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11/5: Legislative Update (NIF)

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    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2009
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      11/5: Legislative Update

      National Immigration Forum

      We have just passed the anniversary of the 2008 election-one that was marked by high expectations for change.  What we have learned in the interim, on the legislative front, is that there are still too many Members of Congress who are invested in the status quo on a range of issues.  Tackling the big challenges that face the country has for too long been a job for the next Congress, and it is unclear whether there are enough solutions-oriented members in this Congress to break out of the old pattern.


      They are still trying, but there are only about 20 or 25 legislative days left in this session of Congress.  Leaders in both the House and the Senate are still working to finalize the health care reform proposals that they will send to the floor for debate.  While the House may vote on a bill as early as this weekend, there are reports that the Senate may ultimately not get the job done until next year.  Senate debate will not begin until the Congressional Budget Office delivers a cost estimate of the Senate bill next week (or the week after).  The Senate will then face the prospect of considering hundreds of amendments on the floor.  A Senate bill that survives will have to be reconciled with the House version and gain final approval in the House and Senate before being sent to the President.


      Meanwhile, there have been a few developments on the immigration front. 

      DHS Appropriations: Congress has passed, and the President has signed, the Department of Homeland Security Fiscal 2010 Appropriations Bill. Some of the provisions related to immigration include:

      • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): $5.437 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is nearly a half billion dollars more than last year, and includes $1.5 billion for identifying and removing criminal aliens. (Secure Communities gets $200 million of that amount, $50 million more than last year.)  $100 million-$99 million more than last year-is allocated for combating violence on the Southwest border.  Funding is provided for 33,400 detention beds. This represents no increase from last year.  Regarding worksite enforcement, $135 million is provided for agents to audit employer records.  $70 million is provided for alternatives to detention-$7 million more than last year and $6 million more than requested.


      • Customs and Border Protection (CBP): Included in the CBP budget is $800 million for border security infrastructure on the Southwest border.  No new funding was provided for the Fence to Nowhere.  $3.587 billion was provided for the Border Patrol.  This is $86 million above last year's budget and provides funding for 20,163 Border Patrol agents.  $72 million is provided for Southwest Border anti-drug smuggling initiatives, including more funding to detect and intercept south-bound guns and cash.


      • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The Office of Citizenship was given $11 million to promote immigrant integration.  $50 million was allocated for the processing of refugee and asylum fees, contingent on USCIS reducing the surcharge it now places on all immigration applications (for which a fee is charged) to pay for the processing of refugee and asylum applications (for which there is no fee charged).


      • US-VISIT: $374 million is allocated to the US-VISIT program, which tracks the entry of visitors to the U.S. , and $50 million of this is reserved to implement a system to track the exit of visitors.  (When fully implemented, in theory, US-VISIT will track entry and exit, allowing the government to determine whether visitors are overstaying their visas.)


      • E-Verify: $137 million is allocated to the operation of E-Verify, including efforts to improve the system's accuracy. (The program was extended for three years by this bill as well.)

      Widows/Orphans Fix: One provision of the appropriations bill, championed by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and others, offers permanent relief from removal for the widows, widowers, and orphans of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees in cases where the application for immigrant status is underway, but the U.S. relative dies before the application process is complete.  Under current law, if a sponsoring relative dies, USCIS will generally deny the petition for the relatives of the deceased person, although the Department of Homeland Security announced on June 9 that it would grant temporary relief from removal for persons in that situation.


      Extension of Immigration Programs: This bill also extended for three years three small immigration programs: the "Conrad 30" J visa program (which allocates visas to foreign doctors coming to practice in underserved areas); the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program; and the non-minister R visa religious workers program.


      Absent: Wedge Issue Amendments: Also of note in this bill were provisions that were not included.  Restrictionist members of Congress attempted to tack on their usual amendments.  Among them: making E-Verify national, mandatory, and permanent, and more money for the border Fence to Nowhere.  The lack of success of those attempting to use the bill to advance immigration wedge issues is a positive sign that Congress is beginning to show more interest in solving the broken immigration system rather than listening to the broken record of immigration restrictionists.

      Gutierrez announces reform principles:  On October 13th, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) announced a set of principles that will guide the drafting of immigration reform legislation he intends to introduce later this year.  He did this in front of a crowd of thousands of immigrants and their advocates who had come to Washington to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform.  The bill, which is slated to be introduced sometime in December, is expected to include reforms that many immigration reform advocates have been pushing for. While an immigration reform bill that moves through the House will ultimately be one authored by Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Gutierrez's bill can serve as a marker to define the elements that will gain the enthusiastic support of immigrant advocates.  Rep. Gutierrez has posted his immigration reform principles on his Web site.


      The rally, organized by the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign, also attracted other Members of Congress.  In addition to Rep. Gutierrez, nine Representatives and Delegates from California , New York , Illinois , Colorado , and Arizona plus Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey addressed the crowd.

      Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations:  The spending bill that includes funding for the Census Bureau is being held up by, among other things, an amendment from Senator David Vitter (R-LA) that would prohibit funds from being spent on the 2010 Census unless the Census questionnaire is changed to include a question on citizenship and immigration status.  Vitter wants to exclude non-citizens from being counted for purposes of Congressional apportionment (the process by which states are apportioned Congressional representation).  Vitter's proposal runs counter to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  (For more on that, see our blog post, "One Louisiana Senator Knows the Constitution.") 


      Majority Leader Reid is expected to file cloture on the appropriations bill soon (to cut off a filibuster), and if that succeeds, the Vitter amendment will not be considered.

      Administrative Updates

      Detention Reform:  On October 6, the Department of Homeland Security released an overview and recommendations report that further defines earlier announcements to reform the immigration detention system.  Background for that announcement, a summary of the initiatives, and links to relevant documents can be found in our blog post, "Welcoming Detention Reform, Waiting for Immigration Reform." 

      No-Match Rule Rescinded: On October 7th, the Department of Homeland Security made final a proposed rule issued in August to rescind the Bush Administration's Social Security "No Match" rule.  The Bush Administration regulation outlined for employers what they must do upon receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration that tells the employer that an employee's name and Social Security number do not match Social Security Administration records.  Failure to abide by the regulation might have made the employer vulnerable to an immigration enforcement action.


      There had been an attempt by restrictionist Senators to insert an amendment in the DHS appropriations bill to prohibit spending on finalizing the proposed rule.  That effort was not successful.

      61 Agencies Sign New 287(g) Agreements: In July, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had revamped its standard Memorandum of Agreement between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies wishing to cooperate with ICE in enforcing immigration laws.  DHS required all agencies that had signed the old 287(g) agreement to sign the new agreement.  As of October 28, 61 agreements had been signed, with six still pending approval from the local governing body.  Several law enforcement agencies opted not to continue partnering with ICE.


      In our blog post, "New 287(g) Agreements Mean Nothing Without Strict Oversight," we report in detail on the new 287(g) agreements, and the sequel blog post, "Update: 67 287(g) Agreements Signed or Pending," reports on the agreements that were signed.

      CDC Lifts HIV Ban: On November 2, the Centers for Disease Control issued a Final Rule removing HIV infection from its list of "communicable diseases of public health significance."  Since the late 1980s, when HIV infection was added to the list of "communicable diseases of public health significance," persons infected with HIV have been inadmissible to theU.S. (except by a difficult-to-obtain special waiver).  When the Final Rule takes effect on January 4, 2010, persons with HIV infection will no longer be barred from visiting or immigrating to the U.S. due solely to infection with the virus. 


      The President remarked on this rule change in his signing statement for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act on October 30.  A history of this issue can be read in the Final Rule.

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