Handful of House Republicans Unveil a New Amnesty Bill
FAIR Take | February 2022
On Tuesday, Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) introduced a FAIR-opposed bill alongside six Republican colleagues that provides amnesty for millions of illegal aliens in exchange for a few border security and immigration enforcement reforms. While the bill goes further than any Democratic proposal in providing some sort of trade-off for amnesty, the impact is still not balanced and follows the same broken script for comprehensive immigration reform: amnesty now, reforms later (if ever). Below are some highlights:
Amnesty and More Cheap Foreign Labor
There is no mistake about it, this is first and foremost an amnesty bill. Right off the bat, it creates a legal pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” defined under the terms of the FAIR-opposed American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). The bill also includes provisions from the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1603), which legalizes millions of illegal alien farmworkers and reduces protections for American workers in the already-unlimited H-2A visa program.
In addition, the hallmark of the legislation is Rep. Salazar’s proposed “Dignity Program” and “Redemption Program.” The Dignity Program creates a 10 year period in which illegal aliens not covered by the H.R. 6 or H.R. 1603 provisions receive work permits and protection from deportation so long as they do not commit crimes and pay $1,000 every year into an “American worker fund.” This fund will, per the release, “provide grants to American citizens for workforce education initiatives, apprentice programs, and Career and Technical Education.”
The optional Redemption Program gives illegal aliens the opportunity to earn a green card through 5 years of English and civics education as well as further restitution payments.
In addition to the egregious amnesty giveaway, this bill also expands the H-2B guestworker program via the inclusion of the H-2B Returning Worker Exemption Act. FAIR has long opposed any expansion of the H-2B guestworker program that hires foreign workers at lower-than-average wages, providing employers with an incentive to avoid hiring Americans.
There are some positive aspects of the legislation. The Dignity Act includes mandatory E-Verify through the use of the Legal Workforce Act first proposed by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.). The bill phases employers into the program in stages, depending on the size of their company, and must re-verify existing employees if they did not have E-Verify in place already:
- Within 6 months: employers with 10,000+ employees
- Within 1 year: employers with 500 to 9,999 employees
- Within 1.5 years: employers with 20 to 499 employees
- Within 2 years: employers hiring less than 20 employees
However, agricultural employers – responsible for hiring a large number of illegal aliens – have 2.5 years to enroll their employees in E-Verify – a requirement that would surely be extended.
FAIR supports the Legal Workforce Act and included it in our Immigration Reform Blueprint for the American Worker report. Of the various mandatory E-Verify legislative proposals, the Legal Workforce Act is one of the strongest.
Border Wall Construction and Investment
The bill calls for restarting border wall contracts that the Biden administration ended when President Biden entered office. It also proposes implementing other border technologies, specifying “radar, cameras, infrared, secure communications, and autonomous detection technology.” The legislation also provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the ability to hire 3,000 additional border agents and personnel.
Asylum Processing Centers
One notable proposal is the establishment of four regional processing centers to house aliens claiming asylum. Salazar claims that this would end catch-and-release policies while cases work their way through the immigration court system.
This is a good-faith proposal, but it addresses a symptom of the problem rather than the cause itself. Holding aliens in detention during their immigration proceedings would stop catch-and-release, but only if you can hold all asylum claimants. Given the state of the border crisis, this is almost impossible. Since Joe Biden became president in January 2021, Border Patrol apprehended over 2 million illegal aliens at the border. The vast majority claimed asylum.
Are four processing centers going to house 2 million aliens at once? This is just for a single year. Detention centers could not possibly house all of the people who travel to the U.S. to claim asylum. Detaining aliens would lead to downstream effects on human trafficking, and numbers could lessen, but the point remains the same – there are too many people making fraudulent claims. Without an enormous increase in immigration judges, those cases will further add to the growing backlog, increasing detention time. The bill includes adding 150 immigration judge teams and 300 asylum officers. The impact of that would still not be enough to meaningfully reduce backlogs, given current trends.
This is not a realistic way to end the border crisis. The cause of the crisis is our asylum laws, not a lack of detention space. Without changes to the credible fear threshold, a revision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), and a renegotiation or review of the current interpretation of the Flores settlement agreement, asylum will continue to be a major loophole for determined illegal aliens, smugglers, and traffickers.
A Bloomberg Law article read that Rep. Salazar’s bill previews the immigration approach that Republicans may attempt in the 118th Congress, should they retake control of the House after the 2022 midterms. This would be a colossal mistake.
Regaining control of the southern border through meaningful changes to immigration law must be their first priority. Amnesty should be a nonstarter, and Rep. Salazar’s Dignity Act provides one far too large to counteract any positive provisions it contains.