House Likely to Vote on Four Immigration Proposals, Will Hurd's USA Act is the Best Deal for Americans

On Wednesday April 18th, a bipartisan group of US Representatives, including Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX), held a press conference in front of the Capitol to announce that they have secured support from a sufficient number of Republican and Democratic representatives to pass a resolution that will force the house to vote on four different immigration bills.

"The American public is demanding a vote, and we’re demanding it too,” said Denham.

A bi-partisan coalition of over 237 Representatives have said they will support Denham’s House Resolution 774, exceeding the absolute-majority of 218 yea votes required to initiate it. The resolution will initiate the “Queen of the Hill” rule, under which the immigration bill that receives the most, and at least 218 votes, will be adopted by the house and move on to the Senate.

Denham said that he is calling for this resolution because of Congress’ continuous failure to legislate any type of solution to our nation’s broken immigration system, including a legislative solution for DACA, which our president and people want and have been demanding. “Look, the President gave us a deadline. This was all supposed to be handled by March 5th. We’re in April and quickly closing in on May. There’s only so much time in the calendar…We want to find a permanent fix and continuing to kick the can does not make sense…ultimately we’ve got a job to fix this situation,” he said.

Back in September, President Donald Trump ended the DACA program that Obama established through an arguably illegal executive order, but encouraged Congress to legislate a permanent and legal solution to provide unauthorized immigrants who came to the US illegally as children with a path to earn legal status by extending DACA for 6 months until a March 5th deadline.

As March 5th approached, it seemed like Congress was feeling the pressure to legislate protection for DACA recipients and working on a solution, until a federal judge issued an injunction that has temporarily prevented DACA protections from ending, effectively removing the sense of urgency Congress had to act. That injunction however, will likely only last until the Supreme Court hears an appeal on it sometime next year, so Congress still needs to pass legislation to protect the Dreamers soon.

While the President and most Americans want the Dreamers, who have clean criminal records and high school degrees and are working jobs, serving in the military, or attending secondary school, to be allowed to remain in America legally, many Americans, including the president, are also demanding a solution that increases border security to deter future illegal immigration so we are not in this same situation again ten years down the road.

Representative Hurd displayed dismay at Congress' inability to act on immigration and said he is supporting Denham’s resolution because we need a solution to secure the border and protect Dreamers now. “Congress has been debating this issue for more than a decade. We still haven’t secured our border, I know that, I have more border than any other member of Congress. We still haven’t given a permanent solution to over a million Americans who have only known America as their home. Now is the time to solve this problem,“ he said.

Denham believes that his resolution will help to put politics aside and force Representatives in the House to have a productive public conversation about, and hopefully pass, an immigration bill in the best interest of all Americans. “The biggest issue we’re facing today is actually having the debate in front of the American public. We talk a lot about transparency around here and regular order, well that’s exactly what we’re doing here today. We want to follow regular order and have a debate on the house floor in front of the American public and debate various bills,” said Denham.

If the resolution does indeed pass, the four bills that would be put to a vote will be updated and adjusted versions of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) bill “Securing America’s Future Act,” Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) DREAM Act, a proposal from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) that is expected to be similar to the White House’s framework on immigration reform and border security, and Representative Will Hurd’s (R-TX) “Uniting and Securing America Act.”

The Securing America’s Future Act includes elimination of the diversity visa lottery, strengthened interior immigration enforcement measures, increased funding for border security, and the extension of the current benefits of DACA to its recipients, among other provisions. It also adjusts family-based migration requirements and lowers annual levels of immigration, the first measure controverisal and the other economically disadvantageous, which will likely be met with significant opposition and inhibit the bill’s chance to pass.

The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for roughly 3 million unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children. In order to be eligible for the initial eight-year conditional permanent residency status it provides, recipients must have come to the United States under the age of 18 and have been present in the U.S. for four years prior to the bill’s enactment. After the eight years of conditional permanent residency, as long as they have either acquired a degree from an institution of higher education, completed two years in a bachelor’s program, served for at least two years in the uniformed services or been honorably discharged, or have been gainfully employed for at least 75% of the time during their conditional permanent residency, they will become eligible for a green card. The DREAM Act does not include any measure to increase border security, which is a necessary provision to deter a spike in future attempted illegal immigration that would occur as a result of any new law providing a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants. Because the bill does not meet the president’s and many Republicans' requests for increased border security funding, it is unlikely to receive enough votes from Republicans in the House and Senate to pass.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal is expected to resemble the White House’s immigration framework, but it is unclear exactly how similar the two will be. In January, the White House released its framework on immigration reform and border security that asked for funding for border security and a wall, a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million qualifying undocumented immigrants, stricter requirements for family-based migration, and an elimination and repurposing of the visa lottery program. Trump’s framework was put to a vote on the Senate floor in February in the form of a 592-page amendment sponsored by Senator Grassely, Cornyn, Tillis, Lankford, Perdue, Cotton and Ernst, but it only received 39 yea votes, 21 short of what it needed to be adopted by the Senate. The bill’s unpopularity was mainly due to the fact that it not only proposed the tightening of eligibility requirements for family based migration following the completion of the current backlog of 680,000 immigration cases and 4 million people waiting in line for family based visas, but included a reduction in future family based immigration levels. Because no measure was included to make up for these cuts with a new type of undetermined merit based immigration like Trump has called for in the past, the amendment would have resulted in a significant net decrease in future immigration levels. If Ryan’s proposal is similar to the Grassely’s and includes economically disadvantageous cuts to legal immigration, then even if it passes through the House, it will likely die in the Senate.

The Uniting and Securing America Act is perhaps the most effective and beneficial bill being considered, with the greatest chance of passing. The bill is comprehensive, yet precise, and includes provisions to adequately fund effective border security, legislate a permanent solution for DACA, cut down on catch and release by reducing delays in immigration courts, and address the factors in central America driving illegal immigration.

The four main provisions of the USA Act are:

Adjustment of status for certain individuals who entered the United States as children

This provision provides a conditional path to permanent legal status for certain individuals who came to the US younger than 18-years-old and have been physically present here since 2013. In order to be eligible for the initial eight-year period of conditional permanent residency the bill provides, recipients must be able to pass a background check with no felony or significant misdemeanor convictions. They also must be either be admitted to an institution of higher education, have earned a high school diploma or GED, or be enrolled in high school or something equivalent. After eight years of conditional status in which they must continue to reside in the US and maintain good moral and legal standing, the beneficiaries of this bill could apply for lawful permanent residency if they completed one of three tracks to permanent legal status. These tracks require that they either complete either 2 years in a higher institution of education, serve in the Uniformed Services for at least the period for which they were obligated to serve on active duty and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge, or have been employed for periods totaling at least three years and at least 80 percent of the time that the alien has had a valid employment authorization. They must also demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak English, show an understanding of American history, principles and form of government, and pay a fee that covers the cost of the application.

Secure miles with all resources and technology

The bill also includes a provision to grant federal money to agencies securing the border, as long as the efforts are done as efficiently as possible. Among several measures to improve security at the southern border are eradicating carrizo cane and salt cedar along the Rio Grande River to increase visibility, mandatory air and marine operation flight hours, and the expansion and modernization of high volume ports of entry. It also authorizes operation Stonegarden, which would appropriate $110 million a year for the fiscal years 2018-2022 to Aid US Customs and border protection and state and local law enforcement entities in protecting and securing the US’ northern and southern borders.

Reducing significant delays in immigration court

With over 680,000 cases currently backlogged, the average wait time for an immigration case to be heard is about 711 days. The bill seeks to address this problem to allow the judicial facet of the US’ immigration system to work more efficiently by increasing the number of immigration judges by 55 a year for the fiscal years 2018-2020. The bill also includes a provision to increase the number of board of immigration appeals attorneys by 23 a year for the fiscal years 2018-2020 to ensure due process is upheld. Resources for hiring necessary support staff for the attorneys and judges are provided for in the bill as well. By increasing the number of immigration judges and appeals attorneys, deportation cases and proceedings will be completed faster, and as a result less instances of "catch and release" wil occur. Asylum seekers will also have their cases heard faster, and the people who have the right to be here under current law will recieve the legal proceedings they need to properly begin life in America at a faster rate.    

Advancing reforms in central America to address the factors driving migration

The final provision of the bill provides that the president appoints a senior official “to coordinate the efforts of the Federal Government…and the efforts of international partners to strengthen citizen security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity in Central America and to protect vulnerable populations in the region,” with a special focus on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

While most Americans support allowing Dreamers who came to our country illegally as children through no fault of their own to remain in America under certain conditions because it is the right thing to do morally, it also makes sense economically. Our nation has already invested in educating them, and now that they have grown up in our schools and acquired the skills needed to contribute to our economy, it makes no sense to spend money on trying to deport them, especially when considering the United States' aging population demographic and current labor shortages. At the same time, any path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants should be coupled with increased border security to deter future illegal immigration and prevent this situation from happening again in ten years. Border security, or the knowledge of who and what are entering the United States, is a key factor of our national security, plain and simple.

If Denham’s resolution passes as it very well may, in the coming weeks there will a lot of talk about what the best solutions to fix different broken facets of our nation’s immigration system. This is probably the closest the House of representatives has been to passing immigration legislation in years. Congress should take this chance to put politics aside, and finally act in legislating immigration policy, like the USA Act, that is in the best interests of Americans.


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