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Last week, I attended a retirement luncheon for Bishop Howard Hubbard, Bishop of the Diocese of Albany for the past 36 years. Bishop Hubbard and the late Sr. Maureen Joyce hired me in the summer of 2000 to set up and oversee an Office for Immigrant Services at Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Albany. This office sees low and no income clients, many of whom cannot afford to walk into a private practitioner’s office. Many of these (potential) clients also have immigration-related issues that would be well served by Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”).
While walking into the luncheon, Bishop Hubbard pulled me aside and asked how our numbers were in the office. I told him we were as busy as ever, and that if CIR was signed into law, we would have to re-think our office’s ability to handle the anticipated increase in caseload. When I said this, he looked at me curiously and said he thought that CIR was dead. I responded that in light of current events in Washington (e.g., the government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, the fumbled rollout of Obama Care, etc.), that CIR was not dead, but that the support for it was definitely muffled. I hope I was right in saying that.
So what’s going on with CIR? Well, we know that the Democratic leadership in the House introduced H.R. 15, a CIR bill generally modeled after the successful bipartisan Senate bill (except that the House Democrats’ bill does not include billions of dollars requiring hundreds of miles of new border fence, as the Senate bill did). As of today, there were actually three Republican co-sponsors to H.R. 15: Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Denham (R-CA).
In a statement released when he decided to co-sponsor H.R.15, Rep. Valadao stated: “I have been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue of immigration reform. Recently, I have focused my efforts on joining with likeminded Republicans in organizing and demonstrating to Republican Leadership broad support within the Party to address immigration reform in the House by the end of the year. By supporting H.R. 15 I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.” (Finally, some common sense coming out of the House.)
You would think Republicans would have learned after the 2012 election debacle that CIR was a necessity. You would also think that after Republicans took it on the chin in the media for their antics during the government shutdown that they would be looking for opportunities to curry favor with voters. Public Policy Polling recently released new polls that looked at eight Congressional districts currently held by Republicans. The poll finds that while voters in each of these districts are unhappy with their Republican Representatives because of the government shutdown, the polls also found that “voters make it clear in each of these districts that they’ll be more likely to vote to reelect their Congressmen next year if they vote for immigration reform.”
“Now is the time.” That’s what President Obama said on January 29, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada when he introduced his four (4) part plan for CIR. When will Republicans get this?
So… the U.S. Senate passed a marked-up and amended version of the Gang of Eight’s “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” and now we’re on to the House of Representatives. What happens there is anybody’s guess. What we do know for sure is that Speaker of the House John Boehner has no intention of taking action on the Senate’s bill. “I’ve made it clear, and I’ll make it clear again: the House is not going to take up the Senate bill. The House is going to do its own job in developing an immigration bill,” Speaker Boehner said at a press conference last Monday afternoon.
So what does that mean for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”)? I have no idea. How sad that I just wrote that. House Republicans seem so out of touch with what the American people want, and what’s good for America.
There have been countless reports in recent weeks referencing a number of studies which tout how great CIR would be for the U.S. economy. Take for example the combined report of the President’s National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, Office of Management and Budget, and the Council of Economic Advisers, entitled “The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System”. This report details the range of benefits to the U.S. economy that would be realized from passage of CIR. More importantly, it also discusses the high cost of inaction.
There was also a study published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (“ITEP”) that concluded that undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States pay billions of dollars in taxes every year to state and local governments. If they earned a legal status, they would apparently pay even more. According to ITEP, “undocumented immigrants paid an estimated total of $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.” Moreover, “allowing undocumented immigrants to work in the United States legally would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2 billion a year.” If CIR were to occur, the increase state and local taxes in New York is estimated to be $224,126,000!
I remember working in Washington, D.C. in the late 1980’s. Fresh out of college and going to grad school, I started interning on Capitol Hill for Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. He then hired me and I worked for him for ten years. In those days, it seemed like most of the legislation I saw get passed was largely bipartisan and things got done. Today, it’s the complete opposite. It seems like nothing gets done in Washington, and no one’s getting along across party lines. With that as the backdrop, it was incredible that the Senate passed their bill. As for the House, the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees combined have passed five piecemeal bills dealing with immigration reform. None offer a road to legalization or citizenship for the undocumented population, and none increase the number of visas for legal immigration or clear the backlogs that currently exist.
It remains to be seen what the House will do in developing their owner “immigration bill”, as Speaker Boehner suggests it will. I suppose it should be somewhat encouraging that Speaker Boehner told House Republicans last week to pass immigration reform legislation, stating that House Republicans will be “in a much weaker position” if they failed to act. He’s right.
On May 7, 2013 several senators proposed, in total, more than 300 amendments to the Gang of Eight’s bill for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”). That’s right, more than 300 amendments. If you’re interested in perusing them, they’re all available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.
Some of the amendments are good (e.g., making sure that all families can be reunited with their loved ones including siblings of U.S. citizens, making sure that businesses have access to the workers they need, ensuring that both U.S. workers and foreign nationals are fairly paid and are fully protected, and restoring due process so that everyone who goes through our immigration system is treated fairly).
Some amendments are bad. For example, requiring largely ineffective and cost prohibitive measures as “triggers” before an undocumented alien could apply for legalization, barring aliens with minor convictions from being able to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (“RPI”) status, preventing RPI’s from being able to travel outside the United States to visit their families, and eliminating important legal protections such as access to legal counsel and the basic right of a detainee to have a custody hearing before detention.
According to at least one news outlet, thus far there has been a spirit of bipartisanship during the mark-up of the bill (e.g., an amendment by Republican senator Charles Grassley sought to require continuous surveillance of 100% of the U.S. States border and achieve 90% effectiveness of enforcement of the entire border was approved by a voice vote).
Of course, not everyone is embracing this bipartisan spirit. Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, the freshman Senator who always seems to find a way to be in the news, filed an amendment to the bill last week that would ban anyone who has been in the U.S. without status from becoming a citizen at any point.
I’m not from Texas, but my sense is that it’s a fairly conservative state. I find it interesting, therefore, that The Houston Chronicle had some harsh words for its two Senators who both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I quote: “Many of these amendment IEDs are being offered by such ardent opponents of the legislation as the Lone Star State’s Senate duo, tea-party true-believer Ted Cruz and his senior colleague John Cornyn, a tea-party target in 2014 if he doesn’t toe the line. Despite protestations to the contrary, Cruz, Cornyn and other hard-liners would be happy to hobble immigration reform. That’s why they have latched on to the border-security issue as a way to kill it.”
I think that most Democrats and Republicans would agree that realistic and cost effective border reform is a key goal for CIR to have any shot at passing. Let’s make sure, though, that it is both realistic and cost effective.