As we begin the second half of the 113th Congress, the question of whether immigration reform is possible is in the forefront of the Obama Administration and federal legislators’ minds. The political environment is tense. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is distrustful of the White House and its agencies. The issues surrounding healthcare reform, the government shutdown, and the new voting procedures applied to Administration appointees in the Senate has undercut bi-partisan efforts and momentum.
Many believe that efforts in 2014 to pass immigration reform are dead and can’t be resurrected until after the mid-term elections or even after the next Presidential election in 2016.
However, let’s look at what has been accomplished so far in the 113th Congress. On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Senate approved S.744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Modernization Act. The legislation includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, a new temporary worker program, increased visa numbers for skilled foreign workers, and a nationwide employment eligibility verification system. In the House, to date, there have been five immigration bills reported out of either the Judiciary or Homeland Security Committee. These include:
- The Border Security Results Act (H.R. 1417) was introduced on April 9, 2013 by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and approved by the House Homeland Security Committee on May 20, 2013 by voice vote. H.R. 1417 requires results verified by metrics to end the Department of Homeland Security’s ad hoc border approach and to help secure our nation’s porous borders.
- The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2278), also known as The SAFE Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on June 18, 2013. The SAFE Act seeks to improve the interior enforcement of our immigration laws by preventing the Executive Branch from unilaterally halting federal enforcement efforts. To this end, the bill grants states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.
- The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) was introduced on April 26, 2013 by Rep. Lamar Smith and approved by the House Judiciary Committee on June 26, 2013. This bill discourages illegal immigration by ensuring that jobs are made available only to those who are authorized to work in the U.S. Specifically, the bill requires employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires though the E-verify system.
- The Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels or STEM Visas Act (H.R. 2131), also known as The SKILLS Visa Act, was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa on May 23, 2013. The SKILLS Visa Act changes the legal immigration system for higher-skilled immigration and improves programs that make the U.S. economy more competitive. The SKILLS Visa Act was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on June 27, 2013.
- On April 26, 2013, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte introduced the Agricultural Guest worker Act (H.R. 1773), also known as The AG Act. The Committee approved this bill on June 19, 2013 in a voice vote (20-16). This bill attempts to provide farmers with a new guest worker program to ease access to a lawful, agricultural workforce that employers may call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found.
The House Democrats even introduced a bill similar to the Senate Comprehensive bill in the form of H.R. 15, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, with some bi-partisan support. This demonstrates that there is still a will to pass immigration reform.
After meeting with more than five dozen Republican offices over the past two months, it is very clear that there is a belief that the immigration policy in this country is broken and something needs to be done. How to thread the needle and get something passed by both the House and Senate that can ultimately be conferenced and signed by the President is the puzzle. Key Republican Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan, Rep. Raul Labrador, Rep. Ted Poe, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Rep. Darrell Issa, will be the folks to watch as the debate unfolds. Mr. Boehner will try to get key components of immigration reform passed and then sent to the Senate. The Senate will in turn need to pass individual pieces of legislation and hopefully come to an agreeable compromise. Some of the components in play include:
- Border security
- Kids brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own
- H-1B Reform
- EB-5 Reform
- New temporary work program
- Mandatory E-verify
- A program to deal with the undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the U.S.
- Agricultural reform
We might settle for a smaller piecemeal reform in the 113th Congress with an eye toward greater reform in the 114th and 115th Congresses. There is still time to get this done!