Immigration: Legislation in the House of Representatives after a Tumultuous Week
Immigration has been in the news a lot this week, with heartbreaking images (and sounds) of children crying for their parents, separated by the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy instituted on April 6, 2018 by AG Jeff Sessions. This policy has been roundly condemned by politicians, human rights organizations, celebrities, . . . the list goes on, and this policy has been called “extraordinarily unpopular” by media outlets. Bowing to political pressure, Trump signed an EO ending the policy of separating parents from their children on Wednesday, but there is still much up in the air about what will happen--as the Executive Order will keep families together while they await prosecution for illegally crossing the border--a move that might be in violation of a 1997 court order that places a time limit on the amount of time a child can be detained. Even though the EO was signed, and the immediate problem has been solved (at least on paper) larger issues with immigration loom and Congress is poised to vote on two pieces of immigration legislation tomorrow, hoping to use the momentum to create a lasting solution.
Immigration Legislation in the House of Representatives
In the House, there are two immigration bills in play. One is drafted by conservative Republicans, the other is a compromise measure between moderate and conservative Republicans that has the best chance to pass. Both had provisions to address the crisis of children separated from their parents at the border, and both claim to strengthen border security and make more sweeping changes to the immigration system at large. As of this writing, neither is likely to get the 218 votes needed to pass in the House, as Conservatives are reluctant to vote for the compromise bill and the major pressure of children being separated from their parents has been somewhat lessened by Trump’s Executive Order, and Democrats, who were left out of the conversation, are unlikely to support either.
The conservative bill, H.R. 6136: Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018 is sponsored by Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Efforts are focused on the compromise legislation, and this bill seems unlikely to pass.
The Compromise bill, or Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, though technically a compromise, leans towards the hard line. It adheres to many of Trump’s wish-list immigration items, including 25 billion dollars for the border wall and enact immigration policies that Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Representative from California, says “are nothing more than a cruel codification of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that abandons our nation’s heritage as a beacon of hope and opportunity.”
The Compromise bill does have a path forward for Dreamers, allowing them to apply for a renewable legal status provided they meet certain criteria. The bill develops a merit-based visa program that would provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship along with other groups. This merit-based visa program would be based on a point system with points awarded for things like education level, military service, and having a job, for example.
This legislation, as written, would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery system and curb family-based immigration, eliminating categories for married children of citizens, among others. This plan would cut back on family-based migration, which is largely how the current system works--reflecting President Trump’s desire to move to a system where skilled workers and educated professionals have an advantage.
Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) spoke strongly against this bill today on a press call, calling it “fiscally irresponsible” for providing billions of dollars for border enforcement, while criminalizing millions of people. Grijalva says, “[The bill] slashes legal immigration, 20-30%, and makes it impossible for families to immigrate and remain together, and mandates that local law enforcement enforce immigration laws. It’s a bad bill and I oppose it.”
Currently, there are many discussions in the House about the merits of this legislation. Roundly condemned by immigrant rights groups and unable to garner enough support, as of this writing, within the Republican Party--despite Trump and other Administration officials encouragement. Conservatives fear being attacked on the right for providing “amnesty” if they vote for this bill, highlighting an inescapable fact--immigration is incredibly complicated, and solutions that work for everyone are like unicorns.
However, while long-term solutions may be lacking, perhaps many will take comfort in Trump’s capitulation and signing of the Executive Order, which means at least no more children will be taken from their parents at the border. Additionally, a Facebook fundraiser for the organization The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, started with the hope of raising $1500 has raised over $12 Million as of this writing. With an average donation amount of $40, one cannot help but draw hope from the care and concern that so many people have for this situation. The question remains, however, if Congress and our elected leaders will be able to agree on a path forward.