The Path to Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the House

Tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, July 10th, the House Republican Party will retreat to a caucus room underground to discuss how they should approach immigration reform as the majority party in the House of Representatives.  Here are a few possible scenarios:

  1. Adoption of the Senate Bill – The House could consider the Senate-passed immigration bill, S. 744. However, this is incredibly unlikely, and Speaker Boehner has stated on several occasions that “the House does not intend to take up the Senate bill…The House is going to do its own job in developing an immigration bill.”
  2. Introduction of Bipartisan Bill – It is rumored that nearly 500 pages have of text have been written, but progress on the legislation has come to a halt.  The former bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the House has now been reduced to a “Gang of 7” with the departure of Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).  There is also a stall due to the inability of the members to overcome ideological differences on certain provisions of the bill.  So this scenario is looking unlikely.
  3. Consideration of Piece-Meal Legislation – In the wake of the failed bipartisan effort, the House republicans have turned to a tactic whereby many individual bills addressing certain issues are introduced and passed.  There may be an attempt to mold all of these distinct bills into one large bill.

The House bill is sure to be more right-leaning than the Senate bill, as it is expected to contain stronger interior and border security provisions, a more demanding e-verify mandate, broader definitions and harsher penalties for the crimes that set removal proceedings for immigrants into motion (aggravated felonies), and a path to citizenship contingent upon a number of triggers. In addition, several bills have recently been considered by the House Judiciary Committee.  Here is a brief description of some of these bills:

  • The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act (H.R. 2278) would permit state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law and institute punishments in accordance with federal immigration legislation. It would also prevent the administration from enforcing its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which can defer the removal proceedings of undocumented children in the United States for two years.  Furthermore, this legislation would turn illegal immigration into a continuous federal crime, including visa overstays. This act is also particularly bad for refugees and asylum seekers, since it would expand the definition of “terrorist activity,” and thereby disqualify thousands of individuals eligible for refugee status who may have been physically threatened to provide terrorist groups with various material supplies, such as water.
  • The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) would mandate the use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) by every employer in the U.S. within two years of the bill’s adoption.  This bill would allow employers to condition a job offer on a worker’s employment verification (as opposed to current law, which requires employers to use E-Verify after the worker is hired), and it would limitsthe documents that may prove employment eligibility and identity. Furthermore, the bill does not include an administrative or judicial appeal process for errors in the system.
  • The Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2013 (H.R. 1773) seeks to establish an agricultural guest worker program.  However, individuals enrolled in the program would not be eligible for legal permanent residence or have access to a pathway to citizenship.  Workers holding seasonal or temporary jobs would be permitted to stay in the U.S. for 18 months before they would be required to return to their countries of origin for three months.  Individuals working permanent jobs would be allowed to stay in the U.S. for 36 months before returning to their country of origin for three months.
  • The SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131) seeks to increase the number of visas available for employers to sponsor international graduates of American institutions holding degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.  It would also increase the number of H-1B visas available for high skilled workers, and it would reserve 10,000 green cards a year for alien entrepreneurs.  This legislation would not create additional visas for the programs mentioned above; rather, it draws green cards and visas away from the family-based categories.  Under this Act, American citizens would no longer be permitted to sponsor their siblings for relocation to the United States.
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