Will Fall 2013 Bring Immigration Reform?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 12:00pm

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, key Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who has been actively working on immigration matters on the House side, stated that the House may begin voting on several immigration reform measures in October 2013. Other Congressional sources agree that votes on reform could come as early as September, after Congress returns to Washington, D.C. from its summer recess.

At present, the House Judiciary Committee has passed separate pieces of legislation that would overhaul different facets of the immigration system, while the House Homeland Security Committee has passed an unrelated border-security bill. Although Congressman Ryan reportedly has said that he expects at least one immigration reform bill will be taken up by the House that includes an option for legalization of undocumented workers, he noted that any bill would likely require undocumented immigrants to wait fifteen years to become U.S. citizens. In addition, Ryan has stated that he anticipates separate votes on border security and interior enforcement.

In May 2013, before the Senate finalized its bill for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously passed a border security bill introduced by Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. One key difference between the House bill and the related border enforcement mechanisms in the Senate's bill is that the House bill relies on the expertise and guidance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rather than arbitrary numbers mandated by Congress for border staffing and patrol perimeters. In the House bill, DHS would act under the review of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to ensure appropriate staffing and compliance.

In June 2013, with a wide majority of Senators approving a comprehensive immigration reform bill, many advocates hoped that we might have movement before the summer break. After years of fits and starts on a viable and comprehensive immigration bill that would fix the current broken system, employers, immigrants and non-profits joined with a sense of hope and optimism that there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. Given the comprehensive and fair nature of the Senate bill, many believed that we actually would see a grand bargain that would solve many of these decades-long problems. However, early July saw not only scorching temperatures in the nation's capitol, but also tempers on Capitol Hill that left many wondering if House Republicans were looking to take the comprehensive and reform out of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" and only pass legislation improving border security.

Long-time supporters of reform have hoped that if a grand bargain cannot be struck that at least some of the most problematic issues could be fixed, including providing status for the growing number of undocumented persons in the United States - most with U.S. citizen family members - and increasing the availability of work visas to continue would allow the U.S. to attract the best and the brightest to our shores. While not perfect for any one group, the Senate bill provides solutions to a broad base - companies, non-profits and individual stakeholders - and promises to ease the tensions of the long standing status quo.

Taken together, the individual bills currently in the House make a large step forward in addressing the pervasive, systemic issues in our nation's immigration system. The question is whether the House will be able to pass each of these bills individually or, once agreement is reached on a border security plan, will House members simply push off any legislation aimed at immigration benefits until after the Fall elections.

We need a bill that addresses important issues like border security and ensuring a legal, strong and smart workforce. However, any proposed reform must include and insist on achievable goals such as eliminating long waiting lines for visas, increasing the number of H-1B visas and providing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented workers already in the United States. We hope that as Congress returns to meet with their constituents, they will take a closer look and a broader view of the goals and ideals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform and remember that we are a nation of immigrants.