House Taking Piecemeal Approach to Immigration Reform

After Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, the House is taking a more piecemeal approach to immigration reform. The Judiciary Committee has marked up four bills dealing with piecemeal aspects of the country’s immigration system. One (H.R. 1773) would create a new guest worker program for agricultural workers. Another (H.R. 2278) grants state and local officials more authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Also approved by the panel is a bill (H.R. 1772) to mandate an electronic workplace verification system known as E-Verify and another bill (H.R. 2131) to give more visas to foreign high-tech graduates of American universities.

The Homeland Security Committee, meanwhile, has marked up a border security bill (H.R. 1417) that would require the Homeland Security Department to put in place a plan to gain “operational control” of the borders. Thus far, none of the House bills has addressed citizenship, although there is talk of a bill that would create a path to citizenship for children. The Senate bill creates a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented people who are in the country and strengthens border security.

Immigration – Senate Passes Immigration Reform Legislation

The Senate voted 68-43 to pass S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act and sent it to the House.  All Senate Democrats voted for the bill as did 14 Republican Senators.  Republican support was strengthened by passage of an amendment sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) that would add $30 billion in spending on border security.  The bill also received a boost when the Congressional Budget Office determined it would reduce the deficit by almost $200 billion over the next decade and by $700 billion over the second decade.

So far, the House has taken a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.  The Judiciary Committee has approved four separate bills (H.R. 1773, H.R. 1772, H.R. 2278, and H.R. 2131) while the “gang of seven” continues to work on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that any immigration legislation must be supported by a majority of Republicans in the House.

Senate Scheduled to Vote on Immigration Reform Legislation Today

The Senate scheduled a vote for today on whether or not to end debate on an amendment to S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) includes a proposal developed by Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN) calling for $30 billion to increase border security. It would double the number of armed officers on the southern border to roughly 40,000. It would also spend billions on equipment such as drones, helicopters, cameras, and infrared sensors. Increased border security has been a non-negotiable for Senate Republicans and it is hoped that the Hoeven-Corker deal will bring more Republican supporters to the immigration reform bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that a final vote on the bill will happen on Thursday before the July 4 recess.

The amendment includes a provision sponsored by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) that would bar immigrants on the path to citizenship from claiming Social Security credit for work performed between January 2004 and January 2014 while in undocumented status.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a cost estimate of the immigration reform bill. CBO estimated that Immigration reform would offset any new spending through taxes paid by new and legalizing immigrants. CBO found that immigration reform would reduce the deficit by about $200 billion over the next 10 years and $700 billion over the second decade due to greater labor force participation. Finally, CBO predicted that immigration reform would create new jobs.

Senate to Begin Debate on Immigration Reform

The Senate voted to begin debate on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, by a vote of 84-15. Supporters of the bill are trying to gather 60 votes, the number of votes needed to avoid a filibuster. Numerous amendments to the bill will be debated over the next several days with the goal of finishing before the July 4 recess.

Key Committee Approves Immigration Bill

With a bipartisan vote of 13 – 5, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee sent the Border Security Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744, to the full Senate. Majority Leader Reid anticipates bringing the bill to the Senate floor in June. S. 744 provides a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people currently in the country. The bill also provides a new “W” visa for low-skilled workers. The bill as currently written would do away with the sibling category in family visas. The Arc is concerned about the negative impact that provision could have on individuals living in other countries whose family caregivers become incapacitated or die, leaving the individual with I/DD without caregivers.

New Nationwide Policy for Immigration Detainees with Mental Disorders

The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) issued a new nationwide policy for immigration detainees with serious mental disorders or conditions that preclude them from effectively representing themselves in immigration proceedings. Under the policy, individuals will be screened for serious mental disorders or conditions when they enter an immigration detention facility. Immigration judges will be able to order competency hearings and appoint lawyers, at government expense, for those who may have serious disorders. The immigration reform bill in the Senate, S.744, includes a provision for providing lawyers for unaccompanied children and for individuals with mental disabilities in immigration courts at government expense.

The federal court for the Central District of California handed down a decision in a class action lawsuit begun in 2010 on behalf of a 33-year old man with intellectual disability who had been held in detention for 5 years after he could not defend himself in a deportation hearing and others in similar circumstances. The court ordered immigration courts in California, Arizona, and Washington to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities who are in detention facing deportation and who cannot represent themselves. The court ordered bond hearings for anyone with a mental disorder who had been in detention for 6 months or longer.

The federal court decision, the new DOJ and DHS policy, and the immigration reform bill provision address the serious problem of prolonged detention that some immigrants with disabilities experience. Since these individuals cannot represent themselves effectively in immigration courts and do not have a right to counsel, they end up being held in detention centers for long periods of time – months, sometimes years – with no due process protections.

Gang of 8 Introduces Bipartisan Immigration Bill

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of eight Senators. The Senate “Gang of 8” includes Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The bill includes a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented individuals. It increases the number of visas for high-skilled workers, creates a new “W-visa” category for low-skilled workers and calls for enhanced border security. The bill requires employers to use an improved version of the electronic system, E-Verify, to determine employees’ legal status. The E-verify portion of the law would be phased in according to the number of employees, culminating in coverage of all employers within four years.

The new W-visa program would begin in 2015 and be capped at 20,000 workers. The cap would rise to 75,000 by 2019. Workers could stay for three years with their families. They would be able to apply to renew their visas. There is a change to family visas.   Family visas would be available for parents, children and spouses of citizens and permanent legal residents. Eighteen months after enactment of the law, siblings and adult children would no longer be included in that category. Two days after the bill was introduced, despite the fact that it is over 800 pages long and is still being analyzed, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and has scheduled a second hearing on the bill for April 22.

Webinar on Immigration Reform Issues for People With Disabilities and Older Adults

As Congress considers comprehensive immigration reform, it is important for the aging and disability communities to be engaged on this issue. Immigration reform provides opportunities to strengthen the direct care workforce and address the projected shortage of workers as the baby boom generation ages and more individuals need long-term services and supports. In addition, immigration reform can help eliminate discrimination against older immigrants and those with disabilities. The webinar will be held on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 2:00 – 3:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time. It is being hosted by a coalition of national aging and disability organizations working together to advance home and community-based services and supports. Space is limited, so please register early and share lines when possible.