The Gang of 8: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Re-Up
Immigration reform looked imminent in 2013. The 2012 elections demonstrated yet another discrepancy in the Latino electorate voting for Democrats, much like 2008. President Obama had issued executive orders to implement the DACA program in 2012 as a stop gap measure before comprehensive immigration reform emerged. Republicans were amenable to working with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform, meaning a bill that covered business immigration, border enforcement, family immigration, and pathways to citizenship to certain individuals without status.
The driving force was the Gang of 8 – a bipartisan group of senators that pushed for immigration reform. They were partly successful. The Senate voted to pass a bill for comprehensive immigration reform. The House refused to pass the bill and comprehensive immigration reform has remained elusive since.
Immigration has become a hot topic once again over the past year, taking center stage in the presidential election. The Gang of 8 was heralded in 2013 as the cooler heads prevailing amongst the hotter temperaments. If the Gang of 8 is revived after the 2016 election, it will most likely have to resist a vitriolic and divided atmosphere. The status of DACA plus and DAPA and dormancy of comprehensive immigration reform show that immigration reform has been nonexistent since 2013. In the vacuum, states have passed their own immigration laws.
New H-1B Bill Seeks Fundamental Changes to the Program
A new bill – The High Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2015 – is poised to be introduced by two Californian legislators: Zoe Lofgren (D) and Darrell Issa (R). The bill proposes multiple changes to the H-1B visa and employment-based immigration, particularly to the H-1B lottery. The highlights of the bill are listed below:
- It will fundamentally alter the way the lottery works. The lottery process is shrouded in mystery, hence a lawsuit to extract information. Theoretically, all petitions are equally treated. This bill proposes giving employers who pay their prospective H-1B employees the most over the prevailing wage the best chance at success in the lottery. For example, an IT company that is willing to pay its Software Developer 200% of the prevailing wage will have an advantage over the IT company that is going to pay its Software Developer a dollar above the prevailing wage.
- Wages would not solely determine a petition’s chance at success in the new lottery. Also taken into consideration would be companies that hire US workers mainly. H-1B dependent employers would be prejudiced in favor of those companies.
- 20% of the lottery H-1B visas would be allocated to small companies (firms with fewer than 50 employees). This is to address the complaint of small and medium companies that a few large companies eat up all of the H-1B visas in the lottery.
- H-1B dependent employers currently have to pay a $60,000 salary to count themselves as exempt from the recruitment process. That threshold would increase to $130,000 under the bill. There may be a loophole if the employer petitions the employee for a Green Card.
- Per country caps on employment-based immigration visas would be eliminated. There are 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas available a year. The nationals of a country cannot obtain more than 7% of that number. By sheer population, that puts nationals of India and China at a major disadvantage, and they have to spend extraordinary times waiting for their Permanent Residence, despite approved employment-based immigration petitions.
- The L-1 visa remains untouched by this bill. There is no mention of filing fees, which are due to increase anyway. Certain companies have been hit with an enormous filing fee for H and L visa petitions.
List most legislation concerning immigration reform, this could go by the wayside. The legislative process may create even more changes or dilute some of the proposals.
National Day of Action: Immigration Advocates Head to DC
Friday April 7 is the National Day of Action for immigration. Immigration lawyers, activists, advocates, and immigrants descend upon Washington DC and Capitol Hill to vocalize their concerns with the immigration system. Last year’s Day of Action occurred on May 19, which was the day that President Obama’s Executive Actions – DAPA and new DACA – were supposed to begin. They have not yet taken effect. A federal judge in Texas struck them down for abrogating the Administrative Procedures Act and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld that decision. The Supreme Court is expected to make its decision in June of this year.
The National Day of Action is not limited to one piece of the immigration system. Advocates will be championing other aspects of immigration reform, such as changing the H-1B cap, increasing entrepreneurial opportunities, and giving migrants fleeing persecution access to counsel and a chance to have their cases heard.
The main motivation of the National Day of Action is to exhort members of Congress to understand facts about immigration, how it benefits the United States, and demonstrate that immigration reform is desired by the country at large. A booklet distributed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association highlights important facts about immigration in the United States.
Immigrants have created businesses and generated business income in their states. California, Texas, Florida, and Ohio are four states in which a combined 1.3 million immigrants started businesses and generated over 58 million dollars in business income. Immigrant-owned small businesses employ 4.7 million people. Legalization of undocumented immigrants would have a significant impact on the tax revenue, to which undocumented migrants contribute to (state and local taxes) already.
The National Day of Action urges reform in all aspects of immigration: humanitarian, family, and business. Immigration reform has been oft-discussed but not enacted. AILA is touting the election year as an impetus to change.
Immigration Reform in the News
Immigration reform has probably fizzled out as a possibility, despite looking imminent in 2012 and reaching a crescendo in 2013 with major legislative movement. Here are some recent quotes from Congresspersons on the possibility of immigration reform.
Marco Rubio, Florida Senator and Candidate for President
John McCain, Arizona Senator
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House
The protections that Marco Rubio mentions are part of the deferred action program (DACA), which has been in effect since June 15, 2012. Mr. Rubio has flatly stated the that DACA program needs to end. An executive action in November 2014 attempted to expand DACA and add relief for parents of Americans (DAPA). The expanded version of it and DAPA were struck down by a federal judge in Texas in February. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has not yet ruled on the matter.
Sanctuary Cities Bill Defeated
S. 2146: Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act did not pass the Senate yesterday. It received 54 votes in favor, 6 short of the 60 required. The bill was proposed over the summer but recently was brought to a vote after being stuck in committee. The purpose of the bill was to limit federal grants to cities that do not comply with detainers issued by the Department of Homeland Security. There were also provisions to stiffen penalties for individuals who reenter the United States without authorization.
Sanctuary cities, such as San Francisco, have been lambasted for not cooperating with DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. S. 2146 is the federal action against sanctuary cities, but there are local actions that are gaining in popularity. North Carolina’s legislature voted to ban local governments from preventing local law enforcement from working with federal immigration agents. Michigan and Texas are preparing their own anti-sanctuary city bills.
Opposition to the bill has been pronounced, despite the public and Congressional popularity of it. A House version of the Senate bill passed in the House during the summer, but President Obama vetoed it. Two years ago, immigration reform held the promise of being comprehensive and bipartisan. Yesterday was the clearest political indication that it is currently partisan and divisive.