The Senate has passed an immigration reform bill, S.744, with a robustly bipartisan 68-32 vote. Now the big question is what the House will do. So far, House Committees have approved five bills, none of which create a path to citizenship, and all of which contain provisions that would negatively impact our community members. There are also many other pieces of legislation that have been introduced but have not advanced through the committee process.
H.R.2942 – Stop Catch and Release Act of 2015
H.R.2942 – The Stop Catch and Release Act of 2015 would modify the Immigration and Nationality Act to require law enforcement officials to detain all individuals who are unlawfully present in the United States and arrested for certain crimes. It would prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were previously not enforcement priorities. Even if the charges against the individual were dismissed, the individual would be placed in removal proceedings. This bill encourages dangerous collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE, which destroys community trust in local police and makes people afraid that they will be deported if they report crimes that they witness. If enacted, this bill would increase the number of unjust deportations and separate more parents and children from their families.
Sponsors: Rep. Salmon, Matt [R-AZ-5] and co-sponsored by: Rep. Franks, Trent [R-AZ-8], Rep. Schweikert, David [R-AZ-6], Rep. Gosar, Paul A [R-AZ-4], Rep. McSally, Martha [R-AZ-2], Rep. Barletta, Lou [R-PA-11], Rep. Meadows, Mark [R-NC-11], Rep. Brat, Dave [R-VA-7], Rep. McClintock, Tom [R-CA-4], Rep. Duncan, Jeff [R-SC-3], Rep. Walker, Mark [R-NC-6].
House Judiciary Committee Bills
The Strengthen And Fortify Enforcement Act, H.R. 2278 would encourage racial profiling, eliminate the Administrations’ protection of DREAMers, expand immigration detention, criminalize overstaying a visa, and harm both community safety and vulnerable populations. Modeled after Arizona’s SB1070, this bill would encourage racial profiling, mandating that local law enforcement investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest and detain everyone who they suspect to be undocumented or deportable. The bill would increase and mandate programs that force local police to serve as immigration officials, and would deny states and localities the ability to adjust the implementation of these programs. Many law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association oppose these mandates. When police are seen as immigration enforcement agents, communities are less safe because many community members stop reporting crime out of fear that themselves, their family members or neighbors might be arrested and deported due to their immigration status. The “SAFE” Act would negatively impact refugees, asylum seekers and others fleeing persecution. It would worsen expansive laws that have falsely labeled pro-democracy freedom fighters and victims of kidnapping, extortion, and rape as “terrorists” if they were coerced to provide goods or services to a terrorist group. The bill would create new grounds of inadmissibility and deportability for persons whom DHS “has reason to believe” have been members of a gang, even if they were not actually gang members. It would expand the immigration detention system that holds many torture survivors and asylum seekers by mandating detention even when unnecessary and authorizing indefinite detention for persons who have been ordered removed. This bill would make it a crime to overstay a visa by even a single day and would subject anyone who transports or “harbors” an undocumented person subject to criminal penalties. This would make the act of driving or housing an undocumented family member, neighbor, friend or congregation member a crime.
THE AGRICULTURAL GUESTWORKER ACT
The “AG” Act, H.R. 1773, would replace the current H-2A agricultural guestworker program with a new H-2C program. It fails to provide any opportunity for farmworkers to pursue a roadmap to citizenship. Instead, they would be required to return to their home country and could only come back to the U.S. as guestworkers, another second-class status. Families would be separated as spouses and children are provided no status. H.R. 1773 would eliminate nearly all protections currently in the H-2A program, allowing for mass exploitation, wage cuts and unsafe working conditions. The bill would reduce wages and withhold 10% of guestworkers’ meager wages from their paychecks. To apply for a return of their earnings, H-2C workers would have to travel to a U.S. consulate in their country of origin within 30 days of the expiration of their visa and demonstrate compliance with the terms of the H-2C program. The “AG” Act would also bar federal legal aid programs from representing H-2C guestworkers and discourage workers from filing grievances by mandating they take expensive actions prior to filing a lawsuit.
THE SKILLS VISAS ACT
The Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Act (H.R. 2131) would increase science, technology, education and math visas and other work visas, but would also reduce the number of family unity visas. The bill would remove the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their siblings, and would eliminate many already-approved petitions, keeping U.S. citizens from reuniting with their siblings even after their petition has already been approved. We are not opposed to increases in employment-based visas, but they should not come at the expense of family visas – it’s not a zero-sum game. People want to join their families through legal channels, but with exorbitant wait times as long as 24 years, have no real options to do so. To fix the immigration system, we need to recognize the God-given desire to be with one’s family.
THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT
H.R. 1772 requires all employers to use an electronic employment verification system (E-Verify) within two years and lacks proper safeguards. Individuals who are authorized to work could be denied employment or lose their jobs because of unfair hiring or firing practices or governmental error. Tthis would only increase unemployment rates, since this system is costly and can take a long time to complete before sometime can begin working. The bill is impractical for small business as many do not have the resources to carry out such burdensome verification processes, and its rushed nature of implementation would harm all businesses. Because the bill excludes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals, it would actually create an environment of exploitation as individuals will be pushed further into hiding and be more subjected to the will of employers. The use of E-verify will only increase racial stereotyping, keep many individuals from feeding their families, and subject innocent people to a flawed process preventing them from gaining employment.
House Homeland Security Committee Bills
THE BORDER SECURITY RESULTS ACT
H.R. 1417 directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to report on the state of operational control of U.S. international borders every 180 days and submit a comprehensive strategy for gaining and maintaining operational control, meaning a 90% apprehension rate of individuals crossing the border, of high traffic border areas within two years. A comprehensive and up-to-date border security technology plan would have to include Department of Defense (DOD) surveillance and technology brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan, including the use of manned aircrafts and unmanned drones, increased numbers of border patrol agents, and specified metrics on the effectiveness of security at ports of entry. This plan would have to be vetted and evaluated by the Government Accountability Office. DHS would also have to submit certification to Congress and the Comptroller General that operational control of international borders has been achieved, and report annually on resource allocation for optimal staffing levels at all land, air, and sea ports of entry.
Other bills that have been introduced in the House
Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act
H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, is the House version of the Senate’s immigration reform bill. The major difference is that this House version does not include the harmful Corker/Hoeven amendment that was in the Senate bill, which would militarize the border with officers, fencing, technological machinery, and the National Guard, and spend additional billions on border and interior enforcement. H.R. 15 instead replaces these provisions with The Border Security Results Act – explained above. H.R. 15 would make much needed improvements to the asylum and refugee systems, and reunite families by clearing visa backlogs, recapturing unused visas, and categorizing spouses and children of green card holders as “immediate relatives. However, the bill would eliminate, 18 months after enactment, the ability for U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers, sisters, and children who are married and over the age of 31.
The bill would create a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented individuals who entered the U.S. before January 1, 2012 and meet other eligibility criteria, including work and income requirements. The first step would be to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status, which allows people to work and travel legally. After six years, individuals in RPI status would have to renew their status, and after 10 years in RPI status individuals could apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Then, after three years in LPR status, individuals could apply for U.S. citizenship. Fines for this process total $2,000 per person. The bill would put in place a stay-of-removal so that qualified individuals are not deported before implementation. Individuals who qualify for the path to citizenship could include their spouse and children (under 21) in their application, so that families can go through this process together. Individuals who have been in the United States with Temporary Protect Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or another legal status for more than ten years would be immediately eligible for LPR status. DREAMers – defined by this bill as individuals of any age who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 – and agricultural workers would also have a shortened path to citizenship. However, the pathway to citizenship would be contingent upon border and interior enforcement ‘triggers.’ Before any undocumented person can apply for RPI status, DHS must submit to congress plans explaining how they will implement an entry/exit visa system, achieve ‘operational control’ of the Southwest border, and measure the effectiveness of security at ports of entry and maritime borders. DHS must then certify that these plans have been implemented, additional border fencing is constructed, an employment verification system is being used by all employers, and an electronic entry/exit system is fully operational before individuals with RPI status can adjust to LPR status, after a minimum of 10 years.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP)
CIR ASAP, H.R. 3163, would allow undocumented individuals who entered the United States before October 15, 2013 and who meet certain criteria, including having made contributions to the U.S. through employment, education, military service or volunteerism, to pursue an 11-year path to citizenship. The first step would be applying for “conditional nonimmigrant status,” which could, after 6 years and pending the clearing of the visa backlog, be adjusted to lawful permanent residency (LPR). As per current law, after 5 years in LPR status, individuals could then apply for citizenship. A $500 fine would be required for all applicants, except those who arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old. They could include their family members in their applications. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to create a Southern Border Security Task Force, increase customs officers on the border, and improve coordination with border communities. The bill also includes provisions to reunite families, protect refugees, improve detention conditions, and mandate the use of an employment verification system.
Protect Family Values at the Border Act
H.R. 3130 would create protections for individuals held in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody and ensure that families are not needlessly separated and placed at increased risk of harm at the border. It would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to promulgate regulations establishing standards for CBP custody on basic humane treatment such as the provision of food, emergency medical care, translated legal documents, timely transfers and access to facilities by non-governmental organizations. The bill would give DHS flexibility to prevent practices that separate families and threaten the safety of women and children, including by ensuring that migrants are not deported in an unsafe manner or needlessly separated from family members with whom they are traveling.
American Families United Act
H.R. 3431 would allow specific cases to be considered for waivers to inadmissibility for certain individuals who are separated from their families due to minor violations. This includes undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents; individuals who entered the United States before the age of 16 and have earned a degree from a U.S. institution of higher education; and individuals who made false claims of U.S. citizenship when they were under the age 18, or were lacking mental competence, or who face hardship and separation from a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member if they are deported. It would placea three-year limit on how long misrepresenting immigration status can make an individual inadmissible, and would allow immigration judges and the Secretary of Homeland Security to decline to deport an individual when family separation hardship and public interest can be shown.
HELP SEPARATED FAMILIES ACT
H.R. 2604 would improve child protection standards to ensure that the immigration status alone of a parent, legal guardian, or relative shall not disqualify the parent, legal guardian, or relative from being a placement for a child. It would also allow foreign identification documents to be used in criminal records and fingerprint checks. The bill would require that relatives seeking placement of a child not be asked about their immigration status, and allows parental rights to not be terminated when an otherwise fit and willing parent is removed from the United States or is in immigration detention. H.R. 2604 would also require state and local agencies to make reasonable efforts to notify parents and adult relatives who have been removed from the United States before filing to terminate their parental rights, and to attempt to reunite the child with such parent or relative. The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop and disseminate best practice guidance that takes into account the best interest of the child, including a preference for family unity whenever appropriate. It requires a state plan for foster care and adoption assistance that will ensure that communication between case workers and families takes place in the family’s native language or through free interpretation, that parents who wish for their child to accompany them to their country of origin are given adequate time and assistance to obtain all necessary documents; and that privacy and confidentiality standards are applied.