Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


April 2014, Volume 21, Number 2

House: Immigration

House Republicans are divided on immigration reform, reducing prospects for enactment of comprehensive legislation in 2014 that would allow unauthorized foreigners to become legal US residents.

House leaders announced "Standards for Immigration Reform" in January 2014 that would increase border and interior enforcement before providing a path to legalization, but not US citizenship, for many of the 12 million unauthorized foreigners in the US. The principles state that unauthorized foreigners could "live legally and without fear in the US" if they "admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)."

There would be an exception for unauthorized foreigners brought to the US as children. The Standards say that so-called DREAMers who "serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree" could become naturalized US citizens.

House leaders criticized the US immigration selection system, which gives priority to family unification, and embraced new and expanded guest worker programs that create "realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States" for foreign workers who "are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers." The Standards asserted that the agriculture industry is of "particular concern." The House principles assert that effective border security and interior enforcement must be in place before there is any legalization, and called for a "fully functioning entry-exit system" to identify visitors who overstay their visas.

Tea Party Patriots and the Heritage Foundation took credit for deterring House Republican leaders from moving forward in spring 2014, asserting that President Obama would selectively enforce any new immigration laws.

The Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act (ENLIST) rekindled debate over immigration reform among House Republicans in April 2014. ENLIST would allow unauthorized youth in the US before age 15 to join in the US military and be put on a path to US citizenship after their honorable discharge. House Republicans who support Enlist say it shows they are sensitive to unauthorized foreigners and military needs, while opponents say that any House-passed immigration bill could lead to a conference committee with the Senate and a major legalization program.

The Senate approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S 744) on a 68-32 vote in June 2013, and the House Judiciary Committee approved four bills in June 2013 to increase enforcement against unauthorized migration and to modify guest worker programs for agriculture and IT. However, the full House did not approve any of these bills in 2013, so there was no conference with the Senate to resolve differences and approve an immigration bill.

The major item of debate is whether and how many unauthorized foreigners should be offered a path to US citizenship. S 744 laid out a 13-year path for currently unauthorized foreigners to become US citizens, with easier paths for DREAMER youth and unauthorized farm workers. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that S 744 would legalize eight million unauthorized foreigners, including 1.5 million DREAMER youth, 1.5 million farm workers and five million others.

Any House-passed bill would likely limit the "special path" to US citizenship to DREAMER youth. The House might grant other unauthorized foreigners a temporary legal status similar to that under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that is, two-year renewable work and residence status. DACA residents can become immigrants and US citizens under the current preference system if family members in the US or employers sponsor them for immigrant visas.

Migrant rights groups were divided on how hard to push for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to US citizenship for most unauthorized foreigners. Most advocates for immigration reform continue to call for a path to US citizenship for almost all unauthorized foreigners. However, the United We Dream organization representing unauthorized youth said their top priority is to stop deportations, suggesting that they would accept the House legalization-without-citizenship option. United We Dream called for a halt to deportations of non-criminal unauthorized foreigners.

The Congressional Budget Office in March 2014 concluded that a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the House (HR 15) would have effects similar to S 744, which was approved in the Senate in 2013. If S 744 or HR 15 were enacted, the CBO estimates that the US population in 2023 would be 10 million larger than it would be without immigration reform, and that eight million unauthorized foreigners in the US would gain legal status. Both bills "would probably boost economic output, increase average wages for the entire labor force after about a decade (but decrease them before that), raise the amount of capital investment, and increase the productivity of labor and capital."

The US Chamber of Commerce said "immigration reform is important to expanding opportunity" because of the "innovation, ideas, investment and dynamism" immigrants bring to the US. Chamber President Tom Donahue continued: "We're determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted."

DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals allows unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16, have lived illegally in the US at least five years and were under 31 on June 15, 2012, are enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or are honorably discharged veterans, to pay $465 for renewable work and residence permits.

As of March 2014, over 520,000 unauthorized youth were approved for DACA status, which gives them the right to live and work in the US and, in most states, to obtain driver's licenses. USCIS reported receiving an average 2,000 DACA applications a day in spring 2014.

Medicare. President Obama's FY15 budget proposal includes provisions to remove unauthorized foreigners from Medicare, as required by 1996 immigration and welfare reforms. The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that Medicare reimbursed hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and pharmacies for services provided to unauthorized foreigners because these health-care providers did not check on the status of patients.

About 30 percent of the 52 million Medicare beneficiaries are in private Medicare Advantage plans, meaning that these plans rather than the US government screen for legal status.

States. States enacted 184 immigration laws in 2013, up from 156 in 2012, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Unlike 2010-11, when many state laws aimed to crack down on unauthorized foreigners, state laws enacted in 2013 often granted benefits, such as in-state tuition and driver's licenses for DACA residents.

States also approved 253 immigration resolutions in 2013, including many that called on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reforms.

Detroit, a city whose population peaked at 1.8 million in the 1950s, now has 700,000 residents and is bankrupt. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in January 2014 proposed that up to 50,000 immigrant visas be made available to foreigners over five years who have advanced degrees and agree to live in Detroit, where the unemployment rate is higher than the US rate and almost 40 percent of residents live in poor households.