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Monday, February 3, 2014

Immigration Roundup: One Small Step for Boehner, One Giant Leap for Congress?

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After much anticipation, House Republican leaders Jan. 30 finally released their "Standards for Immigration Reform," calling for a revamped electronic employment eligibility verification system, a new visa system based on employers' needs, and legal status for undocumented immigrants.

Although reviews of the principles varied, most said the release itself is a signal the House is committed to passing immigration overhaul legislation this year.

Republicans' historical reluctance to offer any kind of legalization to undocumented immigrants has been a stumbling block in the past.

Many observers were quick to point out that the principles say that House Republicans don't want a "special path to citizenship" like the one in the immigration bill (S. 744) passed by the Senate last year. But, the observers note, the principles also don't indicate that such immigrants could never have access to citizenship. A separate section of the principles does call for a special citizenship path for young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children if they join the military or go to college.

Leading up to the release of the principles, some said one of the chief questions will be whether Democrats and immigrant advocates are willing to accept something short of citizenship. For example, Republican strategist Ana Navarro, speaking during a Jan. 27 Center for American Progress event, said advocates will have to decide whether to convince undocumented immigrants to push for citizenship or nothing—thus taking the risk of giving up legal status if an overhaul fails.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took a strong stance in that direction Jan. 30, calling the principles "half-measures" that "would create a permanent class of non-citizens." On the other hand, Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice, said the same day he was "glad" that the principles address undocumented immigrants' status.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said during a Jan. 31 press call sponsored by America's Voice that the biggest hurdle for Republicans now is an overall lack of trust in the president. "So here's the question," he said: "Can we put together legislation that secures the border and interior security, that makes sure that this or future administrations have to enforce the border and security aspects of that?"

He thinks the answer is yes. If the policy on border security and enforcement is "as airtight as possible" and "people really believe that this is going to happen this time," then "a lot of the resistance is going to melt away," Diaz-Balart said.

In Other News:

  • President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address Jan. 28 renewed his call for an overhaul of the immigration system, but said relatively little on the topic, which some saw as a sign that he was trying to give House Republicans space to craft immigration legislation in the way they see fit.
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures issued a report Jan. 21 showing that, although states passed more immigration laws and resolutions in 2013 than in 2012, the focus has shifted from immigration enforcement to providing immigrants with state benefits.
  • A Jan. 23 report from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Immigration Task force indicated that immigrants will be needed to fill workforce gaps created by an aging native-born population in the U.S., and that maintaining a strong labor force is critical to continued economic growth.

 

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