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Can immigration reform transform the housing market?

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

As Congress restarts conversations about the federal budget and deficit reduction, the immigration reform debate is still front and center for many. As that debate unfolds, it is important to put some hard facts on the table.  What are the costs and benefits of reform?  What impact will reform have on economic growth and wages?  How will immigration reform affect the federal budget?

A new study by the Bipartisan Policy Center Immigration Task Force found the evidence suggests that immigration reform can produce significant economic dividends for our country.

 

Unlike other efforts, this study was not a political exercise seeking to justify a pre-determined outcome.  Instead, it was a serious, scholarly attempt to understand the true economic implications of immigration reform.

The first step in any modeling exercise is to develop a “reference case” against which alternative scenarios, or “sensitivity analyses,” can be compared. This assessment chose to utilize the Senate-passed immigration bill as the “reference case,” not because we endorse it, but because it is the most recent reform package to have moved through either chamber of Congress, not because the study or its authors support the Senate bill.

Under the reference case, the study concludes that, over the next 20 years, immigration reform would cause the U.S. economy to grow an additional 4.8 percent, expand the labor force by 8.3 million people, contribute to higher average overall wages, and reduce the federal budget deficit by nearly $1.2 trillion.

Notably, the study shows that immigration reform would jump-start the housing market by increasing spending on residential construction by an average of $68 billion annually over the 20-year period. To put this $68 billion figure in perspective, as of August 2013, the annual rate of spending on residential construction was $340 billion.  So immigration reform would provide a substantial and immediate boost to investment in new single-family and multifamily homes..

During the past four decades, the contribution of housing to national GDP through both residential fixed investment and consumption of housing-related services has averaged between 17 and 19 percent.  Today, housing’s contribution stands at just 15.6 percent, largely because of a significant decline in home construction and remodeling.  This decline is a major reason why the recession and its damaging effects have lingered for so long.  Immigration reform can play a significant role in helping to restore the housing sector to its traditional position as an engine of economic growth.

A major finding of the study is that immigration reform would inject vitality into the nation’s workforce.  While enactment of reform would add an estimated 13.7 million people to the U.S. population over the next twenty years, only six percent of these individuals would be aged 65 or older.  Most would be very young compared to the rest of the U.S. population.

The addition of millions of new, younger workers would increase the ratio of workers to retirees and help our country respond to the fiscal challenges associated with an aging population.  It would also spur demand for new housing as these workers form their own households and start families.

To verify these positive results, the study also examines five alternative reform scenarios.  The first four scenarios change key assumptions in the reference case – for example, by making adjustments in the expected level of future unauthorized immigration and the utilization of family-based and employment-based green cards once immigration reform was enacted.  The fifth scenario takes the most restrictive approach by assuming that all current unauthorized immigrants would be deported and there would be no future unauthorized immigration into the United States in a post-reform setting.

Under the first four scenarios, immigration reform has a positive impact on the overall economy, including the housing market.  The fifth scenario, reflecting the most restrictive approach, would have devastating effects by, among other things, significantly reducing GDP growth and dramatically reducing residential construction spending.

The bottom line is that immigration reform can be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization.  It can inject new, much-needed demand into a housing market that has been slow to recover.  To get our economy back on track, it’s time for Congress to make passing immigration reform an immediate priority.

Brady is the president of Brady Homes and a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force and Housing Commission.  Cisneros was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. Martinez served in the Senate from 2005 to 2009, and was HUD secretary under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. Cisneros and Martinez co-chair BPC’s Immigration Task Force and Housing Commission.


Boehner hire signals new hope for migrant reform

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

House Speaker John Boehner’s hiring of a former top aide to Sen. John McCain to advise him on immigration issues has renewed hopes that House Republican leaders are planning to move forward on reform legislation next year.

Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Tallent as assistant to the speaker for policy handling immigration issues comes amid intensifying pro-reform activism on Capitol Hill as time runs out on the 2013 legislative calendar.

STORY: New activists continue fast for immigration reform

STORY: Advocates redouble efforts on immigration reform

Tallent, most recently director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., worked for McCain, R-Ariz., for years, including a stint as his chief of staff. Before that, she was an aide to then-Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who, like McCain, was a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.

“I’ll be focusing on trying to get this sticky immigration situation worked out,” Tallent wrote in an e-mail announcing her final day at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Reform supporters and opponents alike say the move by Boehner, R-Ohio, is the clearest signal yet House GOP leaders are sincere when they say they want to act on a series of immigration-reform bills.

“This is a sign that Speaker Boehner is very serious about doing something on immigration,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California and an expert on how Congress works. “The big question is: What does that something consist of?”

McCain was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that wrote the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in June. In her role at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Tallent voiced support for McCain’s approach to reform, but also reflected a sophisticated understanding of the internal House GOP dynamics at play.

Boehner has said the House won’t take up the Senate’s sweeping package, which balanced a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11million undocumented immigrants who have settled in the country with a massive investment in border security and new visa programs for future foreign workers.

Boehner and other top House Republicans have expressed a preference to break up the immigration issue and address the various aspects, such as potential legalization for the young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers,” one at a time rather than in one far-reaching piece of legislation.

The speaker has said individual bills must win support of a majority of House Republicans. That poses a challenge because a faction of House Republicans view attempts to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants as “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

Keeping conversation alive

Activists attempting to build support for immigration reform with their “Fast for Families” continued to pick up steam Tuesday.

Eight new fasters, including Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, relieved the group of four activists who for 22 days had been fasting on the National Mall to call attention to the moral implications of inaction on immigration reform. The original group, which included Cristian Avila of Arizona, previously attracted visits from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“This fast has literally kept the conversation about immigration reform alive,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and one of the new fasters. “Across the street is one kind of power (in the U.S. Capitol). In this tent is another.”

Another group of 40 activists from Arizona also was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, praying outside Boehner’s home, holding a vigil outside his office and singing Christmas carols.

“The speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms — the kind of reforms the American people understand and support,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday in a statement e-mailed toThe Arizona Republic. “Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort.”

‘A slap in the face’

Boehner’s hiring of Tallent, an Arizona native, drew praise from reform supporters but also put “amnesty” opponents on alert because of her long association with McCain and her record of supporting immigration reform. Many reform foes had been quietly confident that House action on immigration was unlikely in 2014, a year expected to be dominated by congressional midterm-election politics.

As a former McCain and Kolbe staff member, Tallent brings “strong Republican credentials” but also can work with all sides on the complex immigration issue, said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who served as national Hispanic co-chair for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and who knows Tallent well.

“Becky has an exemplary reputation: She is smart, she is hardworking, she is effective, and she is a serious person who seeks pragmatic solutions,” Navarro said. “It tells me that Boehner genuinely wants to get something done. … It’s a very smart move by Boehner.”

One reform critic called the Tallent hire “a slap in the face” to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and an indication that Boehner is planning “an end run around the Judiciary Committee,” which has oversight over immigration issues.

“It confirms what we always knew: that the Republican leadership in the House is pro-amnesty, but they just don’t know how to get it past their members,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the anti-reform Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. “I assume the point is for her to try to cook up a way to get a majority of the Republican caucus to vote for something.”

But Pitney said that it is common for a House speaker to devote a staff member to a big policy topic, and Steel confirmed that Tallent is filling an existing position.

“On the vast majority of issues, speakers defer to the committee system, but they do take certain issues to heart and put a leadership stamp on some positions,” Pitney said.

If Tallent’s role is to help the House GOP find consensus on immigration issues, it is appropriate that she work out of the speaker’s office, he added.

“If you are concerned about building a majority within the entire conference, you don’t do that simply within a committee,” Pitney said. “That’s really the role of leadership. This is a sign that Boehner is hoping he can get something to the floor.”

A window for action

Other observers called Boehner’s decision to add Tallent to his staff, even at this late date, a positive sign for immigration reform’s prospects. Some believe there remains a window for action in early to mid-2014, before Capitol Hill is paralyzed by election-year partisanship.

“It’s a signal that despite the fact that Speaker Boehner really hasn’t been able to move his caucus forward all year, that he’s not giving up,” said Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science and Latino/Chicano studies at the University of California-Irvine.

Pro-reform activists are not giving up, either, at trying to persuade Boehner and other House Republicans to act.

Maria Castro, a 20-year-old Phoenix resident whose mother is in the United States without authorization, was part of a group of five Arizonans who recited the rosary on the sidewalk outside Boehner’s home on Tuesday morning. She said Boehner came out and waved. Later, the activists caught up to Boehner but were unable to engage him in a serious conversation, she said.

“We told him, ‘We’ve been praying for you,'” Castro said. “And he said, ‘Oh, I know.’ That was the only response we got out of him.”

Contributing: Gannett Washington Bureau reporter Erin Kelly


Immigration reform Fasters begin “National Days to Act, Fast and Pray”

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

By: Maria Camila Bernal

After more than three weeks of fasting, immigration activists in Washington D.C. will be joined by many around the nation as they begin the “National Days to Act, Fast and Pray,” three days of no food in hopes that Congress brings an immigration reform bill to a vote.

Three people, Eliseo Medina of Service Employees International Union; Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Dae Joong Yoon of National Korean American & Education Association, have been fasting near the U.S. Capitol and vowed to fast until they can no longer sustain.

A fourth faster, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, committed to a 40-day fast.

But beginning Sunday, activists hope the fasting goes beyond Washington D.C. in order to “create a moral force that will convince Congress that the time to act is now,” Medina, a veteran of the farmworker rights protests of the 1960s, said.

The group’s goal is to get the attention of House Speaker John Boehner and urge him to call a vote on immigration reform by year’s end.

Ben Monterroso, Mi Familia Vota’s Executive Director, said his organization will have various solidarity events and actions throughout the country on Dec. 1-3. Events have been organized in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.

“We will not stop our efforts until this moral crisis that breaks apart families finally ends and our country has an immigration system that works for citizens, aspiring Americans and their families,” Monterroso said.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited the group fasting in Washington D.C. Friday, reiterating that there is still time this year for the House to pass legislation, The Associated Press reported.

Previous visitors have included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and feminist Gloria Steinem.

Sunday marks the 20th day of fasting for the group in the National Mall.

“Understanding the struggle that my family and other families in my community face, I have the moral responsibility to do everything in my hands to make a change. If that means my body, my body it is. Anything less would mean I have failed my community, and that is a luxury I don’t have,” said Avila, Mi Familia Vota’s Arizona Coordinator.


New push for immigration reform will target 9 House Republicans

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

With a year to go until the midterm elections, immigration reform advocates hoping to jump-start debate on Capitol Hill are planning to target a handful of Republican lawmakers most likely to suffer political consequences next year if Congress fails to act on immigration reform.

Rep. Joe Heck ( R-Nev.), left, speaks with a constituent during a town hall meeting on immigration reform at Windmill Library in Las Vegas in July. Heck is one of nine House Republicans being targeted by a new campaign by immigration reform advocates. (LEILA NAVIDI/LAS VEGAS SUN)Rep. Joe Heck ( R-Nev.), left, speaks with a constituent during a town hall meeting on immigration reform at Windmill Library in Las Vegas in July. Heck is one of nine House Republicans being targeted by a new campaign by immigration reform advocates. (Leila Navidi/LAS VEGAS SUN)

A campaign set to be announced Thursday will marry the financial and political power of the AFL-CIO and SEIU labor unions with smaller grass-roots immigrant advocacy groups, including America’s Voice, PICO National Network, Mi Familia Vota and CASA in Action, to target nine House GOP lawmakers who support establishing a way for eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The campaign will target Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Joe Heck (R-Nev.). They represent districts with sizable Latino voting populations where President Obama won or performed well last year. They also have publicly voiced support for revamping the nation’s immigration laws.

Organizers said the goal of the campaign is to pressure the lawmakers to match their public statements by lobbying colleagues and House Republican leaders to permit votes on a series of immigration bills introduced in recent months. If the nine lawmakers fail to convince their colleagues by the end of the year, the groups plan to devote more resources to defeating them in next year’s elections and to expand their campaign.

“This is designed to tell Republicans that if you don’t take action on reform, there will be people who will take action in districts where Republicans are vulnerable to mobilize Latino and immigrant voters to reward or punish a member of Congress,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading national immigration advocacy group.

“A Republican majority in the House depends on people in vulnerable districts winning,” Sharry noted. “It just seems [House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)] and company are more worried about members being primaried by tea party challengers than their members in districts with growing Latino populations. This is designed to tell them, ‘Guess what — you’d better worry.’ “

The House is unlikely to consider any immigration legislation before Congress passes another short-term spending plan in mid-January, according to top Republican aides. Even if debate ever begins, Boehner and his lieutenants have said they will not support a comprehensive Senate plan that would allow illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship over a 13-year period, saying they will consider a series of smaller-scale bills.

House lawmakers are on recess this week, but a visit to Capitol Hill last week by hundreds of conservative business and religious leaders helped persuade some GOP lawmakers to take another look at the issue, said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who cosponsored the Senate plan passed this summer.

“There seems to be new life in the House on this,” he said Wednesday.

Flake served for 10 years in the House before ascending to the Senate in January and remains in close contact with House Republicans. He said there is growing interest in establishing ways for the children of undocumented immigrants and certain farm workers to more quickly gain U.S. citizenship, while establishing ways for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants to seek a permanent legal status.

“There’d be no special path created, but they would not be precluded from taking one of the paths that already exists,” Flake said.

Flake said there’s likely to be bipartisan support for the proposal, “because that’s the only way a deal can be had. I think there’s a good-faith effort underway on both sides of the aisle.”

Congressional Democrats also remain hopeful that House Republicans will quickly take up the issue, possibly in December before another round of negotiations over a short-term spending bill in January.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who worked with Flake on the Senate deal, has held several telephone conversations on the subject with senior GOP lawmakers, according to aides.

“Certainly politically it would benefit us if [House Republicans] don’t pass any bill, and they can’t pass any bill without some Democratic votes. But the overwhelming view of Democrats is that we’d sacrifice that political advantage to get a bill that moves America’s immigration policy forward,” Schumer said Wednesday.

The campaign launching Thursday will include outreach to nearly 90,000 voters in the nine districts through door-to-door outreach and phone calls. Additionally, the AFL-CIO announced plans Tuesday to spend more than $1 million on a bilingual television ad campaign in Bakersfield, Calif., Denver, Atlanta and Orlando and in the Washington, D.C. market. The SEIU plans to announce a similar ad campaign Thursday, according to people familiar with the plans.

Of the lawmakers targeted, Denham and Valadao have endorsed a comprehensive immigration bill authored by House Democrats that merges elements of the bipartisan Senate immigration plan passed over the summer with a bipartisan border security plan passed unanimously by a House committee in MayDenham said last week that he met with a good reception when he discussed the bill with colleagues during their weekly caucus-wide meeting.

Several of the other targeted Republicans reiterated their support for immigration reform this week but said they’re still reviewing the various proposals.

Aides to Heck said the congressman believes the House should act “in a timely manner.” Miller said in a statement that he plans to “closely examine the merits and consequences of any proposal.” Coffman said he is eager to work on the issue, “but that is appearing less likely given the limited time that is left on the calendar.”

Jackie Kucinich and David Nakamura contributed to this report.


Obama: ‘This is the moment’ to get immigration reform done

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

Obama: ‘This is the moment’ to get immigration reform done

By Carrie Dann, NBC News

President Barack Obama tried to refocus attention on the incomplete comprehensive immigration reform push Thursday, saying that “this is the moment we should be able to finally get the job done.”

“Let’s not wait,” Obama said during a statement at the White House. “It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.”

Charles Dharapak / AP

Vice President Joe Biden applauds as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

The president’s remarks come as the rocky rollout of Obamacare’s online health insurance exchanges continues to dominate headlines. Earlier this month, major immigration protests were largely drowned out by the government shutdown and the ongoing fiscal crisis.

Thanking pro-reform activists who have maintained pressure on Congress despite waning chances for action this year, Obama dipped into campaign-like rhetoric to urge another salvo.

“You don’t look like folks who are going to give up,” he said. “You look fired up to make the next push.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner reiterated after the speech that the House GOP will not pursue one sweeping comprehensive immigration reform bill but will concentrate instead on the House’s “step by step” legislation. That’s an approach most Democrats reject.

“The Speaker agrees that America has a broken immigration system and we need reform that would boost our economy,” said spokesman Brendan Buck. “He’s also been clear that the House will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands. Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way.”

Acknowledging “disagreements” between the parties on major fiscal issues, Obama said he’s not giving up on the bill he has called the top domestic priority of his second term, even as the number of legislative days left in the year dwindles.

Immigration advocates are hoping that House Republican leaders, alarmed at falling approval ratings and fearful of diminishing appeal to Hispanic voters, will take up legislation that would offer a path to citizenship – or at least legal status – for the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

Movement on the reform push has stalled since the House declined to take up a Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this summer. Now, several House Republicans have proposed separate legislation that would address the undocumented population, but it’s unclear if Democrats in the House will back legislation that stops well short of the Senate bill’s promise of the possibility for citizenship for most immigrants in the country illegally.

Obama did not specifically mention those separate Republican proposals, instead touting the Senate-passed legislation and a measure introduced by House Democrats that closely mirrors the upper chamber’s bill.

Proponents were optimistic Wednesday, when Boehner indicated that he is “hopeful” that the immigration issue will be taken up.

“I still think that immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I am hopeful,” he told reporters when asked if he will bring reform legislation up before the end of the year.

But Democrats are wary of GOP piecemeal efforts, which would stop short of the Senate bill’s promise of the possibility for citizenship for most undocumented immigrants at the end of a long probationary period.

And conservative Republicans in the House warn that if any legislation passes the House, it could be melded with the Senate bill and injected with more Democratic priorities.

This story was originally published on Thu Oct 24, 2013 10:55 AM EDT


Immigration advocates claim ” resounding win” in quiet August

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

Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.

With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.

Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009. 

Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.

“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”

The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”

At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.

Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.

“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.

Snyder and Robbins said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that they always viewed the recess as a potential challenge, citing concerns that Republicans would return to Washington hardened against reform because of opposition from vocal constituents. “Recess is something that panders to the extreme,” Robbins said.

The advocates said they remained optimistic about the chances for final legislation despite the uncertain outlook in the House, where Republicans are likely to focus on fiscal fights until at least October and potentially the entire fall.

A bipartisan proposal from a group of seven negotiators is stalled because Republicans in the group say it lacks support from the majority required by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on immigration legislation.

While lawmakers in both parties have said they want to get a final bill signed by the end of the year in advance of the 2014 midterm elections, advocates said there would still be a window of opportunity early next year before the campaigns begin in earnest.

Boehner has said he wants to get reform done, and backers of the effort said their optimism stemmed in large part because of the electoral imperative that many Republican leaders see in winning over Hispanic voters in future national elections.

“The House Republicans either get it done, or they get blamed for blocking it. It’s as simple as that,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Sharry and others have made clear that while they want to help Republicans succeed, they are threatening serious political consequences in 2014 and 2016 if reform dies.

“We would love to be patting the Republicans on the back for finding a way forward,” Sharry said. “But if they don’t, we will be kicking their ass.”


Growing Number of Republicans for Immigration Change

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Originally Published: September 2, 2013, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As Congress wrestles with immigration legislation, a central question is whether the 11 million immigrants already in the United States illegally should get a path to citizenship.

The answer from a small but growing number of House Republicans is “yes,” just as long as it’s not the “special” path advocated by Democrats and passed by the Senate.

“There should be a pathway to citizenship — not a special pathway and not no pathway,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told ABC 4 Utah after speaking at a recent town hall meeting in his district. “But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”

Many House Republicans said people who illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas should not be rewarded with a special, tailor-made solution that awards them a prize of American citizenship, especially when millions are waiting in line to attempt the process through current legal channels.

It’s far from clear, however, what a path to citizenship that’s not a special path to citizenship might look like, or how many people it might help.

The phrase means different things to different people, and a large number of House Republicans oppose any approach that results in citizenship for people now in the country illegally. Some lawmakers said such immigrants should be permitted to attain legal-worker status, but stop there and never progress to citizenship. That’s a solution Democrats reject.

Nonetheless, advocates searching for a way ahead on one of President Barack Obama’s second-term priorities see in the “no special path to citizenship” formulation the potential for compromise.

“I think there’s a lot of space there,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. “And that’s why I’m optimistic that once they start grappling more with details, that’s when things start getting more real.”

Once Congress returns from its summer break the week of Sept. 9, the focus will be on the GOP-led House. The Democratic-controlled Senate in June passed a far-reaching bill that includes a big, new investment in border security and remakes the system for legal immigration system, in addition to creating a 13-year path to citizenship for those already here illegally.

House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach, promising to proceed instead with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security. No action is expected on the House floor until late fall, at earliest, because of pressing fiscal deadlines that must be dealt with first.

The timing crunch, along with the significant policy and process disagreements, has left some supporters pessimistic about the future of immigration legislation. They find hope, however, in some recent comments from House Republicans around the country suggesting they could support a solution that ends in citizenship at least for some who now lack legal status.

Democrats, some Republicans and most outside immigration advocates are pushing for a relatively straightforward path to citizenship like the one in the Senate.

It imposes certain restrictions, seeks payment of fees, fines and taxes, and requires that prospective immigrants attempting the process legally are dealt with first. Once those criteria are met, most people here illegally could get permanent resident green cards in 10 years, and citizenship in three more. Agriculture workers and immigrants brought to this country as children would have a quicker path.

That approach is rejected by most House Republicans as a “special” path to citizenship.

“It’s not a bill I can support,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said at a Verona, Va., town hall meeting recently. “We think a legal status in the United States, but not a special pathway to citizenship, might be appropriate.”

Goodlatte has said that after attaining legal status, immigrants could potentially use the existing avenues toward naturalization, such as family or employment ties.

He and others also argue that many immigrants would be satisfied with legalization alone, without getting citizenship. That’s something many advocates dispute, though studies show that a significant number of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven’t taken that step — about 40 percent in a Pew Hispanic Center study in February.

Goodlatte has not provided much detail on how he foresees immigrants moving through existing channels from legalization to citizenship. Depending on its design, such an approach could touch anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of the 11 million people here illegally. So if House Republicans end up taking that approach, how they craft it would help determine whether Democrats and the advocacy groups could go along.

For now, advocates said that making immigrants here illegally go through the existing system would help relatively few of them.

Current law says that if you’ve been in the country illegally for more than a year, you have to return to your home country for 10 years before you can re-enter legally, which would likely dissuade many people.

Moreover, existing family sponsorship channels are badly backlogged, and many are capped. People applying for citizenship through their siblings face waits of more than 20 years in some cases, for example. On the employment side, existing visa programs are difficult to use and inadequate to meet demand, and also face long backlogs.

Waiving the requirement for people to exit the country and adding visas to reduce backlogs could take in a substantial number of the 11 million here illegally, arguably without being a “special” pathway, advocates said.

It’s a long shot, but the result could be an immigration deal between the House and the Senate, and a bill for Obama to sign.

“If the House wants to dis the Senate bill and come up with their own approach to the 11 million that has no special pathway to citizenship, we would be happy to work with them on a way that would meet with our bottom line, which is an inclusive, immediate path to legal status for the 11 million, and an achievable and clear path to eventual citizenship,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group. “They can preserve the sound bite and we can have the policies that we want.”


Immigration Advocates vow big Washington rallies to press reform

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Originally Published, The Hill, September 2, 2013

The shift in tactics comes as some leaders in the movement are voicing frustration that the more narrowly tailored activities used during the August recess have failed to maximize pressure on House Republican leaders to take up immigration legislation.

“I say that one of the problems we have is that Congress isn’t hearing enough from the American people, that we’re using too many sophisticated methods of communication,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier this week. “We’re buying ads there, and radio ads there, and hiring this lobbyist there. We need people power, and we need to concentrate.”

A series of demonstrations and rallies are planned for major cities on Oct. 5, ahead of a march in Washington on Oct. 8, Gutiérrez said. He said organizers hoped to attract 15,000 people in the capital to pressure Congress.

With budget and debt-ceiling debates expected to dominate an abbreviated legislative calendar in September, immigration reform isn’t likely to come to the House floor until October, lawmakers and aides have said.

Even then, advocates may have difficulty sustaining momentum for the issue, particularly if the fiscal fights drag out through the fall.

Immigration reform advocates defended their strategy for August, saying their goal was to “outgun” the movement’s opponents and generate headlines in local rather than national press.

“It’s been not huge marches on Washington, but those have been happening on Main Street, in key districts around the country,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, the group pushing for immigration reform backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And that’s something we’re very proud and optimistic with how that’s gone.”

“You do have to lobby,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The August plan, Snyder said in an interview, was for a “massive number of events in Republican districts, not necessarily huge rallies.”

“We’re planning to escalate the pressure in September, October and November,” he said. “We’re executing a plan that we made some time ago.”

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform said the relative lack of major activity in August was due to the slim chance that the House would actually consider legislation similar to the bill that passed the Senate in June. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House won’t vote on that measure and that any immigration proposal must gain the support of a majority of the Republican conference.

“As long as that’s the case, there’s not this great sense of looming danger out there,” said Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Beck voiced doubt that any plans for large rallies by reform advocates would alter the political dynamic. “I thought that was what they were planning for August. It sounds like more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see how more political theater is going to make a difference.”

 


Path Toward Citizenship or Legalization

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

Originally Published: The Hill’s Congress Blog, August 30, 2013

Controversy over a path toward citizenship is the most important roadblock to immigration reform.

Many conservatives oppose a path to citizenship because it’s unfair to reward law breakers with citizenship.  Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) said, “People that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.”  On the political left, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez  (D-ll.) said he, “is opposed to proposals that bar citizenship or create a permanent non-citizen underclass.”

To Labrador’s point, the heavy fines, fees and bureaucratic abuses that would prod every legalized immigrant on a path toward citizenship are hardly an award for legal behavior.  And to Gutierrez, a legalization status less than citizenship is no more an underclass than the millions of green card or visa holders that currently happily live without becoming citizens.

There is a simple solution to this impasse that could satisfy both camps: Create two paths.

The first path should be toward a permanent work visa where the immigrant cannot apply for citizenship unless he or she serves in the armed forces or marries an American.  This visa should be very cheap – hundreds of dollars – and granted quickly after national security, criminal, and health checks.

The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship. This path should be more difficult and expensive, something similar to the Senate’s path to citizenship. Those legalized unauthorized immigrants who want to become citizens should be able to do so.

For unauthorized immigrants uninterested in citizenship, who just want to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, a simple and low-cost path toward a permanent work permit would save them headaches, uncertainty, and cash.

This would definitely be consistent with conservatives like Labrador who say that unauthorized immigrants do not want citizenship.  “They’re not clamoring for it,” he said earlier this year. “It’s only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it.”

If Labrador is right, most unauthorized immigrants would choose a more affordable and easier path toward legalization rather than a more expensive and difficult path toward citizenship – if they were given a choice.

A look at the polls, however, indicates that unauthorized immigrants do want citizenship. In fact, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 87 percent want to become citizens. But if history is any guide, many of those respondents would choose a cheaper and easier form of legalization if it was offered.

The 1986 Reagan amnesty bill created an affordable and straightforward path to a green card and citizenship.  But almost a generation later, only 45 percent of former unauthorized immigrants have naturalized.  The 2013 bill would likely produce an even lower rate of naturalization, as the path to citizenship is much more arduous than the Reagan-era bill.

As a general rule, one-size fits all reforms rarely work well.  A path to citizenship is not likely to be an exception, although it’s better than the status quo.  Allowing a second, simpler path toward a permanent work permit that won’t lead to citizenship will allow otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, those who will be affected most, to choose their own level of legal status.

Conservatives can say that millions of unauthorized immigrants will be legalized and most won’t choose citizenship, while leftists can say they created a path toward citizenship.  Most importantly, the deportations can stop and immigration can be liberalized.  All of these sides win.

Left-wing interest groups claim to know what’s best for unauthorized immigrants, which is why many of them are pushing for a path toward citizenship.  Conservatives claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t want citizenship, so it shouldn’t even be offered.  Instead, there should be at least two paths toward legal status, one with citizenship and one without, and the immigrants themselves should choose which one they want to individually follow.


United States Government Recognizes Same-Sex Couples for Immigration

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

On June 26, 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, stating that federal benefits tied to marriage could only be considered for heterosexual couples, was unconstitutional, opening the doors for thousands of individuals to apply for things like social security, joint filing of taxes, the passage of estates, etc. This is undeniably a huge victory for same-sex couples in the Untied States.  But a successive victory was that hours after the ruling on DOMA for same-sex couples, the government announced that it would also begin extending immigration benefits to same-sex couples.

According to studies, the number of same-sex partner couples in which one is a foreign partner is around 32, 000. And historically, while heterosexual couples were able to sponsor one another by filing petitions to bring or keep their partners into the United Sates – same-sex couples were unable to do so because their marriages were not recognized, until now.

In July the Department of Homeland Security announced that same-sex couples will indeed be able to secure immigration benefits for one another, and in guidelines issued via USCISon July 1, 2013 the Secretary of Homeland Security stated that “ I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

As a result same-sex couples and their partners should be able to bring their gay and lesbian partners into the United States as well as prevent some of those individuals from deportation, assuming that they meet all other immigration requirements for Alien Relative Petitions, and/or Fiance visas. Additionally, those who have been denied prior to the revision may be eligible to have their cases reviewed.

If you are interested in obtaining a visa to enter the United States underneath these conditions, contact the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers in order to obtain a consultation and further advice on whether or not you qualify.


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