The House of Representatives passed its version of immigration reform on December 17 with a Republican-sponsored bill that would make unauthorized presence in the country a felony rather than a civil crime and would require employers to verify all employees' eligibility to work in the United States by using an electronic database.
The "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would also build a high-tech fence along sections of the southern border, facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law by local officials, and require detention of all non-Mexican unauthorized immigrants apprehended at or between official ports of entry.
A controversial amendment to eliminate citizenship for U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants was voted down, as was an amendment to build a fence along the entire southern border.
The bill, which passed with a 239 to 182 vote, is considered unlikely to pass in the Senate because it does not provide for the type of temporary worker program proposed by Senators from both parties. President Bush has also endorsed matching enforcement with a temporary worker plan.
A combination of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as religious organizations, labor unions, and the National Council of La Raza all opposed the bill. Critics expressed concern at its treatment of businesses and unauthorized immigrants.
Proponents in Congress argued they were responding to constituents' immigration concerns and fixing long-standing failures in immigration law enforcement.
A spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox stated that reform addressing only security would not solve bilateral immigration challenges. Fox himself called the proposal for an expanded border fence "shameful."
President Bush praised the bill, but also restated his commitment to immigration reform that includes a temporary worker program. He urged the Senate to take action on immigration so that he could "sign a good bill into law."
The Senate debate on immigration reform is expected to begin by early February in the Judiciary Committee, which will consider a markup prepared by Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) that includes a temporary worker provision (see December 2005 Policy Beat for details).
Other provisions of the House bill include:
To read the text of H.R. 4437, click here.
Policy Beat In Brief
H-1B Provision. The House of Representatives and Senate passed a version of the Budget Reconciliation bill — aimed at decreasing the budget deficit by about $39.4 billion — that would not authorize new H-1B and other employment-based visa numbers, as had been proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee (see December 2005 Policy Beat for details). The Senate approved the bill with minor revisions on December 21. The House must now vote again on the amended version; its passage is considered all but certain.
Worksite Enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to announce new regulations to help employers verify their employees' work eligibility, according to a public statement by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. The regulatory changes would have two goals: simplifying the verification process for employers and creating tougher and more immediate punishment for noncompliant businesses. Chertoff also expressed DHS opposition to proposals to build a physical wall along the U.S. border. He stated that such a tactic is "phenomenally expensive" and not particularly effective.
Security Checks at USCIS. A report by the Inspector General of DHS found that security checks performed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) are overly reliant on documents that may be falsifiable. Also, the Inspector General said that USCIS lacks effective management for ensuring staff complete checks correctly, and that the agency is overly dependent on inefficient, paper-based processes. The Inspector General recommended expanding the use of biometric identification, clearly outlining objectives for staff to follow in completing background checks, as well as developing a measurable, risk-based plan to select cases for more thorough checks. USCIS conducted 7.3 million background checks in fiscal year (FY) 2004.
Border Surveillance Challenges. Another report by the DHS Inspector General found that Border Patrol remote surveillance technology faces several challenges, including lack of coordination between sensors and remote cameras, needless investigations into legitimate activity detected by surveillance devices, delays in installing cameras, and historical, cultural, and environmental restrictions on camera site selection. The Inspector General recommended that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ensure that future technology purchases can be integrated, standardize processes for collecting and reporting data on unauthorized entries and responses, and develop processes for measuring technology performance and site selection.
Hispanic Literacy. English literacy of Hispanic adults in the country declined between 1992 and 2003, according the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Adult Literacy survey. While the average literacy scores of Blacks and Asians/Pacific Islanders increased by six and 16 points respectively, the average English literacy scores of Hispanics dropped by 18 points. However, the test did not look at how long test-takers had been in the country. Influxes of new Hispanic immigrants may have distorted the results for Hispanics.
Detentions. Legally admitted immigrants who have been charged with a non-felony crime and face removal proceedings cannot be detained without bail, unless their removal proceedings are expedited or they can be shown to be a flight risk or danger to the community, according to a December 13 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Tijani v. Willis. The court stated that it is "constitutionally doubtful" that Congress has authority to authorize imprisonment of long duration for authorized immigrants subject to removal. The immigrant in question, Monsuro O. Tijani, had been detained for over two years and four months for 12 counts of falsifying financial statements.