While much of the attention surrounding immigration reform has been focused on S.744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the United States Senate, and awaiting possible consideration in the United States House of Representative, the House has already, on its own, passed five bills out of Committee that can now be taken up at any time for a floor vote. Here is a look at those five bills.
H.R. 1417 – The Border Security Results Act
This bill, introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) on April 9, 2013, would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a program that ensures, that within five years, at least 90 percent of all illegal border crossings along the southwestern U.S. border are apprehended. The bill also lays out several ways to measure how well security is improving along the border, such as measuring the amount of illicit drugs seized by Border Patrol agents. The bill was passed by the House Committee on Homeland Security on May 15, 2013 by a voice vote and is currently awaiting a vote in the full House.
This bill has some level of bipartisan support with 4 Democrats joining 16 Republicans in co-sponsoring the legislation. The proposal is especially popular among those Representatives who are concerned about the expense involved in implementing the border security plan in the Senate bill, which would cost roughly $46 billion to double the amount of Border Patrol agents and complete the southwestern border fence, among other things. The Senate plan crafted by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), is unpopular among both House Democrats and Republicans.
H.R. 2278 – The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act
This bill, introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on June 6, 2013, would give state and local law enforcement authorities the power to not only enforce federal immigration laws, but would also allow states to create their own immigration laws, as long they don’t conflict with federal laws. State and local law enforcement authorities would be given the power to arrest and charge immigrants for overstaying visas or entering the U.S. illegally and would make state agencies eligible for new federal grants to enforce these laws. Further, the proposal would make it a federal crime for undocumented immigrants to be in the United States. Additionally, an amendment added by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) would eliminated the Obama Administration’s ability to implement its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
This legislation would represent a major change in the nation’s immigration policy as it would directly overturn the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States which reaffirmed that states may not enact their own criminal penalties for violations of federal immigration law, even when the state law mirrors the federal provision. The proposal would also prevent the Obama Administration from continuing its policy of phasing out the 287(g) program, which allows federal agencies to delegate authority for immigration enforcement to state and local police.
On June 18, 2013, this legislation was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and referred to the full House where it is currently awaiting action. The bill is highly partisan and was passed out of Committee by a 20-15 straight party-line vote. Democrats have stood united in their opposition to this proposal, stating that it would dramatically expand the detention of undocumented immigrants and could lead to racial profiling.
H.R. 1773 – The Agricultural Guestworker Act
This bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on April 26, 2013, would allow foreign agricultural workers to temporarily come to the United States. The bill would allow immigrants to stay in the country for 18 – 36 months, depending on the position, to work in the agricultural industry. The cap is set at 500,000 visas but can be adjusted according to market needs. The proposal includes strong incentives for immigrant workers to leave the United States when their visas expire, such as a provision that requires employers to withhold 10% of workers’ wages in a government trust fund which they can retrieve only when they return to their home country. Unlike the agricultural guest worker provision in the Senate bill, this proposal would not create a path for these workers to gain permanent legal status in the United States.
On June 19, 2013, the bill was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a party-line vote of 20-16 and referred to the full House where it is currently awaiting action. It must also be noted that while no bill yet exists that would create a guest-worker program for industries other than agriculture, Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are currently working on legislation that would provide visas for unskilled temporary workers in other fields.
H.R. 2131 – The Skills Visa Act
This bill, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on May 23, 2013, would increase the number of visas available for high-skilled immigrants. This bill closely resembles the high-skill immigrant provisions in the Senate legislation. For instance, both bills would lift the current 65,000 cap on H-1B visas. This legislation would raise the cap to 155,000, with an additional 40,000 for immigrants who graduate from a U.S. university, while the Senate bill sets the cap is at 110,000 per year, with the possibility of raising it to 180,000 per year, and creates 25,000 more visas for immigrants who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. This House legislation also creates 55,000 green cards for immigrants with advanced degrees in these STEM fields from U.S. schools. Additionally, both proposals would create a new visa for entrepreneurs, capped at 10,000 per year. Both proposals seek to eliminate the diversity visa program to create these new visas.
On June 27, 2013, the bill was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a party-line vote of 20-14 and referred to the full House where it is currently awaiting action.
H.R. 1772 – The Legal Workforce Act
This bill, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) on April 26, 2013, would expand the current E-Verify program to all employers, phasing in the requirement depending on the size of the employer. For instance, the bill would require employers that have more than 10,000 workers to begin using E-Verify for all new hires within 6 months, while employers with less than 20 workers would have two years to comply. Under the Senate bill, all employers would have five years to begin using E-Verify.
The major difference between this bill and the Senate proposal is the trigger issue. The Senate bill requires E-Verify to be in place nationwide before current undocumented immigrants can obtain green cards. However, this House legislation requires E-Verify to be in place within five years, or all newly legalized immigrants will go back to an undocumented status.
On June 26, 2013, the bill was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a party-line vote of 22-9 and referred to the full House where it currently awaits further action.
Potential Dream Act Legislation
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is widely expected to introduce legislation which would give young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, and have completed some college or military service, a pathway to citizenship. In a June 30, 2013 interview, Rep. Cantor stated “[c]ertainly we ought to have the compassion to say these kids shouldn’t be kids without a country, and we ought to allow them the life that they deserve.”
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