Immigration Reform Stalls in the House

Immigration art

May 13, 2013; CBS News

One thing that’s certain after the House GOP meeting last Wednesday is that immigration reform isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Republican representatives convened to discuss how to proceed after the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes provisions for what Senator McCain described as “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” stringent law enforcement measures, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

House Republicans are well aware that their party mandarins want them to act in short order and produce immigration legislation, but they are not to be rushed. The priorities of national Republicans and representatives are simply different. Party leaders fear losing the Latino vote in 2016 and beyond, while House members fear losing the conservative White vote in upcoming primaries. (Very few House members have sizeable numbers of Latino voters to worry about. On average, only 10 percent of voters in Republican districts are Latino.)

Any steps taken will be after the August recess, and they will be small. The inclination is toward tackling immigration reform piecemeal, starting with border security, interior enforcement, visas for high-skilled workers, and an agricultural guest worker program. But a path to citizenship, a crucial component of any comprehensive immigration reform bill, is a non-starter for most House members, being tantamount to amnesty.

Some Republicans have suggested an alternative path that leads to “legalization,” not citizenship. But isn’t this just semantics? The Senate bill would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants and, after 13 years or so, allow them to naturalize. The House could pass a bill that “only” provides legal status, but under the current system, immigrants could eventually get green cards and in time, citizenship. The process might be tougher and longer, but it nonetheless ends the same…unless formerly undocumented immigrants are banned from ever becoming citizens.

In the meantime, others like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte are open to providing a path to citizenship for one group of unauthorized immigrants: those who were brought into the country as children. Cantor and Goodlatte are drafting their own version of the DREAM Act, which passed in the House but failed in the Senate in December of 2010.

Immigration reform might still happen. But not any time soon, and not in a fashion as comprehensive as some of us would like.

Originially posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s NPQ Newswire.

Despite Promised Reform, Impasse on Immigration Prevails

Originally posted on the Huffington Post, this is an expanded version of an earlier Feet in 2 Worlds entry.

In their desire to rehabilitate their anti-immigrant image, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to put forth immigration bills far short of anything comprehensive as initially called for by House Speaker Boehner.

Earlier this week, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced their watered-down version of the DREAM Act, which they christened the ACHIEVE Act. While young undocumented immigrants brought unwittingly into the country would have a chance to gain permanent residency through higher education or military service and after a long process that could span a decade, they are not offered a pathway to citizenship unlike the DREAM Act. Moreover, they would not be eligible for federal public benefits or assistance, including student loans.

“The problem with the ACHIEVE Act is it does not achieve the dream,” quipped Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) during a press conference Wednesday. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force, dismissed the initiative as “too little, too late.”

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted on the Science, Technology, Engineering of Mathematics (STEM) Jobs Act, which amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make up to 55,000 visas available to qualified immigrants who have advanced STEM degrees from a U.S. university, at the expense of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

Guitierrez also opposed the STEM bill, saying that it “is more about politics and optics for the Republicans than about anything substantive.” He believes that GOP lawmakers “are more interested in killing the Diversity Visa program, which goes mostly to immigrants from Africa, than in creating a program for science and tech graduates.”

The White House also chimed in through a statement which stresses that the Obama administration “is deeply committed to building a 21st-century immigration system that meets the Nation’s economic and security needs through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” and as part of a broader immigration reform effort, “strongly supports legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees.” The administration however, “does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”

Although the STEM bill passed in the House of Representatives, there is little to no chance that it will survive the Democratic-led Senate, where leaders like Charles Schumer (D-NY) prefer that STEM legislation be part of comprehensive immigration reform. Moreover, the ACHIEVE Act, another narrow GOP-led immigration initiative is a non-starter as its sponsors are ending their terms.

Democrats in the meantime, continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus released Wednesday “ONE NATION: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream,” a manifesto that insists on full and inclusive reform.

The set of principles includes an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the inclusion of families of binational same-gender couples as well as a commitment to attracting the best and the brightest while ensuring national prosperity and security.

Less than a month after both sides expressed purported seriousness in tackling immigration, it looks like we’re back to the same o’ same o’. Republicans refuse to seriously consider comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform while Democrats refuse to compromise their vision to once and for all rehabilitate our dysfunctional immigration system. If no one budges, everyone pays come 2014 and 2016.

Obama’s Immigration Reprieve: ‘The Right Thing To Do,’ But Not Good Enough

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

President Obama finally acted on behalf of undocumented youth because “it is the right thing to do,” he said Friday. He announced temporary reprieve for DREAMers, as they are also known, during a press briefing at the White House Rose Garden.

“It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “They’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country—to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents—or because of the inaction of politicians.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano acted on the president’s mandate and issued a memorandum explaining how prosecutorial discretion will be used. Individuals under 30 years of age can benefit if they are able to prove that they were brought into the country when they were younger than 16; have lived here for at least five years; are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and have no criminal record or pose no threat to national security or public safety. Importantly, eligible youth will be able to apply for work permits.

This major immigration policy could affect up to 1.4 million children and young adults, based on the Pew Hispanic Center estimates. This number, almost twice the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimate of 800,000 beneficiaries, includes 700,000 immigrants between the ages 18 to 30 who are currently enrolled in school or have graduated from high school and an additional 700,000 who are under the age of 18 and are enrolled in school.

The president made it clear that “this is not amnesty, this is not immunity.  This is not a path to citizenship.  It’s not a permanent fix.  This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

Precisely because this is a temporary measure with a path to nowhere, it leaves DREAMers with many questions and keeps them uncertain about their future. This is an order which could instantly be revoked by a President Romney after all. For all these reasons, undocumented youth and their advocates are cautiously celebrating the directive.

“The devil is in the details, and we don’t have a lot of details right now,” Daniel Rodriguez, a 26 year old DREAMer, told the New York Daily News. “We’re trying to get them. The president needs to execute his promise and implement this action immediately. We cannot wait until after the election.”

Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian American Justice Center applauded President Obama’s action but said it wasn’t enough. “While this is forward movement on our immigration policies, we can’t stop here. We call on Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and all undocumented immigrants,” Moua said.

I have no doubt that the President believes granting a reprieve to these young Americans is the right thing to do. And it is. He was also spurred by relentless pressure from the DREAMers themselves and their advocates, including very vocal ones in the Democratic Party. Moreover, this was a brilliant political move that took back the DREAM Act discourse from Marco Rubio and the GOP, locked in the Latino vote, and cornered Mitt Romney who has yet to say whether he would rescind this reprieve or not if he wins the presidency.

The President did good, but not enough. Comprehensive immigration reform has to be achieved. If does get re-elected, he and his party better deliver.

Originally posted in Feet in 2 Worlds, June 18, 2012.

Rocking the Boat, and the Vote, for a Dream

Antonio Villaraigosa

A rally for the DREAM Act in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo: Antonio Villaraigosa/flickr)

President Obama holds the power to realize the ultimate dreams of undocumented youth—but he’s choosing not to wield it.

Last week, nearly 100 immigration law professors sent a letter to the president, a former law professor himself, arguing that Mr. Obama should exercise his authority to grant relief to undocumented youth.

The academics write that their missive seeks “to explain that there is clear executive authority for several forms of administrative relief for DREAM Act beneficiaries: deferred action, parole-in-place, and deferred enforced departure.”

Deferred action can prevent an individual from being placed in deportation proceedings, suspend any proceedings that have commenced, or stay the enforcement of any existing deportation order. Parole-in-place permits a noncitizen, on a case-by-case basis and for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, to remain lawfully in the United States. Deferred enforced departure (DED) is closely related to deferred action. Individuals covered by DED are not subject to deportation, usually for a designated period of time. Individuals, under all three situations, can also be authorized to work legally.

Hiroshi Motomura, the Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law at UCLA, challenged any doubt that the president can use his executive prerogative.

“There is definitely executive authority. There is not just legal authority but historical authority.  Not only that, but there is a degree of surprise [among the law professors] that there could be any doubt about this question,” Motomura said.

America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, points out that this letter is only the latest attempt to persuade President Obama to act on behalf of undocumented youth.

In April 2011, 22 US Senators sent a letter asking Obama to provide relief for DREAMers; a month later, a number of former INS officials weighed in on the authority of the executive branch.  Last month, the United We DREAM network launched the “Right to DREAM” campaign featuring rallies, marches, and protests around the country.  Leaders from United We DREAM have also in recent days met with senior White House officials and key Congressional offices, including five Republican Senators or their staff.

In spite of the pressure from immigrant activists, the president has insisted that it is Congress’ job to pass the DREAM Act, not his. It is not difficult to figure out why Mr. Obama refuses to act, even though he very well could. With Election Day five months away, he doesn’t want to be accused of diverting his attention from the economy for an interest group, an unauthorized one at that. The Obama team wants to stay focused and not rock the boat.

Should the president rock the boat?

Providing relief to hard-working and courageous youth who are all-American in every way except their documentation will benefit Mr. Obama. A majority of Americans support the DREAM Act, which passed the House of Representatives in 2010. An executive order benefitting these deserving young women and men will fire up the base and secure the votes of independents who feel strongly about this issue.

President Obama wants to stand in stark contrast to Governor Romney. Here’s a chance to make the difference more pronounced. As Mr. Romney holds fast to his hardline immigration stance, Mr. Obama can take a principled stance for our shared future.

Originally posted for Feet in 2 Worlds, June 8, 2012.

Young Immigrants Can Meet the U.S. Need for Skilled Workers

An American Apparel factory

An American Apparel factory in Los Angeles. (Photo: Alossix/flickr)

The Labor Department reported that 227,000 new jobs were created last month.

The improving economic outlook has been good for U.S. manufacturers who were responsible for 31,000 of the new hires. And they say they intend to employ many more people in the coming months.

There is, however, a shortage of qualified American workers. According to CNN Money, the lack of machinists, tool and die makers, computer-controlled machine programmers, and operators have left businesses little choice but to look abroad.

U.S. manufacturers have increasingly leveraged H-1B visas, which allow high-skilled foreign individuals to work up to six years in the country, to fill these positions. In 2011, the Labor Department certified 39,551 H-1B visas for manufacturing positions, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Yet less than 100 of these visas were for core factory jobs. A majority were for architecture, engineering and other non-production related jobs.

Gardner Carrick, the Manufacturing Institute’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives told CNN Money that “H-1B is never going to be the answer to the skills shortage in production jobs in manufacturing.”

“The H-1B certainly isn’t the best long-term solution,” he added. “We have to grow this talent at home.”

With the unemployment rate hovering at 8 percent, we do need to train U.S. workers, both native-born and immigrant, with the skills to work in our factories.

“These jobs are the backbone of manufacturing,” said Carrick. “These are good quality middle-class jobs that Americans should be training for.”

We should also be looking at DREAMers, undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and in whom we have already invested much through our education and other support systems. These are young, motivated Americans who want nothing more than the opportunity to contribute and be productive members of our society. They are lobbying for the DREAM Act so that they can go to college and get skills in order to work and contribute to the U.S. economy.

We are starting to climb out of the Great Recession and we should call on our elected officials and other policymakers to craft smart policy that will bring our economy back to full health, create more jobs, and lift all. The DREAM Act must be part of it.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, March 12, 2012.

Democrats Should Not Capitulate on the ARMS Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

The ARMS Act – the pared down version of the DREAM Act – does not make sense. By granting a path to citizenship only to those who sign up for the military, the bill precludes many undocumented youth who can contribute much to our economy and national well-being.

While it comes as no surprise that GOP lawmakers would support the measure suggested by Rep. Rivera (R-FL), it is stunning that some Democrats are actually considering the ARMS Act as a viable alternative to the DREAM Act.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, thinks the ARMS Act is “a step in the right direction.” Whitehouse told the Hill:

“If you are willing to accept that military service is the kind of bona fide that credentials a young person to take advantage of college benefits, I’d want to explore what other kinds of service might also qualify with them before I wrote off drawing the line there. I’ll do a bit more exploring but it’s a good start.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) still believes that the DREAM Act should be passed, but he is not ruling out a compromise.

“My belief is we should try to pass the whole DREAM Act. As for what compromise might come about, that’s down the road,” he said.

I don’t see why any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, should even mull the ARMS Act when a majority of Americans support the DREAM Act—which, we ought to recall, passed the House in 2010.

Moreover, do Democrats wish to further erode Latino support?

Their party’s relationship with the Latino community is stressed as it is due to their inability to pass the DREAM Act and the Obama administration’s record number of deportations.

Thankfully, there are those who will put up a firewall against GOP attempts to water down the DREAM Act.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) thinks the ARMS Act is no more than “a deeply cynical ploy” to garner the support of Latino voters and  remains committed to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth through military service AND higher education.

Douglas Rivlin, Gutierrez’s Director of Communications, explained the Congressman’s position in detail:

The Congressman thinks a military-only DREAM Act is a non-starter.  It is simply a campaign gimmick to give Republicans someplace to stand in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and other states where there are Latino voters that softens their “I will veto the DREAM Act” absolutism in South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire.  The Congressman sees it as pure politics and the legislation itself is irrelevant.  Other than — perhaps — the two remaining Representatives who voted for the DREAM Act when it passed in 2010, House Republicans are generally not interested in legalizing anyone under any circumstances, even if they have to get shot at first.

Democrats should see the ARMS Act for what it is and not compromise on the DREAM Act.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, February 11, 2012.

The ARMS Act Does Not Make Sense

Marine is sworn in as a US Citizen

Marine is sworn in as a U.S. Citizen. (NYC Marines/flickr)

Republican Rep. David Rivera proposed a bill late last week which would give undocumented youth a path to citizenship.

The Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act – the ARMS Act – is a pruned version of the DREAM Act. Immigrant youth who were brought into the United States illegally as children have the chance to change their status by attending college or joining the military under the DREAM Act. Rivera’s measure only allows undocumented youth the opportunity to legalize through enlisting in military service.

“If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera told the Miami Herald.

Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney support the ARMS Act.

“I think there is no opposition to that part of the DREAM Act,” Gingrich told a gathering of the Latin Builder’s Association Friday. “I think it should go through immediately.”

Undocumented youth, however, are not as enthusiastic about the ARMS Act.

Juan Escalante, a DREAM Act activist, says that “the ARMS Act is the GOP ‘dream’ of the Dream Act.”

“The ARMS Act is an opportunistic attempt, in my opinion, from the GOP trying to capitalize some DREAM Act momentum,” he said.

Escalante is not the only DREAMer who opposes the military-only version of the DREAM Act.

Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing wrote that undocumented youth ask, “why it is that the only way they can serve the country they’ve grown up in is by joining the military. Undocumented youth argue that they are fully capable of serving the country in many other ways.”

Escalante, who has no objections himself to the military component of the DREAM Act, said, “It seems foolish to me that you could only be granted relief by risking your life for this country. What are those doctors, lawyers, or politician scientists such as myself, going to do?”

“Better yet, is the United States ready to deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers?” he asked.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, released a statement characterizing the ARMS Act as “a distortion of the DREAM Act.” He argues that excluding legalization through higher education “would provide the wrong incentives for military enlistment during a time of war.” Some undocumented youth might sign up out of desperation and not because they are interested in military service.

Noorani also contends that “by denying immigrant students the right to higher education, America is losing out on their entrepreneurship, productivity and economic contributions.”

The ARMS Act does not make sense. It appears to be a thinly veiled GOP attempt to pander to military hawks while dangling a bittersweet fruit in front of Latino voters turned off by the immigration rhetoric spewed during the Republican presidential primaries.

There is something mercenary about the idea.

The fact of the matter is a majority of Americans support the full DREAM Act. In December 2010, the bill passed the House by a resounding vote of 216-198 but failed in the Senate by five votes.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging anyone to enlist with the military. If done voluntarily it is a noble act which should be applauded and held high as an example. But there is more than one way to serve your country.

Undocumented youth, if given the chance, would educate our children, heal our sick, strengthen our economy and yes, die for the country they consider their own.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, February 3, 2012.

In State of the Union, President Obama Lowers Expectations on Immigration

President Obama giving his 2012 State of the Union Address

President Obama giving his 2012 State of the Union Address

President Obama once again called for comprehensive immigration reform during his State of the Union address Tuesday, stressing that his administration has done more on border enforcement than previous administrations.

I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration.  That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.  That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office.  The opponents of action are out of excuses.  We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.

We should, but we’re not.

Obama recognizes, like most Americans, that “nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.” He knows that Congress will not pass an expansive bill which tackles all problems afflicting the country’s immigration system, especially one that includes a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Not in this current Congress or the next.

He therefore proposed smaller steps, alluding to the DREAM Act which passed the House but failed in the Senatea little over a year ago.

But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country.  Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away.

There is, after all, some sympathy for undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children without their consent. Gallup reports that Americans generally favor rather than oppose the DREAM Act.

Obama’s State of the Union was largely a “dream” speech. The chances of comprehensive immigration reform happening is practically nil. Less ambitious bills that favor undocumented youth, high-skilled foreign workers, and agricultural laborers are a little more likely to pass, and the President would sign them.

Everyone agrees that the immigration system is broken but there is and will be no stomach for a major overhaul. Smaller pieces are more palatable and feasible.

The immigration system will change but true to its history and the messy reality of legislation, it will be through patchwork efforts.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 25, 2012. Reposted as “Goodby Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Hello Incrementalism” on WNYC It’s A Free Country, January 26, 2012.

Romney is Out of Touch With Voters on Immigration

GOP candidate Mitt Romney

GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney is cementing his hardline stance on immigration.

He has touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State who helped author the draconian immigration laws of Alabama and Arizona. He reiterated his unrelenting position on unauthorized immigrants and DREAMers—young people who stand to benefit from the DREAM Act—at the GOP presidential debate Monday.

“I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law, I think that’s the right course,” he said when asked by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams whether he was alienating Latino voters. Romney did say “I love legal immigration.”

“I would veto the DREAM Act, if provisions included in that act say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents,” Romney added after applause from the audience.

“I think that’s a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else.”

He ended by stressing that “to protect our legal immigration system we have got to protect our borders and stop the flood of illegal immigration and I will not do anything that opens up another wave of illegal immigration.”

It won’t help Romney win Hispanic votes. Somos Republicans, the largest Hispanic republican group which says it has 6,000 members, endorsed Newt Gingrich this week, the one candidate who supports a limited path to residency for some undocumented immigrants.

Who is Romney even trying to appeal to? According to the latest Gallup poll, only three percent of Americans say immigration is the most important problem facing the country today, reported Jon Clifton, Gallup Social and Economic Analysis deputy director at an immigration symposium in Washington, D.C. Tuesday.

Clifton said that based on Gallup’s latest findings, lingering unemployment, the federal budget and continuing economic malaise are more worrisome to Americans than the perceived scourge of unauthorized immigration trumpeted by some on the far right.

Its true that almost two thirds of those polled say they are “dissatisfied” about the level of immigration to the U.S. Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, a think tank and advocacy organization, believes that immigration will be an issue in the upcoming Presidential elections because it is a hot button topic, especially in key southwestern states that will be contested in November. Clearly, Romney is placing his bets that reaching anti-immigration voters in those states is more important than the Hispanic voters who live in them.

Rosenberg, another panelist at Tuesday’s symposium, said that immigration is at a deeper level a “surrogate for growing diversification of society.” It is “about race, culture and how we are changing.”

He believes that with the election of an African American president, “the country has passed on to a new place in race,” but he contends that “we have not digested it yet as a country.”

Mitt Romney, rather than helping us process these seismic social and cultural shifts is calcifying the toxic immigration debate by insisting on an uncompromising position, a stance not taken by previous Republican presidents and candidates.

Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 which legalized the status of millions of unauthorized immigrants. President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain supported comprehensive immigration reform that included border enforcement and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

If Romney’s braggadocio proves to be real, then he will be presenting a very different Republican Party from that of Reagan or Bush. Is pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment the direction the Republican party, and this country, should be going?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 19, 2011.