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Growing Number of Republicans for Immigration Change

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

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

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

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.”

 


Senator Look at Past Failures for Lessons on Immigration Overhaul

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment
January 31, 2013- The New York Times

Senators Look at Past Failures for Lessons on Immigration Overhaul

 

By 

 

WASHINGTON — As eight senators in a bipartisan group look ahead to a broad immigration overhaul, they are also looking back to 2006 and 2007 — the last time a major immigration measure was considered — as something of a reverse playbook.

Lesson 1? “Make sure you get out there and define what you’re trying to do,” said former Senator Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican who, in 2007, was the minority whip when his chamber’s immigration efforts imploded. “Don’t forget to pay attention to the message, and don’t let the media define what you’re trying to do.”

It is a tip that Mr. Lott says he has communicated to the staff of Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican involved in the current effort, and so far Mr. Rubio seems to be heeding the advice. In recent weeks, he has focused on conservative media powerhouses, tirelessly wooing influential voices on the right like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

“The outreach by Marco Rubio has been very positive,” Mr. Lott said. “He’s very good at explaining what he wants to do.”

Getting out ahead by articulating their immigration principles, as the group did in a Monday news conference, is only one of the ways the senators hope to learn from the mistakes of the past. This time, they said, they are capitalizing on a promising political environment, using more conciliatory language, and trying to harness media outlets to their advantage. They also plan to move their legislation through the Judiciary Committee, a step not taken in 2007 and one that helped doom the bill, and are working more closely with businesses and labor unions to make sure the two can also reach a compromise.

“Our timing is right,” said Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “The election results are still fresh in the minds of my Republican colleagues and they don’t want to go through this again.”

President George W. Bush said in 2009 that it was “a mistake” to have pushed for changes to Social Security, rather than immigration, immediately after the 2004 election. By the time he took on immigration late in his second term, he was a lame duck president, weakened by the war in Iraq and facing dissent within his party.

“By his own admission, President Bush made a strategic error in not pushing the issue right after his re-election,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “President Obama is not making the same mistake. He still has a lot of political capital to spend.”

In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, where Mr. Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney came with the help of 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, those on all sides of the immigration effort believe the climate is ripe for another attempt.

And, at least in the early stages, they are taking steps to reach across the aisle, even with the words they choose.

“The most important lesson I took way from 2006 and 2007 is that people had no faith that there wouldn’t be future waves of illegal immigrants,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat of New York in the Senate’s bipartisan immigration group.

To show that he is serious about an overhaul, he explained, he is especially conscious of the language he uses; Mr. Schumer now refers to “illegal immigrants,” a term preferred by the right and an acknowledgment that the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country did, in fact, break the law.

In a similar linguistic concession, Mr. Rubio, during Monday’s immigration news conference, referred to the “undocumented” workers, a term generally preferred by Democrats and loathed by his party’s conservative wing.

In 2007, in an attempt to save time and reach a deal, the Senate bypassed the Judiciary Committee and brought the legislation straight to the floor. At the time, the senators who drafted the bill tried to band together to vote down any amendments that changed the substance of their compromise, an agreement that broke down. Several controversial amendments, including one that then-Senator Obama supported, ultimately led to the bill’s collapse.

“What we’re doing now is we’re going to put it through committee,” Mr. Schumer said. “When the bill gets through committee, it will be battle-tested and we will be prepared for the floor in a better way.”

The group is also considering again trying to maintain a large voting bloc, to squash any amendments they believe could kill their bill.

“I think we have to unless there’s something that we both agree to,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said when asked about such a possibility at an immigration panel on Wednesday. “It’s going to be fragile, as these kinds of things are, and so we will have to take some tough votes in order to keep it intact.”

Finally, even business and labor interests — who historically come down on opposite sides of how to handle the future flow of legal immigrants — are currently working among themselves and with the Senate in an attempt to reach a compromise.

“We have had discussions with both labor — the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the S.E.I.U. — and business,” including with Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and leaders of other groups, Mr. Schumer said Monday.

“And in fact while we’ve been negotiating these principles, they’ve been sitting talking to one another,” he added. “They are making really good progress, much better than in 2009.”

Mr. Lott said that the collapse of an immigration overhaul in 2007 was “one of the most embarrassing moments that I experienced in the Senate,” and that the memories were still vivid — the way conservative talk radio turned on him, the angry phone calls flooding his office from around the country every morning, the handful of death threats.

Watching the immigration debate take shape now, he said, he is heartened to watch Mr. Rubio and others aggressively make their case in the press — something he wishes he had done better six years ago.

“I’d been in the Congress 34 years by then — I should have known better,” Mr. Lott said. “I was just trying to help move this thing along, but I should have paid better attention to the message part of it.”

 

 

 


Obama and Rubio Immigration Plans: What’s the Difference?

Posted on by Ruby Powers in DREAM Act, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, State and Local Immigration Rules Leave a comment

By TED HESSON (@tedhesson)
Article
Jan. 14, 2013
Broad outlines describing how immigration reform could look in 2013 emerged this weekend. Officials from the White House spoke to The New York Times about possible tenets of reform while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) elaborated on his vision in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

What’s the difference between the Obama and Rubio plans? Here are some bullet points to get you up to speed:

What Obama Wants

Type of bill: Comprehensive. That will mean lots of immigration policy changes packaged into one piece of legislation, like the 2010 healthcare bill.

Citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants: The White House has said that it will reject any bill that doesn’t include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people in the country without papers. The path to citizenship would be earned, meaning immigrants would need to pay back taxes along with “other hurdles,” according to The New York Times. The White House’s 2011 blueprint for reform says those other hurdles could involve criminal background checks, learning English and paying a processing fee.

Timeframe for citizenship: The most recent article by the Times didn’t cover this, but Obama’s 2011 blueprint shows a pathway that would take eight years to reach a green card and five additional years to earn citizenship.

Workplace enforcement: The president wants a national system to check the legal status of all workers. One such system, E-Verify, is already in place. Less than 10 percent of U.S. businesses use E-Verify but firms have increasingly begun to use the program in recent years. E-Verify has drawn criticism from immigrant rights and business groups for being unreliable and forcing employees further into the shadows.

Immigration backlogs: Getting a visa from certain countries, like the Philippines and Mexico, can take decades, and leaders in sectors like farming, technology and healthcare say they need more immigrant workers. The president plans to add more visas to reduce the overall wait time to obtain one, according to The New York Times, but hasn’t been specific about what he would do.

Guest worker program: One of the main reasons for illegal immigration is that there are no legal pathways that allow low-wage workers to come to the U.S. The president would like to create a guest-worker program to provide a way for those workers to enter the country legally.

What Rubio Wants

Type of bill: Piecemeal. Rubio told the Wall Street Journal that it would be better to have four or five separate immigration bills than one large legislative package. He cited the healthcare bill as an example of a big bill where bad policies got lost amid hundreds of pages. But on the piecemeal approach, he said, “it’s not a line in the sand for me.”

Citizenship for the 11 million undocumented: Rubio supports legal status for the undocumented, but he hasn’t endorsed a special pathway to citizenship. The Journal calls his version of legal status “a form of temporary limbo.” According to Rubio, immigrants should earn legal status through a process similar to Obama’s approach to citizenship by paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check. After that, they could apply for a green card and potentially pursue citizenship.

Timeframe for citizenship: Rubio wouldn’t say how many years undocumented immigrants should have to wait for a green card, but he said it “would have to be long enough to ensure that it’s not easier to do it this way than it would be the legal way.” He added that the wait shouldn’t be “indefinite,” either.

Pathway for DREAMers: Rubio said he favors a faster pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications. Earlier this year, Rubio was developing an alternative to the DREAM Act, a bill that would offer citizenship to undocumented youth who attend college or serve in the military. Rubio’s alternative would have granted DREAMers legal status but not citizenship. The senator’s efforts became moot, however, when President Obama circumvented Congress and used his executive power this June to allow qualifying DREAMers to stay in the country and work legally.

Workplace enforcement: Workplace enforcement appears to be a point of common ground in both early outlines for reform. Like the White House, Rubio believes there should be a national system to verify that workers are here legally, whether that system be E-Verify or something else.

Immigration backlogs: Compared with the reports coming out of the White House, Rubio has put forward a more detailed explanation of how he would change the visa system. His main goal is to increase the number of visas for highly-skilled workers. There are two ways that can happen: either changing the distribution of visas — to have more for skilled workers and less for family members — or by upping the number of skilled-worker visas. Rubio said he prefers the second approach. “I don’t think there’s a lot of concern in this country that we’ll somehow get overrun by Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs,” Rubio told the Wall Street Journal.

Guest-worker program: Rubio also supports a guest-worker program, and he spoke to the Journal about how such a program would be particularly beneficial to farmers and farm workers. “The goal is to give American agriculture a reliable work force and to give protection to these workers as well,” he said. “When someone is [undocumented] they’re vulnerable to being exploited.”

It’s important to keep in mind that these are just the early outlines of reform. The White House, for instance, hasn’t officially announced its plans (although reform could surface during the State of the Union address).

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of congressmen dubbed the “Gang of Eight” are working on their own bill. The group, led by Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), haven’t gone public with what will be included in their legislation beyond the core commitment to an earned pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Sen. Schumer assured The New York Times that despite other legislative pushes, immigration is still a top priority: “This is so important now to both parties that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way.”


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