On January 30, 2014, House Republicans issued a statement containing their “Standards for Immigration Reform.” The statement comes following a year which included passage of a Senate immigration bill, only to have the House fail to pass any similar legislation that could have led to a conference. For more information about attempts to pass immigration reform in 2013, see our analysis of both the Senate bill and House Democrats’ bill. Subsequent to the release of the “Standards”, Speaker of the House, John Boehner, also released a Q & A on the Standards that includes a comparison with the Senate Bill. Taken together, these documents demonstrate the different perspectives and opinions that divide the two parties on this issue.
The “Standards” statement starts with a preamble stating outright that the nation’s immigration system is broken, that the House Republicans are committed to working in a bipartisan fashion, that the problem cannot be solved by a single piece of legislation (meaning in one comprehensive immigration bill), and that the House members will not go to a conference with the immigration bill that passed in the Senate last year. The Senate bill is referred to as a “single, massive piece of legislation that few have read and even fewer understand.”
Border security and interior enforcement are two of the main areas addressed by the Standards. The Standards mandate a secure border, eliminate the ability for any administration to “arbitrarily decide which laws to enforce”, set a zero tolerance policy for future illegal border crossers, and implement a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system. In addition, they indicate that employment verification and workplace enforcement, including an electronic employment verification system, i.e. E-Verify, are needed. The Speaker explicitly claims that the Senate bill, by comparison, does not condition citizenship for illegal immigrants on border security, allows the administration to circumvent Congress and to decide unilaterally how to enforce immigration laws, keeps border enforcement policies open for future illegal immigrants, and does not include an entry/exit tracking system.
To secure our borders and grow our economy, the Standards state that reform of the current legal immigration system is needed. They assert that for too long, extended family and pure luck (the diversity lottery) have been favored over employment-based immigration. The Standards indicate that visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the economy. The Standards also propose the need for a temporary worker program to address the future flow of workers, particularly for the agricultural industry, among others. The Speaker criticizes the Senate bill’s low-skilled, temporary worker program as having been “written by labor unions and special interests” that “would only increase the problem of illegal immigration.”
The Standards recognize that the “Dreamers”, those brought to the U.S. as children, should be given an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship, provided they meet certain eligibility standards, such as serving in the military or attaining a college degree. For other individuals currently in the U.S. without lawful status, however, the standards assert there will be no “special path to citizenship” but that these individuals should be able to live here legally if they admit culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and U.S. civics, and are able to support themselves and their families without public benefits. Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders would not be eligible. In addition, none of this should happen before “specific enforcement triggers” have been implemented.
According to the Speaker, the Senate bill would allow everyone unlawfully in the U.S. to become a citizen after a certain period with no limits on the number of green cards. There would be no requirement that individuals admit that they broke any laws, “giving them a free pass for their crimes.” Public benefits would be prohibited only during probationary status and would not require any proof of the applicants’ ability to support themselves. Regarding gang members, according to the Speaker, the Senate bill excludes only a very small portion of the “gang member population” and allows for a waiver of gang-related crimes. Finally, the Senate bill contains no “enforcement trigger” and would allow illegal immigrants to register for legalization virtually immediately following passage of the legislation.
The Speaker also highlights what he believes to be a significant difference in how the the House and Senate approach the process of creating immigration legislation. For example, lawmakers and the public will have a full opportunity to scrutinize any legislation coming from the House before it comes to a vote. The Senate bill, according to the Speaker, did not allow the public or lawmakers sufficient time for review.
These Standards highlight that some very significant differences continue to exist between the two parties and the House and Senate. It remains to be seen whether sufficient common ground can be found in the coming months to allow Congress to produce new legislation that will lead to actual reform of our immigration system.
If you have questions about immigration law or how immigration reform may affect your situation, the attorneys at Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan are available to help.