A Closer Look at Immigration Reform Legislation in the New Year

Everyone pulled out the sports analogies last week when Congressman Luis Gutierrez and his 91 co-sponsors introduced H.R. 4321, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009—and rightly so, as this bill marks the opening bell in the 2010 immigration debate. It is not only the first major piece of comprehensive reform legislation introduced in the 111th Congress, but the first since the last debate on immigration reform, which took place in May and June of 2007 in the Senate.

But CIR ASAP also marks the end of a year that has been filled with movement on immigration reform. Most of it was not legislative, but reflected instead the change in Presidential administrations. Among the key developments:

  • Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, an outspoken supporter of the comprehensive immigration reform and smart enforcement strategies, was named Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. She immediately called for review of enforcement programs that were highly criticized, including 287(g), E-verify, and worksite raids. This review ultimately led to major reforms in detention practices, an end to the massive worksite raids of the past, and a revamping of 287(g).
  • President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to CIR over and over again, most notably by calling a White House summit of key Congressional leaders in May, naming Napolitano as his point person for getting reform done. Other cabinet leaders have been pulled into the effort, too. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, speaking at the Center for American Progress last week noted that cabinet secretaries and their staff are meeting weekly to coordinate administration efforts on reform.
  • The President’s budget included a request for appropriated funds for USCIS, to pay for the costs of processing, asylum refugee, and military naturalization applications. Although Congress ultimately appropriated only a small portion of those funds, the mere fact that the administration recognized the need to revisit current fee structures (in which the agency must fund its operations almost exclusively through fees), marked a major policy departure, and the glimmer of true fee reform.

Still, there’s no denying the significance of the 644 page legislative package introduced last week. While it is a product of 2009, many of the proposals, including detention reforms and family reunification proposals, reflect tremendous work over the years by many of the co-sponsors—including Reps. Woolsey, Roybal Allard, Honda, Grijalva, Reyes, and Berman—while other sections incorporate legislation from Senators Menendez, Durbin, and former Senator Obama. As with all legislation of this type, it is a compilation of new and old ideas, woven together to reflect both a prescription for immigration policy and a plan for bringing along votes.

Does this mean that CIR ASAP is merely a marker bill, one designed to throw down the gauntlet, but not to move? Not exactly. Senator Schumer, as head of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, and Congresswoman Lofgren, chair of the House Immigration subcommittee, are both expected to champion their own legislative packages in the coming year. It’s anticipated that Sen. Schumer will introduce his own comprehensive package early in 2010, which is likely to change significantly as it goes through committee, and then through the whole Senate. Assuming Senate passage, then the House will have to decide whether to simply take up the Senate bill, introduce a new package, or take CIR ASAP and its fellow proposals (and there will be more, it’s the nature of the game) through committee markups and so forth. So, it’s hard to tell what everything will look like by the time a bill hits the president’s desk. But CIR ASAP contains a number of viable solutions, and the final package will no doubt reflect some of those ideas—and hopefully some of the passion that infuses the bill.

So, while CIR ASAP may be the beginning of an era, it is also the end of a period of transition. The administration has made its position pretty clear. A big chunk of the House has now, too. The next move is Senator Schumer’s—and then the real games begin.

Photo by iQoncept.

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  • San Fernando Valley activists plan rally for immigration rights after the New Year http://bit.ly/5ULeIL and A call for President Barack Obama to pardon 12 million undocumented immigrants http://bit.ly/6QYLZx

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  • This is a very good summary, but I’m afraid CIR http://tinyurl.com/nxo8ad will become hopelessly politicized like health care reform. However, I believe there are viable solutions that can effectively serve the needs of both the right and the left as long as we don’t let Fox News dictate the debate.

    The United States Association of Immigrants at myUSAi.org

  • Jesus Nerio

    As an immigrant who was fortunate enough to get an education and am now an attorney in the State of Georgia, I wish to point out that by the stroke of the pen from the Secretary of Homeland Security, at least one-half (½) of the undocumented individuals in the U.S. would have the opportunity to obtain legal status.

    I respectfully call your attention to the definition of “extreme hardship” which keeps families of U.S. citizens separated for ten (10) years [INA §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) – 8 USC 1182(a)(9)(B)(i)(II)].

    If the Secretary would define the term “extreme hardship” as “separation of the family unit” then the statutory waiver would allow reunification of the family [INA §212(a)(9)(B)(v)].

    As you know, it has been held that the mere loss of employment, the inability to maintain one’s present standard of living or to pursue a chosen profession, or separation of a family member do not constitute extreme hardship Matter of Pilch, (BIA Interim Dec. # 3298); Matter of Kojoory, 12 I&N Dec. 215 (BIA 1967). Additionally, any hardship that may be faced by the U.S. citizen spouse and children if they live in the alien’s home country, is the result of their personal choice. See Matter of Ige, 20 I&N Dec. 880 (BIA 1994).

    In my practice, and as is reported by AILA, U.S. citizens married to undocumented aliens are encouraged not to file a petition for their spouse because of the ten (10) year bar imposed when the alien goes to the American Embassy for adjustment of status.

    I know that a change in the law requires an act of Congress. However, the Secretary can define the term “extreme hardship” as “separation of the family unit” and at least one-half (½) of the undocumented would have the U.S. citizen spouse file the petition, proceed to the American Embassy with INS Form I-601 and be allowed to adjust and enter the U.S. legally.

    The same would be true for the term “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if the Secretary would define the term as: “extreme hardship with the inability to maintain one’s present standard of living” [INA §240A(b)(1)(D) – 8 USC 1229b(b)(1)(D)].

  • I think one important part in the immigration reform is to increase employment-based quota and give incentive to advanced-tech immigrants to stay in the United States. After all, that is how this country to stay competitive.