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July 1996 Volume 2 Number 3

Congress Works to Revise Immigration Law


As Congress struggled to reconcile the immigration bills approved
by the US House of Representatives in March, 1996, and by the Senate
in May 1996, advocates flooded House-Senate conference committee
members with arguments for and against specific provisions in one or
both bills.

The House is not expected to formally name the members who will
serve on the conference committee until Congress returns from the
July 4 recess, in part because, once the House names its conferees, a
conference bill must be produced within a limited time. However,
deals between likely House and announced Senate conferees are being
worked out privately.

The House and Senate bills include three major sets of measures to
reduce illegal immigration and reduces the access of legal immigrants
to welfare. First, both provide for stronger border enforcement,
adding 1,000 Border Patrol agents per year for five years, bringing
the total from 5,175 in 1996 to almost 10,000 by 2000. Both call for
a 14-mile "triple fence" on the US-Mexican border south of San Diego,
and would increase the penalties for smuggling aliens into the US and
for using false documents to obtain US jobs or welfare
assistance--document fraud could bring a $500,000 fine and 15 years
in prison. Both bills also permit the Attorney General to allow local
police departments to "seek, apprehend, and detain" illegal aliens
who are subject to an order of deportation.

Second, both bills introduce pilot programs to enable employers to
verify the status of newly-hired workers. The Senate bill would give
the President up to eight years to test three verification programs
and report the results back to Congress, while the House measure
specifies a three-year voluntary pilot program for employers in five
states -- California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Texas. No
national worker eligibility verification system could be established,
however, without another congressional vote. Both bills narrow the
range of documents that persons seeking US jobs may present to
employers as proof that they are lawful workers from the current 29
to six.

Third, both bills seek to prevent LEGAL immigrants from obtaining
welfare benefits. Under current law, immigrants must show that they
will not become "public charges" in the US, and this requirement is
usually met by the US-based sponsors of relatives immigrating. They
sign affidavits assuming financial responsibility for their
relatives. If the pending legislation becomes law, these affidavits
will become legally binding.

The major provision attacked by admissionists and political
liberals was the Gallegly amendment to the House bill, approved by a
vote of 257 to 163 in March 1996. It would permit the states to deny
unauthorized alien children free K-12 public education, as California
has sought to do with Prop 187. Opponents of the Gallegly amendment
argued that it was unfair to penalize children for the fact that
their parents illegally brought them into the US, and pointed to the
danger to US society of having uneducated children in its midst, and
to the costs of verifying each child's legal status.

In addition, immigration advocates tried to soften or eliminate
the provisions of the House and Senate bills that would define the
receipt of means-tested federal benefits by legal immigrants as
violating the existing prohibition of becoming a "public charge," and
thus making possible the deportation of legal migrants on that
ground.

Campaigning in California on June 19, Bob Dole, the Republican
presidential candidate, endorsed the Gallegly amendment, saying that
states should have the choice of denying public education to illegal
alien children, since they bear the costs, which Dole put at $1.8
billion annually to California. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced
Dole and asserted that "it's time to stop making apologies for
putting Americans first." House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) says
that "offering free, tax-paid goods to illegals has increased the
number of illegals."

In mid-June, the Republican National Committee spent $1.5 million
on ads in 19 states that attacked President Clinton for "giving
benefits to illegals" because of this threat to veto legislation that
includes the Prop 187-style option for states to prevent illegal
alien children from K-12 schools. Some teachers groups pledged not to
enforce the law if it is approved, although school administrators,
not teachers, enroll pupils in most US schools.

President Clinton has hinted that he will veto an immigration
reform bill that includes the Gallegly amendment, a veto that some
Republicans believe would hurt Clinton's chances of winning
California in the presidential election. In this, Clinton had the
support of 47 Senators, including five Republicans, who threatened on
June 10 to vote against a final immigration bill that included the
Gallegly amendment.

Dole supported Prop. 187 in 1994, which Clinton opposed.

If the Gallegly amendment becomes law, and is upheld by a US
Supreme Court reversal of the 1982 Plyler v Doe decision, states will
be able to order K-12 schools to check the status of all enrolling
students each year. Such checks would keep out the estimated 600,000
to 700,000 or 1.5 percent unauthorized children among the 45 million
K-12 pupils in public schools. Another six million children who
attend private schools would not be affected.

The cost of educating illegal alien children in the US is $3 to
$3.5 billion per year, based on an average cost of $5,000 per child
per year. The Urban Institute estimated the number of illegal alien
children in schools in the seven major immigrant states in 1994:
California, 307,000; Florida, 97,000; Texas, 94,000; New York,
88,000; Illinois, 24,000; New Jersey, 16,000; and Arizona, 15,000.

There was similar lobbying over the sponsorship and benefit
changes included in the bill that affect legal immigrants. Under US
immigration law, an immigrant is deportable if he/she becomes a
"public charge" in the US. In order to secure an immigration visa for
a relative, US-resident sponsors commonly sign an affidavit promising
to support the immigrant once he/she is here.

Under current practice, the US sponsor and the immigrant must have
a combined income that is at least 100 percent of the income at the
US poverty line for the US sponsor AND the immigrant(s) being
sponsored. At the present time, that would be, for example, $18,220
for a US family of three sponsoring an immigrant couple--five people
in all.

Many immigrants who are sponsored by US residents nonetheless
apply for federally-funded benefits after they arrive. US courts have
held that the sponsors' affidavits are not binding, so that the
government cannot sue a US sponsor for the welfare benefits that were
paid to an immigrant whom the sponsor promised to support.

The pending immigration bills would raise the income required of
US residents to sponsor an immigrant to 200 percent of the poverty
line (House) or 125 percent of the poverty line (Senate), make the
affidavits binding on the US sponsor, and deem or assume that the
immigrant has access to the sponsor's income for the purpose of
determining whether the immigrant is eligible for benefits.

Advocates for immigration attacked the income requirement for
sponsors, arguing that it would permit only "rich Americans" to
sponsor immigrants.

Another provision in the proposed law would permit the deportation
of immigrants who received federal benefits for 12 months within the
first five years in the US (Senate) or first seven years (House), the
immigrant could be deported.

Most groups favorable to immigration opposed this extension of the
grounds for deportation, calling attention to the wide range of
benefit claims that could lead to deportation, including e.g.,
federal student loans and job training programs, and outlining the
health threat to US residents from immigrants who avoided obtaining
subsidized medical care. Using cases of immigrants who received
training or education and now are successful, advocates asked whether
the US would really deport successful immigrants. For example, an
estimated 500,000 legal immigrant college students receive $700
million in federal assistance each year, and many are employed by
major US corporations.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the proposed
restrictions on immigrant access to benefits could save federal
taxpayers up to $7 billion over seven years. Many members of Congress
said that they supported the restrictions on immigrant access to
federal benefits to balance the budget, not to discourage
immigration.

In attacking the denial of federally subsidized health benefits,
advocates stressed that services such as public health cut public
expenditures in the long run by minimizing the spread of communicable
diseases, avoiding emergency room care for treatable diseases, and
improving the health of US-citizen babies.

One issue that arises in these proposed new restrictions on access
to schools, benefits, and health is their administrative costs.
Opponents of the restrictions argue that the cost of checking the
legal status of pupils enrolling in school or seeking benefits would
be formidable.

Proponents of restrictions, on the other hand, argue that
administrative costs would be a marginal addition to current
screening procedures. Schools already verify age, residence, and
immunization, for example, and the income of beneficiaries of
means-tested programs is checked, since they will not be reimbursed
if they provide benefits to persons with incomes above qualifying
levels.

This suggests two major considerations in evaluating the
arguments. First, how much money would the restrictions save in the
short and long runs? Second, would the benefit restrictions have as a
side effect the discouragement of legal immigrants likely to need
tax-supported benefits?

The Gallegly amendment is perhaps the clearest example of a
possible new trend in industrial democracies--use integration policy
to affect immigration flows. The theory is that fewer benefits will
discourage illegal immigrants from coming, or staying.

Research suggests that illegal aliens generally come to the US for
jobs, not welfare or other benefits, so the restrictions on benefits
for legal immigrants may wind up pushing what is now in part a
federal responsibility onto states, cities, and families without
affecting the influx of illegal immigrants.

Immigration may remain in the political spotlight during the
summer of 1996 if Dole seriously tries to win California's 54
electoral votes, one-fifth of the number needed to be elected
President. The Reform Party of Ross Perot may also keep immigration
in the spotlight if it nominates as its presidential candidate
Richard Lamm, the former governor of Colorado and an outspoken
opponent of high levels of immigration.




Eric Schmitt, "2 Senior Republican Lawmakers Buck Party to Oppose
Effort to Bar Education of Illegal Aliens," New York Times, June 22,
1996. Maria L. LaGanga, "Dole Endorses Prop. 187 Limits on
Schooling," Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1996. Thomas Edsall, "Dole
Urges Illegal-Immigrant Curbs," Washington Post, June 20, 1996. John
Marelius, "Dole would put Clinton on spot on immigration," San Diego
Union-Tribune, June 20, 1996. Michael Doyle, "School ban may imperil
immigration bill," Sacramento Bee, June 11, 1996. Marcus Stern,
"Immigration bill turns into key election issue," San Diego
Union-Tribune, June 2, 1996. Marguerite Abadjian, "US Immigration:
New Bill to Cap Angry Debate," Inter Press Service, May 30, 1996.

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