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July 2014, Volume 21, Number 3

Immigration Reform

Immigration generated news headlined during the spring and summer of 2014, as both President Obama and migrant activists pressed House Republicans to enact an immigration reform bill. The goal was to have a House-Senate conference on a bill that could lead to some type of immigration reform.

However, House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost to an anti-immigrant opponent in the June 2014 Republican primary, making it less likely that House Republicans will deal with immigration reform in 2014. Winner David Brat accused Cantor, for instance, of supporting "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who replaced Cantor as House Majority leader, represents a district around Bakersfield that is a third Hispanic.

In June 2014, Speaker John Boehner told Obama that the House would not consider an immigration reform in 2014, prompting Obama to ask his staff for recommendations on changes to immigration policy via executive action. Obama said: "I'm beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress." Obama asked DHS and DOJ for recommendations, and pledged to "adopt those recommendations without further delay."

Some advocates hope that Obama will stop deportations of non-criminals and extend DACA-type status to those who could legalize under S 744, beginning with the parents of unauthorized youth who have DACA status and the unauthorized parents of US citizen children. The question is where to draw the line between acceptable executive branch power to allocate and prioritize limited enforcement resources and unconstitutional executive decisions not to enforce laws that require the detection and removal of unauthorized foreigners.

Boehner in April 2014 said he was "hellbent" on dealing with immigration reform before the end of the year. Boehner later said "The biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform is that the American people don't trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass." Boehner said the House would sue Obama for not enforcing US laws, including immigration laws.

In June 2012, Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has given over 500,000 unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16 the right to live and work legally in the US under renewable two-year permits. Many advocates want DACA-type status expanded to other unauthorized foreigners, an end to the so-called 287(g) program that has state and local police identifying unauthorized foreigners for DHS, and exemptions to current law that bars unauthorized foreigners removed from the US from returning legally for at least three years.

In summer 2013 the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act or S 744, by a vote of 68-32. A year later, Congressional leaders said that there was little prospect of the House enacting immigration reform until 2017, citing Tea Party opposition and a belief among many Republicans that Obama is not enforcing current immigration laws.

House Democrats in spring 2014 pressed for a discharge petition that would require a vote on HR 15, a bill similar to S 744. As of April 15, 2014, some 191 Democrats had signed the discharge petition; 218 signatures are required to force a vote in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he would give the House until July 2014 to act on immigration reform before urging President Obama to act unilaterally by, for instance, expanding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals relief to the parents of unauthorized foreigners brought as children into the US.

US Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue in May 2014 said that the Republican Party "should not bother to run a candidate" in the 2016 presidential election unless Congress approves an immigration reform. Donohue noted that a 2013 poll found 63 percent of Latino voters "would view House Republicans somewhat or much less favorably if House Republicans block immigration reform."

White non-Hispanics were 72 percent of the electorate in 2012. Republican Mitt Romney captured the highest share of white votes in decades, but received only a small share of minority votes and lost the election.

Some industries, including agriculture, construction and IT, explored the option of immigration reforms for particular sectors. However, many Democrats oppose piecemeal reform, fearing a loss of industry support for their goal of legalization and a path to citizenship for most of the 12 million unauthorized foreigners.

A poll released in June 2014 found "remarkably steady" support for providing most of the 12 million unauthorized foreigners in the US with a path to US citizenship "if they met certain requirements." Over 60 percent of those polled favor eventual US citizenship, almost 20 percent favor legal residence but not a path to US citizenship, and almost 20 percent favor deporting unauthorized foreigners. About 60 percent of those polled agreed that immigrants "strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents."

Obama. President Obama in March 2014 ordered DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to find ways to enforce immigration laws "more humanely." Many groups, including the AFL-CIO, urged DHS to grant unauthorized foreigners protection from deportation and work authorization if they would be eligible for legalization under S 744, the immigration reform bill approved by the Senate in June 2013.

Advocates urged an end to the 287(g) or Secure Communities program that enlists state and local police in immigration enforcement. They send the fingerprints of persons arrested to DHS, which can request that suspected unauthorized foreigners be held. Advocates also urged changes to internal DHS procedures so that unauthorized workers who file complaints against their employers are not a priority for enforcement.

The union representing 7,000 ICE agents opposes efforts to prioritize the deportation of certain people, such as those with criminal records, and to provide safe harbor to other illegal immigrants.

In May 2014, Obama asked DHS to delay its recommendations until after August 1, 2014, to allow House Republicans to act on pending immigration reform bills. Obama urged migrant advocates to press House Republicans to approve a bill that would legalize unauthorized foreigners, reminding them that executive actions can only delay removals.

Some advocates remain angry with Obama, especially when leaks suggested that DHS would reinforce current guidelines so that enforcement would focus more clearly on migrants with serious criminal convictions and recent illegal border crossers rather than embracing a new program to provide protection from deportation to large numbers of unauthorized foreigners.

DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program grants renewable two- year work and residence permits to unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16, have lived in the US at least five years and were under 31 on June 15, 2012, and are enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or are honorably discharged veterans. Those who qualify pay $465 for renewable two-year work and residence permits (www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca).

As of June 2014, over 560,000 unauthorized foreigners had received DACA status. About 80 percent of those approved were Mexicans, followed by four percent Salvadorans and two percent each Hondurans and Guatemalans. A survey of almost 2,400 DACA recipients by the American Immigration Council found that 60 percent had found a job since obtaining DACA status, and almost half increased their earnings with DACA status.

In September 2014, the first two-year permits are up for renewal. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that it would accept renewal applications, which cost $465, for DACA youth who can show that they have been continuously in the US and have no felony convictions over the past two years.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2014 issued an injunction requiring Arizona to issue driver's licenses to DACA recipients. The Arizona Dream Act Coalition challenged Arizona's denial of driver's licenses to DACA recipients, arguing that licenses were necessary to work, which DACA recipients can do. The three-judge panel concluded that Arizona's policy "appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients themselves, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them."