From the National Immigration Forum
108th Congress 1st Session Wrap-Up - What Passed and What's Ahead
Now that Congress has gone home for the session, it is time
to review some of the immigration legislation that has been
introduced; the state of the immigration policy debate in
Congress; and to look ahead to next year’s prospects. This was
the first session of the 108th Congress, so legislation that has
been introduced carries on to the next session, which is scheduled
to begin in January after the Martin Luther King holiday.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
By the end of the first session, there was no bill introduced that
contained all or most of the elements of what could be considered
comprehensive reform. But there is growing pressure for reform, and
growing alarm among those opposed to immigration reform.
Earlier in the year, as reported in previous updates, border state
members of Congress introduced legislation that would, among other
things, allow for the eventual adjustment of status for immigrant workers.
These members of Congress continue to speak of the need to change our laws
to allow more immigrants to work here legally. In part, this is a
response to their concern about the number of people dying while
crossing the border into their states.
The bill with the greatest bi-partisan support so far is legislation
that would legalize (and provide permanent residence to) the undocumented
agricultural workforce, and make changes to the program that provides
temporary visas to agricultural workers. This is the Agricultural Job
Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJOBS, S. 1645 and H.R. 3142).
For a time, advocates of the bill hoped for a vote in the Senate before the recess.
The AgJOBS bill (summarized briefly in an e-mail of October 17), is the
product of a compromise between growers and their advocates in Congress,
and farmworkers and their advocates. It has extraordinary bi-partisan
support in the Senate, with 50 Senators signed on to the bill, about half
of those Republicans and half Democrats. In the House, there are now 81
members supporting the bill.
While prospects are good for action in the Senate early next year,
there are still obstacles, including likely opposition by some
members of the Immigration Subcommittee. However, Senator Hatch (R-UT),
Chair of the full Judiciary Committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill, and
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), has already promised to allocate
time for debate on the Senate floor.
In the House, the picture is more complicated. Anti-immigrant members
are better positioned to block any legislation that will help immigrants.
A threat to this particular legislation is a countermeasure introduced
by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the Temporary Agricultural Labor Reform Act
of 2003 (H.R. 3604), introduced on November 21. This bill does not contain
a provision to legalize the current agricultural workforce of undocumented
immigrants, but instead makes modifications to the H-2A temporary worker
program. Rep. Goodlatte is Chair of the Agriculture Committee in the House.
Most of the few bills he has introduced thus far are either ceremonial
for example, to make the oak tree the official tree of the U.S.),
or immigration restrictionist (for example, to eliminate diversity visas).
The strategy of the restrictionists in the House will be to entice growers
to abandon the coalition that has forged the delicate compromise that is the
The DREAM Act
The DREAM Act (S. 1545; the House counterpart is the Student Adjustment Act,
H.R. 1684) is targeted to good students who are here, have gone through
our public educational system, but are facing major obstacles to college
admission because they are undocumented and considered “foreign students.”
As “foreign students,” they are required to pay much higher tuition fees,
fees that are out of reach for low-income families who are actually residents
(in the dictionary sense).
You would think that giving a break to high-achieving young people would
be pretty straight-forward. Not so. Defeating the DREAM act is a high
priority for restrictionist groups. Chris Cannon, Republican representative
from Utah, is a sponsor of both the Student Adjustment Act and the
AgJOBS bill in the House. According to Congress Daily, he is being targeted
by the restrictionist group ProjectUSA, which has raised money from its
members to put up a billboard in Cannon’s district critical of his record
In the Senate, the bill has made progress. The Senate Judiciary Committee
approved the DREAM Act in late October, but only after a number of amendments
were added making the bill more restrictive than it was when introduced.
After these amendments were added, the vote to approve the bill in the
Judiciary Committee was 16-3. The strong backing in the Committee
(including that of the Committee Chair) should help prospects for
passage in the Senate. However, it is unclear how much political
capital Chairman Hatch will spend on moving the bill to the Senate
Floor, where it is difficult to schedule time for debate.
In the House, as mentioned above, anti-immigrant members are better
positioned to prevent this bill from getting a vote, and there is no
indication that the bill will be considered in the regular process,
a process that would begin with the Immigration Subcommittee, now
Chaired by one of the more restrictionist members of Congress,
John Hostettler (R-IN).
The Test for Reform
The debate over these two bills next year will be a crucial barometer
for whether more comprehensive reform can be enacted in the medium term.
Compared to more comprehensive immigration reform, these more limited
bills deal with easier issues—AgJOBS because the compromise behind it
has such strong bipartisan support, and DREAM because it deals with
a particularly sympathetic population. Anti-immigrant groups will go
all out to kill these bills. If they succeed it will be a major
psychological boost for their cause, and the fight to enact any sort
of earned legalization for immigrant workers and reform of future
flows will be set back for years.
On the Periphery
Meanwhile, events in the news nearly every day confirm the need for
comprehensive immigration reform. The size of the undocumented population,
and the absurdity of the “deport them all” approach that restrictionists
would have us take, is illustrated by the recent enforcement sweeps of
shift-ending Wal-mart workers at the end of October. That action, culminating
a five-year investigation, resulted in the detention of 245 workers.
If the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement had a day like
that every day, and assuming there is no further undocumented immigration
to the U.S., the goal of freeing the U.S. of undocumented workers
through arrest and deportation can be accomplished in just a little
over 95 years (assuming no time off for Christmas, New Year, or any
other holiday, and assuming 8.5 million undocumented workers).
Also in the news have been several stories about the dramatic increase
in violence along the U.S./Mexico border. Border security has been tightened,
but legal opportunities to enter the U.S. have not been increased for
immigrants who continue to come here to work. The result: more immigrants
rely on smugglers, smuggling fees have shot up, and human smuggling is
now an extremely lucrative criminal enterprise. Lucrative enough that
there are now enterprises which try to steal the immigrants being smuggled
by other enterprises, and hold the immigrants for ransom. In early November,
there was a bloody shootout between two rival smuggling operations, firing at
each other on Interstate 10 in Arizona with semiautomatic weapons. Four were
killed. In the past year, Phoenix has seen a 45% rise in killings, blamed on
warfare between rival smuggling cartels. Violent crimes, such as kidnapping,
home invasions, and extortion, are up 400%, according to the New York Times.
It is no wonder why Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, our top
anti-terrorism official, recently stated at a “town hall” meeting in Florida,
“[t]he bottom line is, as a country we have to come to grips with the presence
of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way,
but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it.”
Meanwhile, there are reports that some sort of “immigration review” is under
way at the White House. The White House has largely been missing in action
on the immigration debate over the past 2 1/2 years. The President, however,
will be meeting with Mexico’s President Fox in January. The news leak of this
“immigration review” may indicate that the President will announce some sort
of immigration measure that will kick off debate on immigration in the new year.