporters, two major Department of Homeland Security unions came out in opposition: the union for federal workers who review immigration documents and that for ICE (immigration enforcement).
As the American Immigration Council noted in their policy article on Noncitizen Deportation, the deportation system is deeply flawed (so much so that even American citizens can be deported by mistake): no access to counsel, introduction of evidence that would be excluded in a criminal court, poor conditions in detainment facilities, and general dysfunctionality. The system is 'civil', so detainees do not receive the same protections afforded in criminal proceedings--despite the fact that consequences at least as severe as being fined or jailed are at stake.
The new immigration reform bill quietly proposes to provide free attorneys to immigrants in deportation proceedings if they fall into the 'sympathetic' categories: mentally disabled, children, 'particularly vulnerable.' Slate offers that this potentially lays the groundwork for a public defender-like system for all immigrants in deportation court. The Bill also proposes, among other protections: providing noncitizens a right to a appeal to a 3-judge panel of the BIA and an opinion that addresses all dispositive issues; mandating immigration judges conduct in-person hearings for stipulated deportations; 'secure alternatives' to detention.
On May 1, 2013, the Minnesota State Senate passed a bill that would allow unauthorized immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Minnesota colleges and universities. The bill has not been presented in the House, but Governor Dayton has indicated he will sign the Prosperity Act if it comes to his desk.
Many other states across the nation passed or proposed legislation also coinciding the May Day, which has become an annual 'holiday' for immigration-related rallies.
The US Supreme Court declined to hear an case involving Alabama's notorious Arizona-like immigration law. The lower court blocked the provision making it a crime to harbor or transport immigrants not authorized to be in the United States, or induce them to enter or live in the state.
A group of ten ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) agents filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security last year contending that compliance with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order from DHS was in violation of federal law. The Texas District Court did not grant the agents' motion for a preliminary injunction--yet: the Court's reasoning suggested a ruling in Plaintiffs' favor pending additional briefing submitted by both parties.
“The court finds that DHS does not have discretion to refuse to initiate removal proceedings” when the requirements for deportation under a federal statute are met, O’Connor said today in a 38-page decision, referring to the Department of Homeland Security"
Potentially bad news for DACA, but hopefully negotiations on a national immigration reform bill, including legislative version of DACA/the DREAM Act, will progress quickly.
Identification of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing as Chechen asylum recipients had an inevitable ripple effect on the immigration reform discussion dominating headlines that same week. Senator Grassley of Iowa, a vocal opponent of the bill, drew veiled connections between the suspected terrorists and potential consequences of the proposed immigration reform. Grassley has walked back the comments and was dressed down by Charles Schumer of New York during April 22 hearings. A reasoned, thoughtful op-ed addressed the issue in the Sunday New York Times, noting that the proposed system would provide a means of identifying and accounting for those 'living in the shadows' under the current system. Only time will tell whether the 'immigration connection' with the Boston bombers will resonate in the current immigration debate.
The draft put forward by the bipartisan group of eight senators was released Wednesday, April 17, 2013 (a comprehensive outline was released the day before). As expected, extensive safeguards for border security and enforcement were included alongside provisions for undocumented immigrants to stay in the US, work legally, and eventually be eligible to become citizens.
-Individuals in unlawful status, residing in the US prior to December 31, 2011 (among many other criteria), can apply to adjust status to legal status of 'Registered Provisional Immigrant Status' (RPI)
-RPIs may apply for legal permanent resident status (a green card) through a merit-based system after 10 years
-Those applying for DREAM Act Status (i.e., undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, among other criteria) can get green cards after only 5 years and are immediately eligible for citizenship after receiving their green card
-Eliminating backlog for family- and employment-based immigrants by reducing preference categories for family-based immigration (no longer available for siblings of US Citizens)
-Merit-based visa: awards points to individuals based on education, employment, length of residence in US and other considerations
-Mandatory E-Verify system: non-citizens required to show 'biometric work authorization card' to employer as part of extensive new E-Verify system
-H1-B visas raised cap from 65,000 to 110,000 (with projections in future years up to 180,000)
-W-Visa for lower-skilled workers: aliens having foreign residence who come to the US to perform services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position
-Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act: would allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status through 'Agricultural Card Program'
Anticipation for draft of immigration bill (and speculation regarding its content and reactions) snowballing!
A draft of the immigration bill is expected from the so-called Gang of Eight the week of April 15, 2013--and anticipation has been running high. Immigrants and related interest groups (labor, gay rights activists) rallied around the Capitol in support of comprehensive immigration on Wednesday. General provisions were leaked and the main focus is on efforts to step up enforcement/border security, the parameters for a path to citizenship, new or re-designed visa programs for skilled and unskilled workers. Rumored to be among the more specific provisions is a 'provisional status' for undocumented immigrants currently in the US, which would allow them to live and work here without becoming permanent residents. Another goal is to clear up backlogs in the green card application system, possibly with 'merit-based' green cards available to undocumented immigrants after a proscribed term of years.
Meanwhile, the dairy industry is hoping for an expanded guest worker program as part of the reform due to the combined hardship of labor shortages and increased immigration enforcement audits of their workforce.