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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Congress: No Major Legislation Expected in 1997

The 105th Congress convened on January 7, 1996. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) was re-appointed chair of the House immigration subcommittee, while Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI) replaced Alan Simpson as chair of the Senate committee. Congress is expected to focus on oversight of the INS in 1997.

It appears that the House and Senate subcommittee chairs have very different agendas. Many Republicans hoped to resume efforts to reduce legal immigration, as recommended by the Jordan Commission in 1995, originally endorsed by the Clinton Administration, and included in the major House and Senate immigration bills in 1996. Sen. Abraham, however, led the successful fight in the Senate to leave the legal immigration system unchanged.

With Abraham chair of the Senate sub-committee, legislation that reduces legal immigration is unlikely to be approved. There may also be a reluctance on the part of Republicans to alienate Hispanic voters if the public desire for immigration restriction appears satisfied by the 1996 legislation aimed against illegal immigration.

A USA Today poll in January 1997 found that 15 percent of respondents thought that the US was making progress on (reducing) illegal immigration, while 47 percent thought that the US was losing ground. The number of illegal immigrants was considered a major threat to the future well being of the US by 51 percent of respondents.

Sen. Abraham on January 15, 1997 visited California's Silicon Valley and promised to resist limits on legal immigration. According to his host, Cypress Semiconductor Corp., about 40 percent of the research and development jobs at Cypress are held by immigrants and each R&D job creates nine additional jobs. Abraham also expressed an interest in splitting INS into separate service and enforcement agencies, turning border control and immigration inspections over to Customs. Protesters called Abraham the "poster boy of mass immigration."

Rep. Smith's immigration subcommittee as well as the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee are expected to hold hearings on the topic of Citizenship USA--the Clinton administration's program to reduce the backlog of applicants for naturalization-- non-US citizens voting in the November 1996 election and the management of the INS.

Smith also plans hearings on the legal immigration system. Smith endorsed the Jordan Commission's June 1995 recommendation to reduce legal immigration by 30 percent, from 675,000 per year to 550,000 and to favor immigrants with more education and skills.

According to a January 16, 1997 article in the Boston Globe, it was at the urging of Democratic National Committee vice chairman and fund raiser John Huang that President Clinton reversed his endorsement of the Jordan Commission recommendations to reduce legal immigration by eliminating slots for adult siblings of US citizens. In many cases, immigrants from Asian nations sponsor their adult brothers and sisters after they become naturalized US citizens.

As late as February 11, 1996, Clinton had repeated his support for "lowering the level of legal recommended" by the CIR, but the administration reversed itself and opposed changes to the legal immigration system in Congress in March 1996.

Congress has asked the INS to investigate the marriage broker business. The US issued 10,003 "fiancee visas" in FY96 that allow a person engaged to marry a US citizen to enter the country, up from 6,268 in 1987. Most of the US citizens are men who reportedly spend an average $7,000 to find and bring in a foreign bride, including the cost of agency fees, travel and interpreters.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) on January 21,1997 introduced legislation aimed at beefing up enforcement of US workplaces to uncover employment of undocumented workers and penalize the employers that hire them. In the House of Representatives, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) introduced a new bill, HR 119, that would impose additional conditions on employers of H-1B professional nonimmigrant workers. HR 231, introduced by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla), would impose criminal penalties on persons with counterfeit work authorization documents.

Eric Schmitt, "Effort to cut legal immigration loses steam," New York Times, January 17, 1997. Michael Kranish, "Clinton policy shift followed Asian-American fund-raiser," Boston Globe, January 16, 1997. Ken McLaughlin, "Immigrants called vital to valley," San Jose Mercury News, January 15, 1997. "Looking for love overseas," Associated Press, December 30, 1996.