From the National Immigration Forum

December, 2003

 

 

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.

 

AgJOBS
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

AgJOBS bill.

 

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

on immigration.

 

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.