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First Hurdle Cleared in Immigration, but Bigger Ones Remain

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

By 

Updated: May 21, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
May 21, 2013 | 8:00 p.m.

An American flag, about 150 years old, is flown during an immigration-reform rally at the Capitol last month. (AP Photo)

The first step in passing major immigration legislation went pretty smoothly, all things considered. The Senate Judiciary Committee late Tuesday approved a bill that would give 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and require employers to electronically verify all new hires.

The bill offers the biggest changes to immigration law in almost 30 years.

The committee’s action clears the way for a full-fledged Senate to take up the bill after Memorial Day. But making progress toward passage will only get more difficult. The “Gang of Eight” Republican and Democratic sponsors are fighting for every additional Republican vote in the full Senate, hoping that the measure will pass with “yes” votes from almost all of the 55 members in the Democratic caucus and at least 15 of the Senate’s 45 Republicans.

The latest supporter of the bill is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted for the bill out of committee after reaching a deal to ease access to H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. He is asking for a few more changes to the bill before a Senate vote, but his support in committee is significant.

Reform advocates are happy with the committee vote, even though they know there are many ways the bill could still die. After five arduous days of debate, with committee members slogging through hundreds of amendments, the immigration proposal emerged largely unchanged from the basic framework initially offered in April by the Gang of Eight.

The bill’s path to citizenship is still intact, despite attempts from some committee Republicans to remove the ability of newly legalized immigrants to become naturalized citizens. The electronic verification requirement is still being phased in over several years to accommodate small businesses, despite an attempt to speed up the mandate that would have threatened businesses’ support of the bill.

Advocates consider the legislation the answer to problems raised in 1986, when Congress passed legislation giving amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants and put in place a paper authorization system for employers.

America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry, an avid supporter of legalization for undocumented immigrants, noted that the 1986 bill didn’t allow for future immigrants to enter the country for low-skill jobs such as restaurant workers, roofers, or nannies. So those workers simply entered illegally. Now there are 11 million of them. The immigration legislation on the table would create several ways for employers who need those foreign workers to get them here and not be forced to pay them under the table.

“You have options where those immigration categories didn’t exist before,” Sharry said. “We now have a lever to turn. If the demand goes up, you can increase the visas because you have a visa category that didn’t exist before. You couldn’t do that.”

The final hours of the committee’s deliberation illustrated the deep emotional struggles that the bill’s sponsors grappled with in order to reach agreement with members of the opposing party and those with opposing viewpoints. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., waited until the bitter end of the hours-long session to discuss his controversial amendment that would give same-sex couples the same immigration benefits as heterosexual couples. The proposal was dubbed a deal-killer by Republicans, so Leahy did reluctantly withdrew it.

“I don’t want be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country,” Leahy said.

“There will be another day, Mr. Chairman,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a bill sponsor who said he would have voted against Leahy’s proposal because it upset the agreement from the Gang of Eight.

Another amendment offered by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, to allow U.S. citizens to sponsor siblings or married adult children for green cards in cases of extreme hardship, was rejected with regrets from otherwise supportive Democrats. The ability to sponsor siblings and adult children for green cards, a right that exists under current law, was traded away in favor of merit-based visas to end so-called chain migration, at the request of Republicans.

If those amendments were difficult for Democrats to deal with, the Republicans on the Gang of Eight had their own problems. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that he and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., had been voting for days against amendments that they themselves wanted because they knew it would upset Gang Democrats. For example, Flake and Graham voted against proposals to increase the number of guest workers allowed in the bill, because Democrats did not want to upset unions that are vigorously attempting to keep the visa numbers low to protect American jobs.

As the bill moves to the full Senate, its sponsors got a huge boost on the Republican side from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Tuesday that he would not stand in the way of the legislation on the Senate floor. “The Judiciary Committee has not in any fundamental way undone the agreements that were reached by the eight senators. And so I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get a bill that we can pass here in the Senate,” he said.

Even with a pass from McConnell, other Republicans are expected to make a fuss, and it will be an exercise in patience and political savvy to navigate their protests. Gang member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is not on the Judiciary Committee, says the bill won’t pass if all 100 senators don’t have their say. That’s going to mean a lot of floor time for senators to talk about everything from drones to chicken-processing plants to dairy workers.

For more information:http://www.nationaljournal.com/first-hurdle-cleared-in-immigration-but-bigger-ones-remain-20130521?utm_source=AILA+Mailing&utm_campaign=6e48f3428c-AILA8_5_23_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3c0e619096-6e48f3428c-287739493


Immigration Policy Center

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Immigration Policy Center.


More than 600 Scholars Plea for Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment
For Immediate Release

More Than 600 Scholars Plea for Action on Immigration Nationwide Sign-On Letter Urges Reform

May 1, 2013

 

Washington D.C. – Today, the American Immigration Council releases, It is Time for Congress to Take Action and Reform Our Nation’s Immigration Laws: A Plea from America’s Scholars, a sign-on letter joined by more than 600 professors and scholars from across America.

The letter opens with:

“The history of America is a history of immigration. Starting with our country’s founding by idealistic newcomers, the waves of immigrants who settled in the United States have continuously added to our culture and national identity. However, America’s immigration system has become out of step with the social and economic needs of our nation and, therefore, we believe policies must change. As university professors from across the United States, we believe that reforming our immigration laws is both the right thing to do and is in our nation’s best interests. As the community responsible for educating the next generation of Americans, we see the harm that a broken immigration system has had on our students and their families.”

To view the entire letter click here.

The scholars who signed-on to the letter are affiliated with more than 300 universities from across the nation and from states including Tennessee, Kansas, Ohio, New York, California, South Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, Florida, Missouri, Minnesota, Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Illinois. Their institutional affiliations include Ivy League and community colleges, state universities and private religious institutions.
Share our infographic highlighting the letter on Facebook.
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For more information contact Wendy Feliz at wfeliz@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7524.


Milken conference panel: Immigration reform would boost economy

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

By Ricardo Lopez
April 29, 2013, 5:50 p.m.

Providing legal status to the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would boost the U.S. economy and eradicate underground economies in cities such as Los Angeles, a panel of researchers, elected officials and a business tycoon said Monday.

At the annual Milken Global Conference, immigration reform was the focal point of one panel, which included Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp., Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

“We have a cash economy that’s not producing the type of economic growth we want,” said Bennet, who is part of the “Gang of Eight” senators working to pass immigration reform.
This year, President Obama urged lawmakers to make immigration reform a priority. Business interests, including farmers and Silicon Valley start-ups, have pushed for a legislative solution to ease reported labor shortages.

They have faced opposition from labor groups seeking caps on visas for skilled workers to protect American jobs.

“From an economic point of view … we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Bennet said.

Murdoch, who has long advocated for an overhaul of immigration laws, said it is “economically essential” to provide legal status to immigrants in the country.

“We have to accept these people are here, welcome them,” he said.

Vivek Wadhwa, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, said that if the number of visas issued to high-skilled foreign workers is increased, “without a doubt, it would boost this economy.”

Panelists called immigration reform likely to pass this year, but Wadhwa said lawmakers should have a “Plan B” in case the issue is shelved.

Bennet and other panelists said that this time around, the immigration reform bill is gaining broad-based support from business, labor and worker advocacy groups that have made compromises on issues such as visa caps.


Immigration and Fear

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends Leave a comment

The New York Times
April 20, 2013
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Much of the country was still waking up to the mayhem and confusion outside Boston on Friday morning when Senator Charles Grassley decided to link the hunt for terrorist bombers to immigration reform.

“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” asked Mr. Grassley, the Iowa Republican, at the beginning of a hearing on the Senate’s immigration bill. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.?”

The country is beginning to discuss seriously the most sweeping overhaul of immigration since 1986, with hearings in the Senate last week and this week, and a possible vote by early summer. After years of stalemate, the mood has shifted sharply, with bipartisan Congressional coalitions, business and labor leaders, law-enforcement and religious groups, and a majority of the public united behind a long-delayed overhaul of the crippled system.

Until the bombing came along, the antis were running out of arguments. They cannot rail against “illegals,” since the bill is all about making things legal and upright, with registration, fines and fees. They cannot argue seriously that reform is bad for business: turning a shadow population of anonymous, underpaid laborers into on-the-books employees and taxpayers, with papers and workplace protections, will only help the economy grow.

About all they have left is scary aliens.

There is a long tradition of raw fear fouling the immigration debate. Lou Dobbs ranted about superhighways from Mexico injecting Spanish speakers deep into the heartland. Gov. Jan Brewer told lies about headless bodies in the Arizona desert. And now Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, is warning of radical Islamists posing as Hispanics and infiltrating from the southern border.

But the Boston events have nothing to do with immigration reform. Even if we stop accepting refugees and asylum seekers, stop giving out green cards and devise a terror-profiling system that can bore into the hearts of 9-year-olds, which seems to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s age when he entered the United States, we will still face risks. And we will not have fixed immigration.

There is a better way to be safer: pass an immigration bill. If terrorists, drug traffickers and gangbangers are sharp needles in the immigrant haystack, then shrink the haystack. Get 11 million people on the books. Find out who they are.

The Senate bill includes no fewer than four separate background checks as immigrants move from the shadows to citizenship. It tightens the rules on employment verification and includes new ways to prevent misuse of Social Security numbers. It has an entry-exit visa system to monitor traffic at borders and ports.

And if we are serious about making America safer, why not divert some of the billions now lavished on the border to agencies fighting gangs, drugs, illegal guns and workplace abuse? Or to community policing and English-language classes, so immigrants can more readily cooperate with law enforcement? Why not make immigrants feel safer and invested in their neighborhoods, so they don’t fear and shun the police? Why not stop outsourcing immigration policing to local sheriffs who chase traffic offenders and janitors?

As we have seen with the failure of gun control, a determined minority wielding false arguments can kill the best ideas. The immigration debate will test the resilience of the reform coalition in Congress. Changes so ambitious require calm, thoughtful deliberation, and a fair amount of courage. They cannot be allowed to come undone with irrelevant appeals to paranoia and fear.


The Dream is Now’—Steve Jobs’ widow launches new Dream Act push

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment

The Dream is Now’—Steve Jobs’ widow launches new Dream Act push

By Beth Fouhy | The Lookout – Tue, Jan 22, 2013

CendyCendy (screengrab from www.thedreamisnow.org)

The teenage girl peers into the camera, ready to divulge a secret.

“All my siblings are documented except me,” says the girl, identified onscreen as Cendy. “I know I have a lot of potential but that I might not get there because my status will hold me back.”

Cendy is one of millions of immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children—a group known as “DREAMers” by advocates of the Dream Act, a federal bill first introduced in the Senate in 2001 to allow them a pathway to permanent residency. To push for passage of the provisions in the Dream Act, Cendy and others agreed to share their stories on www.thedreamisnow.org, a website launched Tuesday by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth” ) and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

 

The project allows young undocumented immigrants to submit videos describing how their lives would change if the Dream Act were passed. Others can also submit posts, including teachers, relatives and friends of the young immigrants, as well as those involved in developing policy around immigration.

The videos will be posted on the website, and Guggenheim will compile them into a documentary film.

“The documentary becomes a living, breathing petition,” Guggenheim told Yahoo News. “These DREAMers are putting everything on the line. When they come out like this, they are saying, ‘I’m ready to risk it all for what I believe.’”

Immigration reform looms large as a legislative priority for President Barack Obama and for Republicans hoping to improve the party’s status among Hispanic voters.

Powell Jobs told Yahoo News the new project was an effort to harness the momentum around the issue and give visibility to the young people who would benefit from the Dream Act.

“There needed to be a demystification—to put a face to these people, to hear the individual stories,” Powell Jobs said in one of the few interviews she has granted since Steve Jobs’ death in 2011.

Powell Jobs told Yahoo News her interest in the Dream Act had been sparked through College Track, an initiative she founded to help low-income and minority students attend college. Many of the students in the program are undocumented.

“They’re our children’s friends. They are people we know. This is a huge national problem that needs resolution,” Powell Jobs said.

The Dream Act would legalize young people under the age of 30 who entered the U.S. before they were 15 and have lived in the country continuously for five years. To earn legal status and eventually a path to citizenship, applicants would have to prove they have no criminal record and either enlist in the military or attend at least two years of college. (Some versions of the bill would require only a high-school degree for the legal status.)

The Dream Act has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats since its introduction even as the two parties have been sharply divided over other aspects of immigration reform. But the bill has never been enacted—the closest it came was in December 2010, when it passed the House but fell 5 votes short in the Senate of the 60 needed to avert a filibuster.

Despite criticism by some immigration rights activists for a record number of deportations during his administration, Obama took other steps last June to offer young undocumented immigrants some legal protections.

Obama announced a program of “deferred action,” directing his administration to stop deporting those under 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16 and have a high-school diploma or have enlisted in the military. Those who qualify can also apply for a renewable two-year work permit.

“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said when he announced the plan in July.

The action did not confer a path to citizenship and was considered only a partial remedy for young immigrants seeking legal status. But it was praised as a step in the right direction by immigration rights activists, even as Republicans claimed it was baldly political and circumvented the legislative process.

After Obama soundly won re-election in November in part by taking 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, Republicans have begun to reassess their position on immigration and, in particular, the provisions of the Dream Act.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a GOP rising star, has indicated he will introduce some immigration reform measures that could include expedited legal status for young undocumented immigrants. But Rubio’s earlier proposal to legalize DREAMers did not include a path to citizenship, making it a nonstarter for most immigration rights activists.

Powell Jobs said Rubio’s latest discussion of granting expedited status to young immigrants seemed “reasonable and principled,” but that she wanted to learn more. “The key is to see the legislation once it’s written,” she said.

The young people taping their stories for thedreamisnow.org are unlikely to face legal backlash or deportation because of Obama’s deferred action directive. But they could face other repercussions, like potentially losing their jobs if they don’t yet have work permits.

Cendy, a 16-year-old high-school sophomore from Aurora, Colo., said she was willing to take her chances.

Cendy, who declined to give her last name to Yahoo News to protect her parents, said she agreed to be part of the project in part to dispense with her secret.

“It was a little scary at first,” she said. “But the benefit of coming out, not being afraid anymore, got a lot of weight off my shoulders.”


How the immigration deal got made

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment
By: Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown and Anna Palmer (POLITICO)
April 17, 2013 05:03 AM EDT
The meeting was supposed to be a half-hour update for immigration reform proponents — but they weren’t about to let the Democratic senators get off that easily.The advocates were furious that Democrats might cave to Republican demands to make the pathway to citizenship contingent upon border security benchmarks, including the sign off of governors from southwestern states. They felt locked out of the process. And now, they had no idea what the negotiators were trading away just weeks before the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was slated to be publicly released.

Frank Sharry, a longtime proponent of a comprehensive bill, aggressively protested the border language to Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez — and as a whole, the group warned that if an anti-reform governor like Arizona’s Jan Brewer were given veto power, the emerging proposal would be a “big problem for us.”

(Also on POLITICO: Tragedy interrupts immigration momentum)

Schumer stayed at the February session an extra 40 minutes, even missing his flight back to New York, to reassure advocates that they weren’t being sold out. But he also advised them to step back in line: “This is what we have to do to get a path to citizenship. You have to understand that.”

The intense back-channel talks between members, staffers and outside groups have produced the most sweeping immigration bill in six years. The legislation comes after weeks of tense member-level meetings — often with powerful special interests they had to keep at bay in order to craft a fragile, bipartisan coalition. The deal required painful compromises, suffered near breakdowns and endured cooling-off periods, including when the group walked away from the negotiating table for part of the Easter recess before re-engaging in the horse trading.

Powerful aides to several senators, particularly to Schumer and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pieced together a compromise driven as much by trying to get the policy right as by giving the senators a way to sell it politically.

Rubio emerged as a source of constant attention, concern and lobbying within the group. Republicans and Democrats were desperate to keep him in the fold, convinced that they needed his support to sell the proposal to deeply skeptical conservatives.

(DOCUMENT: Senate Gang of 8 immigration reform bill)

“By the way, tell your boss he already paid for the caterer, he’s got to go through with the wedding now,” Schumer’s chief aide Leon Fresco, fired off in an email to Rubio’s negotiator, Enrique Gonzalez, when it looked like the Florida Republican was getting wobbly late last month.

President Barack Obama was forced to step in and personally convince Republicans that he was acting in good faith after the apparently inadvertently released draft of a White House bill.

After 24 meetings among senators themselves and marathon sessions between staff for months, the senators struck a deal that, if passed, would enact the most significant changes to immigration laws in nearly three decades. But to get there, they’ve had to cajole their longtime allies to get behind the effort and aggressively move to limit defections from major players who have the power to stop the bill in its tracks. And they went to great lengths to prevent media leaks, even instituting a self-imposed rule to thwart the press from staking out their consequential meetings.

(CARTOONS: Matt Wuerker on immigration)

“There is always tense times in these kinds of things,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader of the group. “But there was always a commitment to get things done.”

This account of the behind-the-scenes drama that culminated Tuesday with the release of a bipartisan bill was drawn from dozens of interviews with key players at the White House and in Congress who were directly involved in the talks.

Recruiting Rubio

Nobody would have predicted it a year ago, when the leading Republican presidential candidate was touting “self-deportation” as a solution for dealing with the country’s undocumented population.

But Obama’s 40-percentage-point win among Hispanics changed the dynamic, literally overnight. Top conservative pundits, such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, removed a major obstacle when they endorsed a pathway to citizenship. Even Republican Party leaders suggested it was time to take up the issue.

And the major Republican players on immigration, after years of distancing themselves from Democratic proponents of reform, wanted to give it another go.

“We’re getting the band back together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Schumer in a phone call the weekend after the November electionreferring to the 2007 group that worked unsuccessfully for a comprehensive bill. Schumer claimed his heart went “pitter-patter” when he heard McCain would be involved.

And yet, the same circle of negotiators from past reform efforts just wouldn’t do.

The experience from 2007 was seared into memories, studied and analyzed for clues of past mistakes and how proponents could make it right the next time. The politics in 2013 for Republicans supportive of immigration reform were as favorable as they had ever been, diminishing the odds that a fevered, impassioned right wing would scuttle the reform effort before it even started. McCain and Graham knew the issue inside and out, but they lacked gravitas with conservatives.

The group needed a protection policy, and top Democrats and Republicans came up with the same solution: Recruit Rubio.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Graham and McCain to include Rubio in the talks, while Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lobbied Rubio at the Senate gym.

The tea party darling and 2016 presidential prospect pushed his own version of the DREAM Act to legalize young undocumented immigrants last year, but like most Republicans, he had his doubts about a comprehensive approach to overhauling the system and favored dealing with the issues one by one.

Durbin told Rubio that a pathway to citizenship needed to be a central part of the talks. If that’s the case, Rubio responded, then tougher border security measures must be part of the plan, and the cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants needed to undergo a rigorous review as well.

“He said [a pathway to citizenship] would have to be under some pretty strict circumstances, and I said, ‘Let’s talk,’” Durbin recalled on Tuesday.

Thus, they had their first deal — one in a series of concessions, allowances and considerations that Rubio would secure from Democrats and Republicans over the next three months on policy, politics and PR strategy, all with a single-minded goal of keeping him on board and conservatives at bay.

The negotiators rounded out the group with two freshman senators whose home states underscored the imperative of getting something done. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as a border-state official, was one of the original architects of comprehensive immigration reform during his time in the House. And Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) owed his election victory to Hispanic voters, who rewarded him for his full-throated endorsement of immigration reform on the 2010 campaign trail when even other Democrats weren’t talking it up.

The group tried to expand to 10 members, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) clashed with McCain over whether to do a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach. Had Lee joined, Democrats were prepared to recruit Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

But in retrospect, it turned out to be the right mix of liberals and conservatives, veterans and newcomers, taskmasters and political tacticians.

Schumer spent time early on assuring the group that his party, including Obama, didn’t want to jam Republicans. They wanted a solution, not a political issue, for the next election. The process would be fair, Schumer said, and each senator had an equal vote inside the negotiating room. In a subtle nod to that political equanimity, they alternated meetings between McCain’s office and Schumer’s office, and sometimes met off the Senate floor during votes.

McCain forced the group to work quickly, assuming that the political will to get something done would diminish with each passing week. And Schumer swore that the negotiations would not become a repeat of the 2009 bipartisan health care talks led by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that dragged on for months. No media stakeouts at each meeting, Schumer insisted.

“This isn’t Baucus Beach,” a senior Democratic aide said, referring to the area outside Baucus’s office where reporters camped out during the health care talks and harangued senators for details.

The group spoke so frequently that Schumer memorized the seven other senator’s phone numbers. They even developed their own inside jokes.

In one of the first meetings, Schumer was reading aloud the agenda when his chief immigration aide, Leon Fresco, a precocious Cuban-American lawyer from Miami who approached negotiating sessions like they were debate camp, piped up to correct his boss after he had misspoke.

“Shut up, Leon,” McCain told Fresco, prompting the group to erupt in laughter. McCain repeated that same line — “Shut up, Leon” — whenever Schumer opened the meetings with a review of the agenda.

Fresco turned out to be a dominant force in the talks, as did Rubio aide Gonzalez, another Hispanic-American immigration attorney from Florida whom Rubio hired earlier this year to represent him in the talks. The two became friendly as they haggled over dinner with the rest of the Senate aides, a mix of Hill newcomers like them and low-key immigration veterans like Kerri Talbot, who represented Menendez (D-N.J.), and Joe Zogby, counsel to Durbin.

Fresco came to Schumer in 2009 on the recommendation of fellow Yale Law School classmate Serena Hoy, a top immigration aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). After immigration talks failed in 2010, Fresco ingratiated himself with the press-savvy Schumer by coming up with sure-fire media hits. He tipped off the senator to a $45 baggage carry-on fee instituted by Spirit Airlines, which Fresco flew back and forth to Miami, and Schumer promptly introduced a bill to ban it, garnering blanket coverage.

Fresco, who Schumer called “my immigration genius,” brought that political eye to the talks, repeatedly coming up solutions that allowed both parties to claim victory.

“Brutal” talks almost fall apart

Just as the group moved forward internally, an administration slip-up pulled them back.

The leak of the White House draft bill to USA Today in February seemed to confirm the GOP’s worst fears that Obama didn’t really want the group to succeed. Schumer felt blindsided and Rubio declared the liberal document “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Obama, who had a confrontational relationship with McCain and Graham since the Benghazi attacks, called the two Republicans to the White House — and in a breakthrough for the trio, they left convinced that the president would back them up.

But the next problem was just around the corner.

The group had made it a top priority to avert the same labor and business battles attracting future low-skilled foreign workers that doomed the immigration bill in 2007. Yet the issue still proved to be one of the chief obstacles again, leading to an impasse. By several accounts, it amounted to the low point in the negotiations.

“The issue at one point looked like it just stopped us cold,” Durbin acknowledged.

Lawmakers had wanted wanted to issue a joint statement before they left for the Easter break saying a deal had been reached on all the major points of contention. But that never happened.

On March 20 and 21, just before the recess, the group was holed up in a conference room just off the Senate floor. Late on the night of March 20, Schumer tweaked an offer previously rejected by the GOP senators, but this time the Republicans believed they could live with it.

But labor balked.

Schumer called up Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, who told the senator, “I know you’re trying. But we’d need this language changed,” according to a source familiar with the call.

Labor unions began to accuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of not working in good faith.

Staff and the senators were drained — particularly since those talks occurred just off the Senate floor and through the night during a marathon budget voting session that went until nearly 5 a.m.

It got so bad that they took a break to cool off over the recess.

“We kinda went to our respective corners and had to rethink,” Flake said, describing the talks as “brutal.”

He said he thought the group “wouldn’t salvage it.”

“Coming back to the room and trying to hash it out — we all invested so much time and effort into this and to see it break down like that, it didn’t sit very well,” Flake said.

While negotiations stalled in Washington, four of the gang members headed to the Arizona border with Mexico — publicly keeping a positive face on the progress they were making while revealing few details on how they planned to pay for the billions expected to go to border security.

At that time, staff dialed back their negotiations to give everyone a break from the heated and marathon sessions. After the breakdown, the AFL-CIO’s Ana Avendaño, the Chamber’s Randy Johnson and Fresco continued to try and hammer out the details — and they continued to narrow their differences until they struck a March 29 agreement over a plan to balance the need for foreign workers with the concerns over costing American jobs.

Not wanting one of them to back out, at 9:30 that night from his Brooklyn home, Schumer held a conference call with Trumka, and Tom Donohue, the Chamber leader, and both said “yes.” Donahue suggested the three should grab dinner to celebrate, and Schumer offered to pay for the bill.

The Saturday after the deal was reached between the Chamber and the AFL, Schumer called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was being briefed about the talks.

Upon learning of the deal, McDonough said: “You guys are kicking ass.”

But on Easter Sunday, Schumer was surprised when Rubio blasted out a statement saying that it was premature to consider a deal in hand, prompting media speculation that the Florida Republican was poised to drop out of the talks.

Fresco shot an email to Gonzalez later that day, urging him to keep Rubio on board. And a worried Schumer called Rubio that Monday night, and the two men spoke by phone, assuaging the New York Democrat’s fears that the Florida Republican was wavering over the proposal.

Still, there were ample issues left to resolve. But the group leaked details of the agreement to create the impression that a deal was imminent on the overall bill.

The full group did not meet again until the middle of last week when an agreement appeared to be within reach, electing instead for staff-level talks and negotiations among a smaller number of senators as they worked through the remaining sticking points over the specifics of high-tech visas and a separate agriculture-worker visa program.

As the rest of Washington and country gets a look at what the group spent months negotiating, the senators are optimistic that they struck the right balance, even as the compromises will anger many people.

Sharry, the legalization advocate, said he can now see what the negotiators were trying to do on border security.

Rubio can tell conservatives that the border will finally be secured, employers will be required to check the immigration status of their workers, and visa holders will be tracked. But Democrats can say border security benchmarks won’t impede the path to citizenship.

“It is pretty clever,” Sharry acknowledged this week. “They are both right.”

Tarini Parti contributed to this report.

© 2013 POLITICO LLC

The Charismatic Leaders Behind Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

The Charismatic Leaders Behind Immigration Reform

hASAED9KRUoUm0E_5iMM8Gk4g61nZhrIXp2Ua65vG20The tens of thousands of people who gathered Wednesday in front of the Capitol to rally for comprehensive immigration reform had two clear messages for Congress: reform must include a direct path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, and “The Time Is Now.”

 

While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole.

As the rally filled the Capitol’s west lawn, a bipartisan group of senators worked furiously on final negotiations on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that should be introduced early next week, according to news reports. “We are writing the bill as we speak,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight. The Los Angeles Timesreports that the bill’s first draft is about 1,000 pages, but not all senators have signed off on every section, with provisions related to agricultural workers and border security still being worked out. Yet they are close, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said after a briefing yesterday. “We are closer now than we have been in 25 years for serious immigration reform,” he said. “This president is behind it. And there is a strong, growing bipartisan effort in the Senate to support it. We hope that the House will do the same.” 

While those at the rally had a clear message, they did not speak with a single voice. Attendees came from across the country and represented a range of groups, both old and new members of a growing coalition in support of immigration reform. Busloads of supporters came from states as far away as Michigan, Florida, and Alabama. Participants wore colorful t-shirts and carried the banners of labor unions, women’s and business groups, Latino, Asian and African coalitions, as well as LGBT organizations.

As an NPR report analyzing the immigration reform movement put it, the movement’s success may very well lie in how “decentralized” it is. While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole. And as one rally participant interviewed for the NPR piece put it when asked who the leader of the movement was, she replied, without hesitation, “the people.”

The wide range of issues at stake in immigration reform also explains why it has been so hard to get a comprehensive bill and why these bills end up being 1,000 pages long. The interlocking puzzle pieces of immigration reform are tricky, and it is critical to put them together right. One issue cannot be addressed without impacting others and all of them must ultimately work together seamlessly. That is why this bill has taken so long to produce and why negotiations can be tricky. So as the Senate hammered out the final details, the rally participants showed their support and appreciation for the bipartisan work being done, while continuing to apply pressure on lawmakers to get it done as quickly as possible and not to forget any of them in the process.


Why Are Some Still UnDACAmented?

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

Why Are Some Still UnDACAmented?

AdministrationChildrenDeferred ActionIntegrationStudents,Undocumented Immigration

by Patrick Taurel

7448553910_0a2bc46804_zThe latest USCIS DACA numbers from March show that the agency has received roughly 470,000 applications, which means that just under half of those estimated to be eligible have applied. While the success reflected by the 470,000 figure is not to be downplayed, the new numbers beg the question: What about the other half million? Why are they still unDACAmented?

 

It’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.

Hard data isn’t available yet, but the organizations working tirelessly to help young people apply for DACA believe that a large percentage of eligible immigrants are living in rural America, which presents them with a range of challenges. Estimates show that roughly one quarter of all DREAMers live in rural communities and that upwards of half of them need to enroll in a qualifying adult education program to become DACA-eligible. If we hone in on the migrant farmworker population — which contains about 55,000 DREAMers – over 80% would need to take steps to meet the education requirement. 

Apart from the educational hurdle, there is a substantial financial one.  Migrant farmworkers generally earn a little over $11,000 a year, making the $465 DACA filing fee cost-prohibitive. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, itinerant farmworkers are particularly hard-pressed when it comes to producing evidence of continuous residence since June 15, 2007 (a requirement of the program) and gaining access to legal services.

Anecdotal evidence bolsters these conclusions. Recently, the Florida Dream Coalition, working in conjunction with volunteer law students from the University of Miami and Florida International University, organized several DACA workshops throughout central Florida. During the workshops, immigrants described the obstacles they faced to applying for DACA.  Those living in rural communities provided consistent answers: they didn’t know about the program; they live far away from legal service providers; they fear that the government will try to deport them if they apply; they don’t meet the education requirement; and, above all, the application fee is too high. At the Gainesville DACA clinic, the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a non-profit providing migrant farmworkers with emergency and education services, pledged funds to cover the filing fees of local DACA applicants. Nearly every individual at the clinic that day needed financial assistance.

Lessons from North Carolina lend credence to the theory that there is an urban/rural divide within the applicant pool.  If you compare USCIS figures to estimates produced by the Immigration Policy Center, it turns out that about 40-50% of the eligible DREAMer population has applied for DACA.  Except in North Carolina.  In North Carolina, roughly 16,500 out of an estimated 18,000 — 90% — have applied. What explains the disparity?  Farmworker organizers report that North Carolina’s farmworker outreach network is exceptional. In which case, North Carolina may provide the model for effective DACA implementation throughout the country.

If indeed many of the remaining unDACAmented youth are in rural America, future outreach efforts must be targeted accordingly, placing appropriate emphasis on linking would-be applicants to qualifying adult education programs. It also means that the availability and accessibility of microloans and scholarships for DACA filing fees will play a make-or-break role for tens of thousands of individuals going forward.

Let’s not miss the silver-lining, however. If this hypothesis is correct, then outreach in urban areas has largely been a success. The impassioned, outspoken and social media-savvy DREAMers at organizations like United We Dream and its affiliates deserve immense credit for getting the word out about DACA.  Half a million applications in 8 months is no small feat. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.

Photo by Neighborhood Centers

 


Immigration bill filed in Senate; opponents hope to use delays to kill it

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

By ,

A bipartisan group of lawmakers formally filed an 844-page immigration bill on the Senate floor early Wednesday, setting the stage for months of public debate over the proposal.

Leading Capitol Hill opponents of the proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration systemare coalescing around a strategy to kill the bill by delaying the legislative process as long as possible, providing time to offer “poison pill” amendments aimed at breaking apart the fragile bipartisan group that developed the plan, according to lawmakers and legislative aides.

Read the bill

Gang of 8

 

Senate immigration proposal

Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.

Should Congress create a path to citizenship?

Yes
53%

No
47%

CAST YOUR VOTE

Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers

The tactics, used successfully by opponents of an immigration bill during a 2007 debate in the Senate, are part of an effort to exploit public fissures over core components of the comprehensive legislation introduced Tuesday by eight lawmakers who spent months negotiating the details.

The authors of the bill are considering whether to formally embrace it at a news conference Thursday, a move designed to build momentum for the plan. Conservative critics cautioned Tuesday that the legislative process must not be rushed.

An open process “is essential to gaining public confidence in the content of the bill. We know it’s complicated,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the top GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee. “I can’t see any reason to undermine confidence by trying to jam it through without adequate time for people to read it and to hear from their constituents.”

Cornyn aides said the senator is not necessarily against the bill. They said he is encouraged by the bipartisan progress but wants adequate time for debate.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called the pace of the legislative process — with Judiciary Committee hearings set for Friday and Monday — a “serious problem.” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested to the conservative National Review that caution on immigration is important in light of early speculation that the Boston Marathonbombings might have been carried out by a foreign national with a student visa — speculation that authorities said is not based on any specific finding.

The highly anticipated legislation crafted by the eight Democratic and Republican senators is divided into four sections: border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement and reforms to nonimmigrant visas (workplace programs).

“We have always welcomed newcomers to the United States and will continue to do so,” reads the introduction. “But in order to qualify for the honor and privilege of eventual citizenship, our laws must be followed.”

The bill states that illegal immigration has, in some cases, become a threat to national security and that strengthening the laws will help improve the nation economically, militarily and ethically.

Aides said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed the bill after 1:30 a.m. on behalf of himself and his seven colleagues in the working group, known as the “Gang of Eight”: Democrats Robert Menendez (N.J), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.)Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).

The bill has several major components, including a 13-year pathway to citizenship — predicated on new border-control measures — for up to 11 million immigrants in the country illegally; new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers; reductions to some categories of family-based visas; and a greater emphasis on employment and education skills.

Lessons from ’07

Read the bill

Gang of 8

Senate immigration proposal

Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.

Should Congress create a path to citizenship?

Yes
53%

No
47%

CAST YOUR VOTE

Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers

Democrats and immigration advocates, along with some GOP supporters, say they have learned from the failed immigration push in 2007, when a flurry of amendments on border control and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants helped sink the legislation before it came to the floor for a vote.

Although the 2007 bipartisan legislation had support from President George W. Bush, the effort failed after an amendment to eliminate a new visa program for low-skilled foreign workers after five years was approved by a single vote, angering business groups and costing GOP support. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), at the time a presidential candidate vying for labor unions’ support, voted in favor of that amendment.

Schumer and McCain briefed President Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

“One thing he made clear is he wants to have an open process, but he doesn’t want to delay and drag this out because that’s the way bills get killed,” Schumer said. “That’s one of the most important points he made.”

Schumer said the goal is to have the Judiciary Committee open the bill for amendments in early May and get it to the Senate floor by early June. In a statement, Obama urged the Senate “to quickly move this bill forward” and pledged to “do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.”

Opponents take aim

Members of the Senate working group have agreed to band together to oppose any amendments of the core provisions.

But conservatives are taking aim, arguing that allowing undocumented workers to remain in the country amounts to “amnesty,” that the border-control steps are not strong enough, that the guest-worker program will undercut Americans at a time of high unemployment, and that the bill will amount to trillions of dollars in new federal costs.

Those factors make immigration reform “a heavy lift,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a lawyer who helped Arizona draft one of the nation’s strictest immigration laws in 2008. “Twenty million Americans are unemployed or under­employed. At any other normal time, no one would breathe about amnesty.”

But supporters say the political landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama’s reelection, and GOP leaders have said the party must do more to appeal to them.

Rubio has received tacit support from conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity after promising the tough border-control measures will be in place before undocumented immigrants earn green cards.

“The theory in 2007 was the longer they could draw it out, a populist upsurge would bring down the bill,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the liberal Center for Community Change. “But this time, we’ll match them toe to toe.”


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