Congress Has Many Immigration Issues to Address, Will Any Pass in 2017?
Legislative Update by: RJ Hauman
Congress returned to work last week facing a crowded agenda dominated by the need to fund the government beyond September 30, raise the debt ceiling, and approve emergency disaster relief funding to help states affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Additionally, the Republican-controlled Congress should pass legislation that furthers President Trump’s agenda and fulfills his campaign promises. Despite the unforgiving legislative calendar the rest of the year, below are three key immigration agenda items Congress may look to tackle in the coming months. Will any pass in 2017?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
The Trump administration’s decision to phase out President Obama’s executive amnesty program, properly returns to the issue to Congress. DACA is unconstitutional because Obama unilaterally altered the immigration status of 800,000 illegal aliens by exempting them from deportation and granting work authorization for renewable two year periods—authority that only Congress has. President Trump has hinted that he would sign an amnesty for DACA, legislation known as the DREAM Act, but it would have to be part of a broader package of true immigration reforms. The first DACA beneficiaries to lose their “protected status” will be on March 6, 2018, giving Congress a six-month window to come to the negotiating table and forge much-needed reforms to our nation’s immigration policy.
While the Trump administration has the leverage to push for increased border wall funding, mandatory E-Verify, and legal immigration reductions (such as those included in the RAISE Act) in exchange for codifying DACA, it is increasingly likely that Democrats will not accept any immigration restrictions in order to save the program. (Politico, Sept. 5, 2017) At the same time, pro-amnesty Republicans such as Gang of Eight Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) continue to undermine the White House by urging Congress to put a clean DREAM Act on the floor as early as this month. (Id.) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) cautioned against this approach, saying he does not believe a stand-alone bill granting legal status to DACA beneficiaries can pass Congress by itself. (Id.) In fact, the DREAM Act has been considered numerous times over the years as a standalone measure and has failed to become law every time. Grassley also reminded his colleagues that there is an “opportunity for compromise between people that want DACA plus a lot of other things dealing with legal immigration … even some things dealing with illegal immigration that can probably be packaged together.” (Id.) The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon hold a hearing on potential reforms related to DACA and other guest worker programs.
President Trump struck a deal with Congressional leaders to pass a three-month continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government and avoid hitting the debt ceiling until December 15. A consequence of this deal is that it effectively pushed the fight over a down payment for President Trump’s border wall until the end of the year when the CR runs out. (Politico, Sept. 5, 2017) “We’ve got a lot of busy things happening here,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said. (Id.) “We have to deal with [Hurricane] Harvey, we have the debt ceiling, we have a continuing resolution, which will be just about a three month continuing resolution. So you will deal with the wall a little later in the year.” (Id.) The White House and Congressional leadership hope a three-month stopgap will allow for a broader spending deal in December that funds the government with $1.6 billion for his key campaign promise. (Id.) However, Democrats continue to insist that wall funding is a non-starter, even as a potential bargaining chip to preserve DACA. (Id.) Something will have to give in December, with a government shutdown becoming more likely. “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” President Trump assured supporters at an Aug. 22 rally in Phoenix. (Washington Post, Aug. 23, 2017)
In late June, the House approved a pair of immigration enforcement bills—Kate’s Law by a vote of 256-167 (with 24 Democrats crossing the aisle) and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act by a vote of 228-195. (Roll Call 344; Roll Call 342) The bills, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and backed by the White House, seek to enhance public safety by punishing sanctuary cities and criminal aliens who re-enter the U.S. after deportation. (ImmigrationReform.com, June 30, 2017) While both pieces of legislation await a vote in the Senate, the House will likely move to consider the Davis-Oliver Act, a comprehensive enforcement bill that was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in May. (House Judiciary Committee Press Release, May 24. 2017) The bill—which President Trump reiterated his support for over the summer—aims to increase cooperation between federal and local officials in the enforcement of existing immigration laws. (See House Judiciary Committee One Pager) House leadership initially planned to schedule a vote on Davis-Oliver this month, but due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the timeline has changed.
To address immigration enforcement at the workplace, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) recently unveiled the latest iteration of his mandatory E-Verify legislation, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 3711). (Rep. Smith Press Release, Sept. 8, 2017) Specifically, the bill seeks to save jobs for citizens and legal workers by requiring U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system. (Id.) The system—operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—checks the social security numbers of newly hired employees against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records to help ensure that they are genuinely eligible to work in the U.S. (Id.) The Legal Workforce Act also has the full support of the Trump administration, which has been quietly laying the groundwork for national E-Verify through the budget process. (See White House Budget Blueprint) The House Judiciary Committee plans to markup (amend) the bill in the coming weeks.