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Congratulations to the National Center for Transgender Equality: Let’s Hope ENDA Does Better than CIR!

13 Nov

Our moment

Last night, Jen Cook and I went to the National Council for Transgender Equality’s  (NCTE) 10th Anniversary event.  The evening was themed “Our Moment,” reflecting the organization’s intention to build upon the successes of the gay rights movement in the past year, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Windsor decision, and the many states that have enacted gay marriage.  In fact, even as the party went on, the festivities were interrupted to announce that Hawaii became the 16th state to allow for gay marriage.  As acceptance of full rights for gays and lesbians has grown tremendously over the past few years, acceptance of the essential humanity of the transgendered has not moved as quickly.  There have been victories- the Affordable Care Act provides increased access to needed medical services to transgender individuals, transgender individuals such as Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Lana Wachowski have upped awareness of trans issues in our culture.  Even Chelsea Manning has forced us to confront the dilemmas facing trans people in the military and in prison.

There was palpable excitement in the room last night.  Last week the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal nationwide to fire or discriminate in employment issues against someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Employment discrimination against trans individuals is a serious problem, with 90 percent of trans individuals reporting that they suffered some form of employment discrimination in their lives.  The Senate ENDA bill is termed “trans-inclusive,” because it has expressly included discrimination protections for transgender individuals, whereas previous incarnations had sacrificed the “T” in GLBT as protections for trans individuals were just a bridge too far for some.  But this years ENDA is trans-inclusive and is now headed to the House of Representatives.   As immigration lawyers, our hearts sank as we heard people express optimism over the chances for its passage in the House.  Over the last four months, we have watched as the House has run out the clock on immigration reform.  Even after being confronted by young activists who brought their plights to him over breakfast, Speaker John Boehner made it clear today that no immigration legislation is moving this year.

 

If anyone believes that House members can be moved by hearing the personal stories of those effected by our terrible immigration laws or due to employment discrimination because of gender identity, Boehner’s cold response to these teenagers who spoke truth to power should put that notion to rest.  George Washington called the Senate the “cooling saucer” because it was meant to temper the excitable House of Representatives.  That role has changed and a group of 40 Tea Party Republicans in the House can stymie the hopes and aspirations of immigrants and trans men and women.  It is truly ironic because both pieces of legislation easily passed the Senate and would easily pass the House if the speaker would just bring it to a vote.  Yet, the Speaker cares more about the needs of his 40 Tea Party members than he does the suffering of 11 million immigrants or the need for employment discrimination protection for vulnerable minorities.

Our involvement in trans issues began when young trans women came into our office and asked us to help them apply for asylum.  Most had come from Central America and they all had stories of beatings, rapes, and rejection by their family.  They braved smugglers and human traffickers to make it to the U.S., where they found a chance to be themselves.  We have been able to obtain asylum for dozens of transgender individuals and not just from Central America.  Persecution of the non-gender-conforming is a worldwide pestilence.  To hear and know their stories and their bravery in leaving their homes under dangerous circumstances to have a chance to simply be themselves fills us with great admiration and respect for these individuals.  Their needs are far more fundamental than a job.  They come to America to be who they are.  It all starts there.  Over the years of representing trans individuals in asylum and then for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship, we have watched them grow into themselves, get stable employment, start relationships and family, and give back to their communities.  To watch a human being develop to her potential is like watching a flower bloom.  You can never grow tired of it.

The NTCE has done tremendous work to bring trans civil rights to the forefront of the political arena.  Like immigration reform, I am confident that full civil rights for trans people will occur in the future.  Last night, we heard from 33 year old Dylan Orr, a White House appointee, and 23 year old Sarah McBride, a political activist, about their professional experiences as a trans man and trans woman respectively.  They are the future and that gives us confidence and joy.

A New Fiscal Year and the Same Old Dysfunction

1 Oct

1_photo

The air is noticeably crisper, the baseball playoffs have begun, I have started to see decorative gourds, but the traffic got a whole lot lighter today.  It is October 1, 2013, the first day of the fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), and the federal government has shut down over the inability of Congress to pass a budget that does not seek to undo the Affordable Care Act.  With the radical takeover of the House of Representatives, government functions, including immigration, have ground to a halt.  If the House can not even keep the government running, how are we to expect that they can actually create positive change by passing meaningful immigration reform?

Here are things that are not going to happen because of the government shutdown:  our client, a lesbian from South Africa, will not get to present her case for protection to an immigration judge and she will remain in limbo for the forseeable future, worrying whether she must return to a country where “corrective rape” is a common occurrence for those deemed to be gay; our clients, DI and NM, husband and wife, will continue to be separated while they wait for the National Visa Center to resume processing DI’s case and deciding whether the birth and marriage documents from Iran are the right ones, and our client, DR will have her hearing rescheduled once again.

DR’s case presents an amazing saga of government bad luck and government dysfunction.  DR is supposed to go before the immigration judge on Monday, yet the case is likely not to go forward due to the shutdown.  Even if it did, the word is that the Congressionally-limited 4000 green cards available through cancellation of the removal for FY 2014 are already gone.  Chew on that for a minute.  The 4000 visas available for cancellation, meant to get the country through the entire year, were gone before the FY even started.  Thus, the Judge could not even grant the relief we were seeking.  Perhaps she could have reserved one of the FY 2015 visas and had us return in a year to finish the case.  This was supposed to all occur last year for DR.  However, last year, Super Storm Sandy closed the immigration court in New York for about two weeks.  DR missed her hearing and, by the time, she returned to court in December 2013, the cancellation visas were all gone.  Certainly, there would be new cancellation visas on October 7, a week after the FY begins, we all reasoned in December.  So, we scheduled for October 7.  Oops.  The irony of all this is that the government and the Judge all agree that she should be granted her residence.  Yet, it is Congress that has continued to stand in the way.  The 1996 Congress which passed the dreadful immigration law which limited cancellation grants to 4000 a year has caused endless bureaucratic delay and now with a shut down has made it impossible for the parties to work out a solution.  Meanwhile, DR keeps working and going to school, wondering when she will get the relief she deserves.

The Congressional inaction has also stalled immigration reform.  Millions of immigrants wait for the chance to regularize their status and integrate more deeply into American life.  The promise of reform has been tantalizingly close since June when the Senate passed its immigration bill.  Yet, the House has done nothing with that bill.  Rather than build, they seek to destroy.  In the meantime, millions of immigrants, their families and their employers get up and go to work and school.  They do their jobs while the House Republicans close the biggest employer in the DC area.  Yet, the deportation machine keeps running.  ICE has announced that enforcement and removal operations will continue during the shutdown.  The heavy priority on enforcement over benefits and relief has been noticed in the immigrant priority.  Certain immigrant groups have taken matters into their own hands, seeking entry into the United States across the Mexican border.  I have no idea what will be the long-term effect of that strategy, but I do know that it can not be any less effective than trying to lobby Speaker of the House John Boehner.

At least the traffic in downtown DC is better.

Meet Jim Mowrer, Running Against Steve King of Iowa

23 Aug

Mowrer with ACB and JDC

On Tuesday, August 20, approximately fifty people gathered at Benach Ragland’s offices in Washington, DC to meet and support a 27 year old candidate for Congress from the 4th District of IowaJim Mowrer, born on a farm in Boone Iowa, and a veteran of our war in Iraq, is challenging the incumbent Steve King for his seat in Congress.  Readers of this blog need no introduction to Steve King as he is a leader of the extreme anti-immigrant faction of American politics.  With little results to his name, King has emerged as a rallying point for the “deport ‘em all” crowd with his willingness to say things that are not only insulting but patently and verifiably false.

As this post is about Jim Mowrer and the talents that we hope he will take to Congress, we will not belabor King’s venality.  However, King has seemingly been driven mad by the prospect of immigration reform, and like a wounded beast, his attacks have grown more desperate and chaotic.  In the past month alone, King has managed to earn rebukes from the majority of his own party as well as his church.  Briefly, in the past six weeks, King has:

To list all the idiotic things that Steve King has done and said, as well as the many people who are growing tired of King’s obsession with immigration to the exclusion of the best interests of his constituents would be to devote too much space to this clown. Especially, when there is so much to say about Jim Mowrer.

 

For us, it started with the fact that Mowrer simply is “not Steve King.”  That alone is cause for support.  However, on getting to know the man, it is quickly apparent that Mowrer is a special individual who can make a positive impact on Congress and our public debate.  Mowrer radiates Iowa earnestness and optimism despite a challenging life. Born on a farm in Boone, Iowa, Mowrer lost his father at the age of seven to a farming accident.  His mother had to leave the farm for the town and, for a while, the Mowrers relied upon the social safety net.  Mowrer is careful to credit his mother’s hard work, but is not blind to the role that Social Security survivor benefits provided to his family at their moment of tragedy.  Mowrer went to Iraq with the Iowa National Guard.  Mowrer points to his service in Iraq as when the immigration issue hit home for him.  Mowrer describes fighting alongside permanent residents and the profound impression that their patriotism had for him.  To Mowrer, they were Americans as much as anyone else; they were his brothers in arms.  Mowrer movingly describes putting on citizenship ceremonies in Iraq for his fellow soldiers and the pride that they and he felt during those moments.

Mowrer returned from Iraq and went back to Iowa.  He immediately noticed the extreme Steve King fatigue that residents of the 4th District were experiencing.  He also noted their embarrassment with the Congressman’s antics.  Mowrer knew that King did not represent the people that he grew up among in the 4th District and that those people were suffering while King embarked on his diatribe against immigrants instead of focusing on issues that matter to Iowa.  For example, there is still no Farm Bill, an essential part of Iowa’s economy.

At Benach Ragland on Tuesday, Mowrer promised to be a leader on immigration reform.  While it may be enough for him not to be Steve King, Mowrer said he would lead on immigration reform.  He supports comprehensive immigration reform, the path to citizenship and the Senate bill.  But, just as importantly, Mowrer has a deep respect for immigrants.  As he says, all his brothers in Iraq had “U.S.” on their uniforms and it did not matter where they were from, where they were born or whether they were residents or citizens.  When he needed back up, they were there.

Mowrer at BR

And we will be there all the way for Mowrer.  He has a chance to unseat King.  Defeating King would send a message to all those who follow him that the era of demonizing immigrants is over and the era of solutions and inclusion is here.  There is no room in the public debate for the hateful rhetorical bombs that King lobs.  His followers seldom seem to have the same enthusiastic disregard for the facts and the will of their constituents.  His defeat would send them running to the hills.  King was pushed to the limit in 2012 by a candidate who did not come from the district.  He does not have a war chest for this race and he has alienated his allies in the GOP.  But, most importantly, King is out of step with his constituents.  In a recent poll, the 4th District of Iowa overwhelmingly supported the principles in the Senate immigration bill, including the path to citizenship.

King’s deranged obsession seems to be catching up to him.

 

Mowrer’s campaign website is http://www.mowrerforiowa.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MowrerforIowa

Twitter: @JimMowrer

Arizona loses again, but its citizens win

17 Jun

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. that the state of Arizona cannot separately require an individual to prove he is a citizen in order to register to vote beyond the regulations set forth by the federal government.  This decision stated that Arizona’s additional “proof of citizenship” form was contrary to the National Voter Registration Act, the federal law establishing a specific form for Voter Registration.  The Court held that this form was sufficient evidence of citizenship without additional proof and on that basis struck down the Arizona law requiring a registering voter to prove he is a citizen.

AZ

Although this case was decided under the Elections Clause, where federal law always trumps state law, this is an important decision for those who have had to jump over additional unconstitutional hurdles, simply due to the biases of those who enact and implement Arizona’s laws.  No longer will citizens of Arizona be forced to jump through legal hoops that the Federal Government does not require.  We are hopeful that this reasoning will extend to other states and legislation that has placed additional burdens and barriers on individuals beyond what is required and permitted by the Federal Government.  Although Jeffrey Toobin did not think there were any major Supreme Court decisions today, Benach Ragland believes the enfranchisement of the voters of Arizona is major indeed.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the theories offered by Arizona officials is another black mark against the litigation strategy the State of Arizona has embarked upon.  In the last year, this is Arizona’s second major defeat at the Supreme Court.  Less than a year ago, the Supreme Court knocked down Arizona’s SB 1070, the “show me your papers” law in Arizona v. United States.   Earlier this month, a federal judge in Phoenix ruled that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had systematically violated the civil rights of the Hispanic citizens of the United States.  While the Sheriff has expressed his intent to appeal, Arizona citizens are questioning the use of state funds to pay for ineffective and hubristic litigation.  How much money has been spent by Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio to defend indefensible policies?  In  the era of the sequester and failing schools, can Arizona afford Jan Brewer’s and Joe Arpaio’s ego trips to court?

Arpaio

PS- I took this picture myself!  – ACB

CIS Bureaucrats Union Joins ICE Bureaucrats Union in Opposing Immigration Reform

23 May

uscis

The day before the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the most significant piece of immigration legislation since 1996, the “President of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 United States Citizenship & Immigration Services adjudications officers and staff” sent a letter to Members of the United States Senate in opposition to the immigration reform bill under review in the Senate.  Despite claiming to be the “backbone of our nation’s immigration system,” the Union leadership complains that they were not consulted over the proposed immigration reform.  Had they been consulted, the union continues, it would have exposed, they claim, the gross politicization and overbearing pressure to approve applications and petitions by individuals who present a danger to the public or a threat to national security.  The letter is so full of inaccuracies, half-truths, and overly dramatic claims that the best way to address it is to address each of their points in turn.

“USCIS adjudications officers are pressured to rubber-stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation.  The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications. USCIS has been trued into an “approval machine.””

No one who spends any time dealing with immigration would recognize this statement.  The agency has been criticized repeatedly for encouraging a “culture of no.”  This criticism is not limited to the “immigration advocates,” but by businesses throughout the U.S.  But let’s not mess with anecdotes.  Numbers and facts matter here.  A look at CIS’ own statistics for January 2013, shows that approvals went up by 7% and denials went down by 8% from January 2012 to January 2013 for applications other than citizenship.  Well, that does seem to bear out an increased approval rate over the course of a year, but, perhaps, not enough to call it an “approval machine,” especially with 2.3 million non-citizenship cases in the pipeline.  But that pattern does not hold up in the citizenship context.  Between January 2012 and January 2013, approvals of applications for citizenship went up by 13% and denials went up by 54%!  Wow, that is a big increase in denials of a serious application.  Granted, this is just one month worth of statistics, but that is one month more than the CIS union leadership offered.  And whether this trend is sustained over several months, it seems reasonable to state, that CIS has become an approval machine in the last year or so.  In addition, the National Foundation for American Policy issued a report last year that concluded that “USCIS adjudicators have demonstrated a capacity to keep skilled foreign workers out of the United States by significantly increasing denials, along with often time-consuming Requests for Evidence, despite no change in law or relevant regulations between 2008 and 2011.”  The statistics and experiences of foreign nationals, their families and lawyers who regularly deal with the USCIS, know that the agency is far from rubber-stamping and is closer to a delay, doubt and deny machine than an approval machine.

“USCIS has created an almost insurmountable bureaucracy which often prevents USCIS adjudications officers from contacting and coordinating with ICE agents and officers in cases that should have their involvement.  USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals that ICE has determined should be placed into removal proceedings.”

The union will get no argument that USCIS is an “almost insurmountable bureaucracy,” but coordination with ICE officers does not seem to be a problem.  Every immigration lawyer knows that if they take someone with an order of removal into CIS, for benefits that the law entitles them to, that they can expect that ICE will be waiting with handcuffs.  In addition, we know of lots of occasions where a person has been arrested and placed into removal proceedings because of information revealed in their applications to USCIS.  Many lawful permanent residents who are subject to removal are identified by CIS and ICE because of applications they file with the CIS and not due to excellent detective work by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  Finally, the visa applications that the CIS officers “are pressured to approve” for removable individuals are usually family based petitions, which they may use to apply for adjustment of status before the immigration court in removal proceedings.  Under the law, a CIS officer has no cause to determine an individual’s removability on an immigrant petition as it is not germane to the petition.  All that a CIS adjudicator is supposed to determine in such instances is whether the family relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary exists.  What the union seems to be complaining about is that they are being told to follow the law and not bring extraneous matters into their adjudications.

“USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that , in accordance with the law, should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices to Appear.  In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer’s request.  Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as USCIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.”

It appears that the union is unhappy that some of its members do not have authority to place an individual into removal proceedings.  The ability to initiate removal proceedings is an awesome exercise of the state’s law enforcement authority.  Not all officers are given that power and that is the way it should be.  Many CIS-issued NTAs are often defective and waste the resources of the immigration court and the ICE trial attorneys, to say nothing of the immigrant.  It is reasonable for the CIS, whose mission is only secondarily law enforcement, to restrict that authority to the more senior personnel.

“The attitude of the USCIS management is not that the agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States or public safety and national security, but that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys that represent them.  While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups- to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission.”

If we and our clients are being served, allow us to register some complaints.  To enter a CIS office, we have to remove our coats and belts.  However, before we even get in, we must line up outside regardless of how hot, wet or frigid it may be.  Once we have reassembled our attire, we are directed to another line to demonstrate that we have a legitimate purpose to be in the building.  After the individual sitting in the “triage” chair allows us to proceed to the interview room, we turn in the appointment notice and have a seat.  Waits of over an hour are not uncommon until an officer appears in the door and shouts out a name.  We enter the interview with the client and have been told on more than one occasion that we, the attorneys, are to sit behind the client and not to sit by the client’s side.  Sometimes, a supervisor’s intervention is required just to settle seating arrangements.  The officer will not have reviewed the file, may not have all the files that they are supposed to have, or not initiated certain background checks.  In light of those facts, despite the client’s qualification for the benefit or satisfactory resolution of any outstanding issues, that client may not be approved until the remaining steps, all internal to USCIS, are undertaken.  This hardly seems like the service we would expect if CIS viewed their job as serving us and our clients.  In fact, the union’s statement makes it fairly clear that the only constituency they have is the welfare and grandiose expectations of the bureaucrats.  It is also worth reminding the union that CIS is a fee-based agency, where the fees that immigrants pay, which have gone up significantly over the last five years, pay the salaries of CIS officials.  And CIS is a monopoly.  Although the CIS now calls our clients “customers,” CIS is a monopoly as clients have nowhere else to turn to obtain U.S. residence.  Again, the CIS union exists solely to protect the interests of the CIS employees.

“Currently USCIS reports a 99.5% approval rating for all illegal alien applications for legal status filed under the Obama Administration’s new deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) policies.  DHS and USCIS leadership have intentionally established an application process for DACA applicants that bypasses traditional in-person interviews with trained USCIS adjudications officers.  These practices were put in place to stop proper screening and enforcement, and guarantees that applications will be rubber-stamped for approval, a practice that virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.”

This is a highly misleading statistic.  As of April 1, 2013, CIS had received 488,782 DACA applications.  Of those, about 55% have been decided, for a total of 269,738 decisions on DACA Applications.  It is true that of those 269,738, the vast majority, 268,361, have been approved and only 1,377 have been denied.  The approval rate of the decided applications is 99.5%  But the reality is that it is faster to approve a case than to deny it.  Where CIS intends to deny a case, it issues a request for evidence or a notice of intent to deny.  That takes time.  Cases in which there has been an RFE or NOID are much more likely to be denied as the evidence initially submitted did not demonstrate eligibility.  A significant portion of those unadjudicated will result in denials due to lack of eligibility.  The CIS union leadership knows this and is being completely disingenuous.  Moreover, if the CIS is indeed processing the applications without sufficient review, why do they take so long?  We are tempted to think that it is because the CIS officials handling them are not handling them as efficiently as possible.

“While illegal aliens applying for legal status under DACA policies are required to pay fees, DHS and USCIS are now exercising their discretion to waive those fees.  Undoubtedly, these practices will be replicated for millions of illegal aliens if S. 744 becomes law.”  “US taxpayers are currently tasked with absorbing the cost of over $200 million worth of fee waivers bestowed on applicants for naturalization during the last fiscal year.  This is in addition to the strain put on our social security system that has been depleted by an onslaught of refugees receiving SSI benefits as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.”

Wow.  CIS collects, on average about $2.6 billion in fees paid by immigrants, their employers and their families.  CIS receives about $100 million in appropriations from Congress.  One thing is very clear is that, if anyone is on the hook for the $200 million that the CIS chose not to collect, it is the other immigrants who bill that cost at a rate of 26 to 1.  Also, as regards Social Security, something well outside the expertise of the CIS union leadership, most credible studies show that immigrants provide a crucial source of income for the social security system.

“Large swaths of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visaholders, including laws for public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment.  There is also insufficient screening sand monitoring of student visas.”

It is hard to tell exactly what the union is talking about.  OK, let’s talk about public charge.  Every immigrant to the U.S. must demonstrate that they have the resources or have access to the financial resources so as not to become a public charge in the U.S.  All applications for residence must be accompanied by evidence demonstrating that.  That evidence is routinely submitted months in advance of adjudication.  It is all in CIS’ files for review.  we hope it is being reviewed.  The family based affidavit of support is about ten pages long- it is a lot of work to prepare one.  We hope that CIS takes the time to review something we have worked so hard on.  If CIS is not reviewing public charge information, it is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of individual officers and not indicative of any larger political purpose.

“A new USCIS computer system to screen application known as ‘transformation’ has proven to be a disaster as the agency has spent upwards of $2 billion for a system that would eventually allow an alien- now referred to as a “customer” under current USCIS policy- to upload their own information via the internet for adjudication purposes.  To date, only one form can be accepted into the program that has been in the making for close to ten years.”

Yep, “transformation” was a boondoggle.  Hopefully, heads will roll about such an egregious waste of money.  We can be sure, however, that the union will be there to defend those employees and keep them on the immigrant’s payroll.

 

It is very disappointing to see the USCIS union parrot the talking points of the rogue ICE union, the restrictions, and the retrograde Senators on the Judiciary committee.  However, it is perfectly consistent with CIS’ warped view of reality.  What this letter shows is that the union, like their ICE brethren, is willing to resort to half-truths, distortions and outright lies to protect the one constituency that they really care about- the bureaucrats they serve.

 

 

 

The union states that the CIS agents are pressured to “rubber stamp” approvals and that the CIS leadership views “aliens and the attorneys which represent them” as their true constituency.  The union also cites a statistic that 99.5% of DACA applications have been approved as evidence of the lax standard of review and the failure of CIS to ensure the integrity of the process.

From the Committee to the Senate Floor: The Immigration Bill Survives!

22 May

 

Yesterday, by a vote of 13-5, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 744, the immigration reform bill.Flake  Three Republicans (Lindsey Graham (SC),Graham Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT)) joined all ten Democrats to vote the legislation out of committee. Hatch

 

 

 

 

 

The five opponents were the five Republicans who had spent the several mark-ups attempting to torpedo the legislation with odious and unworkable amendments, most of which were defeated.  Yet, Senators Jeff Sessions (AL), Ted Cruz (TX), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Chuck Grassley (IA), have vowed to renew their efforts on the Senate floor, where the bill goes next.
Cruz Lee and Cornyn

The bill emerged after several mark-up sessions, largely intact. The bill still offers a provisional status and a path to citizenship, expedited residence and citizenship for undocumented youth, improvements in due process, increased use of E-Verify, tighter border controls, a new temporary worker visa, improved opportunities for employment-based immigration, enhanced H-1B provisions, and more liberal policy for asylum seekers.

The bill was improved by the passage of the following amendments:

  • Coons 2- limits ICE’s authority to perform nighttime removals.
  • Coons 5- provides immigrants with statutory right to see their “A-file” in removal proceedings
  • Hirono 21- allows undocumented youth to obtain federal financial aid
  • Blumenthal 2- prohibits solitary confinement of individuals in ICE detention
  • Blumenthal 8- restricts ICE enforcement at schools and hospitals.
  • Blumenthal 12- provides for expedited naturalization for undocumented youth in military

The bill was made worse by the following amendments:

  • Grassley 44- made conviction of a third DUI an aggravated felony.
  • Graham 1- allows DHS to terminate asylum of an individual who returns to country of nationality

The Committee fought off several “poison pill” amendments designed to gut the entire process or to make the immigration system more inhumane than it is today:

    • Cruz 3- would have barred anyone who was ever out of status from obtaining citizenship
    • Grassley 1- would have retained the one year filing deadline for asylum
    • Cornyn 3- would have made people convicted of minor offenses ineligible for provisional status
    • Grassley 18- would have required applicants for provisional status to disclose all previous social security numbers

GS

  • Sessions 1- would have imposed a $5000 minimum bond for release from custody
  • Grassley 67- would have subjected businesses hiring H or L workers to increased audits and bureaucratic oversight
  • Lee 15- would have required affirmative intent in employment discrimination based upon national origin
  • Grassley 34- would have imposed 20 year sentence for document fraud convictions
  • Grassley 45- would have expanded criminal penalties for illegal entry and re-entry

The strength of the bill was enhanced by the support of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.  Senator Hatch has long been a champion of the H-1B program.  The Committee adopted Senator Hatch’s amendments to increase the availability of H-1B visas and earned the Senator’s support in the Committee.  Senator Hatch has not committed to his vote on the floor, but his support in committee, made the bill more strongly bipartisan and showed that the “Gang of 8” can pull reasonable Republicans into the bipartisan consensus that our immigration system requires serious overhaul.  This compromise required some serious accommodation by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee and it is a welcome sign for our democracy that this issue did not cause the wholesale breakdown that we have come to expect.  This suggests that immigration reform has become a categorical imperative for both parties.

Unfortunately, the bill that came out of committee is as defined by what it does not include by what it does include.  Under pressure from the White House, Senator Leahy pulled his amendment to ensure that LGBT individuals and couples are treated equally and fairly under the immigration bill.  Republicans, including members of the Gang of 8, had balked at LGBT inclusion and, as a result, the Committee gave into homophobia.  We are extremely disappointed that LGBT families were thrown aside in the passage of this bill.  We remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will make this a non-issue soon enough.

The bill will now head to the senate floor, where there will be more debates and amendments.  Immigration reform will likely dominate the Senate for the month of June.  In some good news, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has said that he has no plans to block consideration of the bill.  While any single Senator can filibuster a bill, that Senator needs the support of 40 of his/her colleagues to sustain the filibuster and it is hard to imagine that succeeding without the support of the Senate leadership.

We hope for a strong show of support from the United States Senate.  A bill that gathers 65+ votes will storm out of the Senate and place a lot of pressure on the House to support common sense immigration reform.

What’s Happening with the Immigration Bill? What is a mark-up??

7 May

Gang of eight

It has now been a couple of weeks since the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was introduced.  We provided a brief rundown of its main points and we give it, overall, good grades.  It certainly is much better than the status quo, but less generous than we might have designed ourselves.  But they are in Congress and we are in court.  Now that it is out, what happens?

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  Senator Leahy is a strong supporter of immigration reform and has acted quickly to move the legislation.  In the bill’s first weeks, he held hearings on the legislation.  Those hearings generated more heat than light and their contents have long been forgotten.  The bill moves ahead unscathed.  The bill also seems to have survived the terrorist bombings in Boston.  While immigration opponents seized on the foreign identities of the brothers Tsarnaev, the bill’s supporters were undaunted in arguing how the immigration bill would improve national security.  The ability of conservative members of the Gang of Eight to resist what must have been a strong impulse to jump ship gives us cause for optimism over the bill’s future.  Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, released its most potent weapon against reform, a report in which they claim that reform will cost the American economy $6.3 trillion.  This salvo fell flat as Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, Grover Norquist, Haley Barbour and Jeff Flake  attacked the findings and methodologies of the Heritage report.  If the report was intended to weaken the resolve of Republicans pushing reform, it seems to have failed.  And, in a sign that the pro-immigrant crowd has gotten its political act together, the Immigration Policy Center was ready with its own report debunking the Heritage report.  In the 24 hour news cycle, speed is everything and IPC should be commended for its rapid response.

Leahy

Senators were also given until 5PM today to file their amendments to the bill.  All amendments were posted online on the Senate Judiciary Committee page for all to see.  This transparency contrasts with the middle of the night passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), the disastrous ’96 immigration bill that caused the vast majority of today’s immigration problems.  By showing the amendments, the Judiciary Committee has highlighted the differing opinions of Senators offering amendments to the bill.  For example, Senator Leahy seeks to add language that would require the recognition of same-sex marriages under the Immigration & Nationality Act.  His amendment has the virtue of simplicity.  It simply says that a marriage that is legal in any state shall be given full validity under U.S. immigration law.  To the contrary, Senator Grassley displays his intent to undermine reform.  Senator Grassley, who was one of the voices to suggest that the Boston bombing should put a halt to immigration reform, has submitted 77 amendments, as of 8PM Tuesday.   We chose one at random to get a sense of what Senator Grassley was up to.  We picked “Grassley39.”  This amendment would replace language in the bill that provides additional personnel to the immigration court system and replace it with a study to be conducted in the 18 months after passage of the law of the need for additional personnel.  The study would then be provided to the Judiciary Committee for consideration of additional legislation if necessary to relieve the understaffed immigration courts.  Of course, the overburdened immigration court system is well-documented and individuals routinely wait years for their hearing dates.  This backlog frustrates not only relief, Senator Grassley, but also removal.  If this amendment is representative of Senator Grassley’s contributions, it is clear for all that he is trying to undermine its needed reforms.  But we already knew that.grassley

Senator Leahy has scheduled a “mark-up” of the legislation for this Thursday, May 9.  A mark-up is a meeting in which Senators debate, amend and re-write proposed legislation.  The Committee will address all of these amendments.  It is likely, given the Democratic advantage and the presence of two Gang of Eight Republicans, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), that the legislation will emerge from the Judiciary Committee largely unscathed.  After the Judiciary Committee votes, after weeks in which they will have to consider the 300+ amendments, the bill will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote in the full Senate.  Expect major pyrotechnics there.

We will continue to update the progress of the bill as it moves through the Senate and the Congress.  Stay tuned.