Uncertain future for immigration bill in House

 House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The immigration debate is shifting to the Republican-led House, where lawmakers have shown little appetite for the large-scale, comprehensive approach their Senate colleagues embraced last week.

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Sunday that any attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation cannot offer a “special pathway to citizenship” for those in the United States illegally. Democrats have called that position a deal-breaker.

Meanwhile, both parties eyed the politics that could yield electoral victories or irrelevance among the growing Hispanic voting bloc.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said he does not foresee a proposal that could provide a simple mechanism for immigrants here illegally to earn full standing as U.S. citizens. His committee members have been working on bills that address individual concerns but have not written a comprehensive proposal to match the Senate’s effort.

A pathway to legal standing, similar to that of immigrants who have green cards, could be an option, he said.

Unacceptable, said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“No Democrat will vote for any bill without a path to citizenship,” said Schumer, who helped write the Senate immigration plan that passed that chamber last week.

The Senate bill would provide a long and difficult pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally, as well as tough measures to secure the border. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, 14 Republicans joined all Democratic senators and independents in the 68-32 vote.

In the Republican-led House, conservatives have stood opposed to any pathway to citizenship for those workers. House lawmakers have urged a piecemeal approach to the thorny issue instead of the Senate’s sweeping effort. House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out taking up the Senate bill and said the Republican-controlled chamber would chart its own version of the legislation with a focus on border security.

Illustrating the strong opposition among conservative lawmakers, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said flatly: “The Senate bill is not going to pass.”

If immigration falls, so too could the GOP’s national prospects.

Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and an author of the current Senate immigration bill, said “Speaker Boehner has a tough job ahead” to convince his caucus to act.

“Republicans realize the implications of the future of the Republican Party in America if we don’t get this issue behind us,” McCain said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi similarly predictied electoral doom if Republicans thwart the efforts to address the estimated 11 million immigrants now in the United States illegally. She said Republicans should follow the Senate’s lead “if they ever want to win a presidential race.”

“We wouldn’t even be where we are right now had it not been that 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama, voted Democratic in the last election,” Pelosi said. “That caused an epiphany in the Senate, that’s for sure. So, all of a sudden now, we have already passed comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. That’s a big victory.”

In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian-American voters. A thwarted immigration overhaul could again push those voting blocs toward the Democrats’ side.

If an immigration bill fails, Democrats stood ready to blame Boehner and his party.

“Will he allow a small group, maybe even a majority of his caucus, to control the debate and the future on this issue?” asked Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “If he decides to do that, we will then end in a stalemate and an impasse once again.”

Goodlatte and Gutierrez spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union.” Schumer, Gowdy and McCain were on “Fox News Sunday.” Pelosi was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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Senate passes immigration overhaul bill

en. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, two of the authors of the immigration reform bill crafted by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight," shakes hands on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 27, 2013, prior to the final vote. The historic legislation would dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system and require a tough new focus on border security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
en. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, two of the authors of the immigration reform bill crafted by the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” shakes hands on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 27, 2013, prior to the final vote. The historic legislation would dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system and require a tough new focus on border security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With a solemnity reserved for momentous occasions, the Senate passed historic legislation Thursday offering the priceless hope of citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in America’s shadows. The bill also promises a military-style effort to secure the long-porous border with Mexico.

The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda. But the bill’s prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where party leaders are jockeying for position in advance of expected action next month.

Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some onlookers erupted in chants of “Yes, we can” after Vice President Joe Biden announced the vote result.

After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome. Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill.

In the final hours of debate, members of the so-called Gang of 8, the group that drafted the measure, frequently spoke in personal terms while extolling the bill’s virtues, rebutting its critics — and appealing to the House members who turn comes next.

“Do the right thing for America and for your party,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who said his mother emigrated to the United States from Cuba. “Find common ground. Lean away from the extremes. Opt for reason and govern with us.”

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said those seeking legal status after living in the United States illegally must “pass a background check, make good on any tax liability and pay a fee and a fine.” There are other requirements before citizenship can be obtained, he noted.

He, too, spoke from personal experience, recalling time he spent as a youth working alongside family members and “undocumented migrant labor, largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much more difficult than we endured.”

Since then, he said, “I have harbored a feeling of admiration and respect for those who have come to risk life and limb and sacrifice so much to provide a better life for themselves and their families.”

The bill’s opponents were unrelenting, if outnumbered.

“We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our country’s history at a time when unemployment is high and the Congressional Budget Office has told us that average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross national product per capita will decline for 25-plus years, that unemployment will go up,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

“The amnesty will occur, but the enforcement is not going to occur, and the policies for future immigration are not serving the national interest.”

But with a weeklong July 4 congressional vacation looming, the bill’s foes agreed to permit the final vote one day before Senate rules mandated it.

In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of gridlock on immigration. The shift began taking shape quickly after the 2012 presidential election, when numerous Republican leaders concluded the party must show a more welcoming face to Hispanic voters who had given Obama more than 70 percent of their support.

Even so, division among Republicans was evident as potential 2016 presidential contenders split. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was one of the Gang of 8, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas were opposed to the bill.

The legislation’s chief provisions includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration — some added in a late compromise that swelled Republican support for the bill — and to check on the legal status of job applicants already living in the United States. At the same time, it offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.

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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Can the rabid right-wing GOP stop immigration reform?

House Speaker John Boehner  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Republicans are split over the immigration bill steaming toward approval at week’s end, a divide that renders the ultimate fate of White House-backed legislation unpredictable in the House and complicates the party’s ability to broaden its appeal among Hispanic voters.

To some Republicans, the strength of Senate GOP support for the bill is all but irrelevant to its prospects in the House. Conservatives there hold a majority and generally oppose a core provision in the Senate measure, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Any such impact is “greatly overrated,” said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who previously served as chief vote counter for House Republicans.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered a different view. A Senate vote on Monday to toughen border security with thousands of new agents and billions of dollars in technology “obviously makes final legislation more likely,” the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee said on CBS.

One prominent Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, also says House sentiment can be changed, particularly through the addition of strong border security measures of the kind that resulted from negotiations with previously uncommitted Republicans.

“I believe a large bipartisan vote will wake up our colleagues … in the House,” Schumer said shortly before the Senate inserted a requirement for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents and a total of 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico.

“Hopefully, as congressmen look how their senators voted, they will be influenced by it.”

In the key Senate showdown so far, 15 Republicans voted to advance the legislation that toughens border security at the same time it creates a chance at citizenship for 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. Another 27 voted to keep the bill bottled up.

Republicans who voted to block the legislation generally did so after saying it would not deliver on its promise of operational control of the border.

“When you look at it, it doesn’t, and they know it,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said of the bill’s backers, who quickly disputed the charge.

A political pattern emerged, as well.

Among Republicans who are seeking a new term next year and as a result face the risk of a primary challenge, only three voted with supporters of the measure. Eight did not, a group that includes the party’s two top leaders in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, as well as Sessions, who has been one of the bill’s principal opponents across three weeks of debate.

While party leaders long have looked to immigration legislation as a way to broaden appeal among Hispanic voters, individual members of Congress report a different perspective.

“It’s hard to argue with the polling they’ve been getting from the national level,” Texas Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant said recently, referring to polls that show support for border security along with legalization. Yet in his own district in the suburbs west of Dallas, he said, proposals along the lines of the Senate bill are “very unpopular.”

The party’s potential presidential contenders also are split, likely a harbinger of a struggle in the campaign for the 2016 nomination.

Two of them, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, oppose the legislation.

For his part, Cruz took a verbal poke at fellow Republicans in remarks on the Senate floor on Monday, saying that some senators in each parties “very much want a fig leaf” on border security to justify a vote for the measure.

Yet one Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, is a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group that helped draft the bill. Among its provisions are several that impose conditions on immigrants seeking legal status, including payment of fines, pay outstanding taxes and undergo a background check.

In recent months, Rubio has sought to reorder the political circumstances rhetorically, asserting that the status quo amounts to “de facto amnesty” for those in the country illegally since it is unlikely they will be forced to leave. The phrasing marks an attempt to neutralize long-time claims that legalization confers amnesty. Increasing numbers of Republicans now employ similar rhetoric.

Among the unknowns is how much impact Rubio and the other Republicans in the Gang of Eight — Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — will have on House Republicans whose votes will determine the fate of legislation to overhaul the immigration system.

Rubio has met with members of the House Republican leadership as well as with Ryan and members of the conservative Republican Study Group.

Among House Republicans, supporters of legalization in any form, citizenship or otherwise, is scarce, although Blunt predicted there would be “an incredible amount of reasonableness” on that subject once lawmakers thought the border had truly been secured.

The House Judiciary Committee has approved two immigration bills recently, one of which echoes Mitt Romney’s suggestion in the 2012 presidential campaign that immigrants “self-deport” if they are in the country illegally. It encourages immigrants living in the United States to “depart voluntarily” at their own expense.

Neither of the bills cleared by the committee offers the prospect of legalization for immigrants in the country illegally, either citizenship or a step short of it.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pledged not to bring legislation to the floor for a vote that does not have the support of at least half the GOP lawmakers in the chamber, a commitment made under pressure from restive conservatives that virtually rules out any measure envisioning legalization.

Some GOP lawmakers are hoping no immigration bill passes, to avoid the possibility of a final compromise with the Senate that goes further than they want.

Boehner also has said the entire House will “work its will” on the issue. It’s a comment that takes into account the potential impact of House Democrats, some of whom are already clamoring for a chance to vote on the bill that clears the Senate this week.

Republicans command a 234-201 majority, meaning that as few as 17 GOP defections could change the outcome of any vote.

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Associated Press writers Chuck Babington, Donna Cassata and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Some Republicans admit: ‘We’re in a death spiral as a party’

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.    (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Republicans continued their march towards irrelevancy Tuesday by passing strict abortion-restricting legislation that will never become law and reiterating their opposition to relaxing laws against immigration.

As America moves towards the moderate center and embraces gay marriage, open borders and freedom of choice for women, the rabid right-wing that controls the GOP continues to fly in the face of public opinion and tolerance.

“You would think that consistent losses at the polls would show Republicans just how out of step their party is with the majority of the nation,” pollster Shane Wills told Capitol Hill Blue Tuesday.  “It looks like they will have to lose more and more elections to get the point, assuming of course they ever do.”

The party of the elephant appears unfazed by the fact that their Presidential candidates have lost the popular vote in five out of the last six elections.  They ignore polls that show their ultra-conservative views alienating more and more voters.

“The party has become a puppet of the right wing,” says longtime GOP voter Sandra Goodsen in Missouri.  “I find myself voting less and less Republican in each election.”

The party itself is split between those who feel moderation is the path to victory and a return to the White House but their efforts are often stymied by the hard-core right wing that controls the House of Representatives and the GOP leadership.

“In the GOP, the wackos are in charge,” says former Republican Andrew Luskshire, who became an independent after the 2012 election.  “I can no longer be part of a party controlled repressive conservatives.”

The anti-abortion bill passed by the GOP-controlled House will go nowhere in the Senate,  where the Democratic party maintains the edge.  House Republicans also want to put the brakes on efforts to give illegal immigrants currently living in America a chance at citizenship.

“Odd, isn’t it,” says political activist Sandra Sullivan. “We are a nation founded by immigrants who now live in a nation where Republicans want to limit immigration.”

Recent polls show most Americans feel the Republican party is wrong with its strident opposition to gay marriage, women’s rights and immigration.

Some Republicans agree.  Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said of his party: “We’re in a  demographic death spiral as a party.”

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Rubio trying to round up support on immigration bill

Sen. Marco Rubio  (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
Sen. Marco Rubio (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Senate debate on a far-reaching immigration bill is becoming a test of Sen. Marco Rubio‘s influence over fellow Republicans, as the Florida conservative works to sell GOP lawmakers on landmark legislation that also may help determine the fate of his presidential ambitions.

Rubio, a tea party favorite who’s acted as the bill’s emissary to the conservative community, has spent recent weeks meeting individually with Republican senators to discuss strengthening the legislation in ways that could get them on board. That included supporting changes sought by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who outlined a tough border security amendment Wednesday in The Dallas Morning News.

Rubio was to address House conservatives Wednesday, and he’s been promoting the legislation with numerous TV and radio appearances. On Tuesday alone, he showed up on Fox News Channel, CNBC and Hugh Hewitt‘s talk radio show.

At the same time he’s been making immigration advocates uneasy by issuing demands for stronger border security provisions in the legislation, including giving Congress more authority to write a border security plan instead of the Homeland Security Department. Rubio says he won’t support the bill without such changes, and it won’t be able to pass.

“If we can pass a measure that ensures that we will never again have another wave of illegal immigration, I believe we will have immigration reform. And if we do not pass that, if that does not happen, I believe there will not be immigration reform. It’s as simple as that,” Rubio said on Hewitt’s show.

For Rubio, it’s part of the balancing act he’s been performing all year since joining more seasoned legislators like Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as part of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who authored the immigration bill. His challenge is to maintain the support of the tea party backers who lend him credibility and leverage in the immigration debate, while also getting credit for pushing a landmark piece of legislation that’s opposed by many in the tea party but is a priority to the Latino voters who increasingly help determine the outcome of presidential elections.

“He speaks their language, he’s been one of them this entire time, he was a tea party favorite from the beginning,” said Rebecca Tallent, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and a former aide to McCain. “Will he take some responsibility if they can’t build a large coalition in the Senate? Absolutely. But so will the rest of the gang members.”

The legislation, a priority for President Barack Obama, aims to boost border security and workplace enforcement, transform legal immigrant and worker programs and put some 11 million immigrants here illegally on a path to citizenship.

As the only author of the bill with the bona fides to sell it to conservatives, Rubio’s been seen for months as key to its passage.

In recent weeks, Rubio’s efforts have been largely behind the scenes as the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Rubio is not a member, debated the legislation before approving it on a bipartisan vote. Now, with the full Senate set to take up the bill next week, Rubio’s about to assume a more public role. His performance may spell success or failure for the bill and for his own political prospects as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

Rubio and other backers of the bill are working to build support for the legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate, convinced that a resounding vote that includes many Republicans would pressure the GOP-led House to act.

But for now, while support is all but assured from a large majority of the Senate’s 54-member Democratic caucus (including two independents), only Rubio, McCain and the two other Republicans who helped write the bill — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona — are definite “yes” votes among the GOP. On “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday, Rubio said the bill wouldn’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate without improvements.

Working with a list of 15 to 20 Republican senators who potentially could be persuaded to vote for the bill, Rubio’s been meeting individually with lawmakers to hear their concerns. He supported Cornyn’s efforts on an amendment to enact tough new border requirements, including a biometric exit system at all airports and seaports, before any immigrant here illegally could achieve permanent legal residence. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Tuesday they’d met with Rubio to discuss their concerns over border security and enforcement, and Portman said he was weighing amendments to address them.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wrote an opinion piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last weekend in which he seemed open to the bill if improvements could be made and discussed meeting with Rubio to make them.

“He’s done a great job selling this to conservative talk show hosts and others in the conservative community,” McCain said.

But Rubio’s moves unsettle liberals who fear that the insistence on establishing new border requirements first could end up making the path to citizenship unachievable.

“I just hope he doesn’t think he can give away the store and count on the kind of unified Democratic support we have now,” said Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group.

One change Rubio has focused on would give Congress, instead of the Homeland Security Department, a bigger role in creating a border security plan since many Republicans are skeptical of the Obama administration’s commitment to enforcing border security. As he described it on Hewitt’s show Tuesday, the plan would be legislated as part of the immigration bill, although other Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have discussed having Congress vote on whether the border has been secured.

“People don’t want to just turn it over to the Homeland Security Department to come up with a plan,” Rubio said. “They want the plan to be laid out specifically with real measurables, and I think that’s a good approach and so we’re working with members now to do that.”

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Immigration vote set for Senate committee this week

Sen. Orrin Hatch. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Sen. Orrin Hatch. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming this week to pass a landmark immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions, setting up a high-stakes debate on the Senate floor.

First, the committee must resolve a few remaining disputes.

One involves amendments over high-skilled immigrant visas sought by the high-tech industry but opposed by labor unions. The bill as written increases the availability of these visas, but includes restrictions aimed at ensuring U.S. workers get the first crack at jobs. Silicon Valley companies view some of the restrictions as too onerous and are lobbying to soften them.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, seen as a swing vote on the committee, is on the side of the high-tech industry, while Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is championing the labor position. Lawmakers and lobbyists have been trying to find a compromise that could win Hatch’s support for the overall bill without alienating Durbin, one of its authors.

There’s also a disagreement over whether gay Americans should be given the right to sponsor their foreign-born spouses for green cards like straight Americans can. Gay rights groups are pressuring Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to offer an amendment allowing this, but Republican authors of the immigration bill insist that they’ll abandon their support for their legislation if such a measure is included.

Both disputes were put off until last week as lawmakers negotiated behind the scenes and weighed their options. The three public work sessions the Judiciary Committee held over the last two weeks featured little suspense, as committee members waded through some of the 300 amendments that were filed to the bipartisan bill. The legislation seeks to dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system and allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country.

Committee members accepted a number of Republican-sought changes to the bill, including provisions tightening up border security. But majority Democrats and the two Republican committee members who helped write the legislation — Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — fended off major changes, branded “poison pills,” that could jeopardize the delicate compromises at its core.

This week, in addition to the high-tech and gay marriage disputes, amendments will focus on the crucial sections of the bill dealing with the 13-year path to citizenship the legislation offers the 11 million people in this country who are here illegally.

Democrats have the votes to ensure committee passage of the legislation by the end of the week, before Congress breaks for its Memorial Day recess. The outcome is less certain on the Senate floor, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised the measure will be considered in June. Less certain still is the outcome in the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has not said publicly how or when he’ll proceed with bringing immigration legislation to a vote.

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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Immigration deal reached in House

Speaker of the House John Boehner REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Speaker of the House John Boehner
REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Prospects for passage of a major immigration bill improved on Thursday when a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives declared they had reached a tentative deal, resolving disputes that had threatened to torpedo negotiations.

The breakthrough came at the end of a two-hour private meeting of seven Republican and Democratic negotiators. The eighth negotiator in this so-called House Gang of Eight was unavailable after undergoing surgery on Wednesday.

The final sticking point, according to congressional sources, was over whether illegal immigrants now in the United States who gain legal status under the bill could participate in the new healthcare law known as “Obamacare,” which Republicans want to repeal.

None of the negotiators would comment on how the matter was resolved. Nor would they provide other details of the deal.

Even with Thursday’s breakthrough, the drive to enact a comprehensive immigration bill, which is President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority, faces a long, difficult road in Congress.

The agreement still must be drafted into legislation for review by the 435 members of the House. Then it faces a potentially tough battle in the House Judiciary Committee, where several conservative Republicans have been dead-set against a comprehensive bill. Instead, they mostly want to pass tougher border security measures and allow U.S. companies to get better access to foreign high-tech workers.

Any proposal to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million people now in the United States illegally, which is part of a Senate bill, is certain to draw fierce opposition from some Republican quarters.

Furthermore, the House bill will not fully conform to the measure winding its way through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

JUST A ‘FIRST STEP’

“There are going to be a lot of differences in a lot of areas” between the House and Senate bills, said Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, one of the House negotiators.

The tentative deal, he added, is “the first step of a difficult process. But it’s a very important step.”

Diaz-Balart would not say whether the deal includes an agreement to leave some difficult issues unresolved for now.

Besides healthcare questions, the bipartisan group had been squabbling over the future flow of foreigners streaming into the United States for temporary workers.

“We have essentially come to an agreement on all the major points,” Democratic Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky told reporters after closed-door meeting broke up. He added that some “loose ends” still had to be worked out.

The bipartisan group has been attempting to introduce an immigration bill for years. But disputes over border security, work visa numbers and healthcare provisions had grown to the point that there were fears some lawmakers might be on the verge of dropping out of the long negotiations.

The group had also been arguing over the “triggers” that would define when additional border security steps under the legislation would be sufficient to start legalizing some of the 11 million unauthorized foreigners, sources said.

There was also disagreement over several other policy issues central to an immigration bill, including the number of foreign high-tech workers who would be allowed in, as well as low-skilled construction and service industry laborers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of debating that chamber’s bipartisan bill, with the goal of bringing a bill before the full Senate next month.

That panel is struggling with the work visa program in the bill and is under intense pressure from technology companies to make it easier to hire foreign workers.

One of the members of the House group, Republican John Carter, told reporters on Thursday that there was no way the Senate bill would pass the Republican-controlled House.

Immediately following the November 6 elections, in which Hispanic voters roundly rejected Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner called on his party to pivot on immigration.

After years of blocking moves to put the 11 million on a pathway to citizenship that many conservatives call “amnesty,” Boehner, the top elected U.S. Republican, urged his party to work for a major revamp of immigration laws.

Boehner’s call for action angered many of his most conservative rank-and-file Republican House members, as well as some conservative interest groups. As a result, it is unclear how Boehner will navigate between his desire to accomplish an immigration bill and resistance from many fellow Republicans.

Earlier on Thursday, before the bipartisan deal, Boehner expressed concerns about the lack of progress in the House so far. He added, “I continue to believe that the House … needs to work its will. How we get there, we’re still dealing with it.”

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Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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A battle royal slated on immigration

 A security guard stands guard near immigrants during a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles.. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
A security guard stands guard near immigrants during a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles.. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

The Congress this week opens its first debate in six years on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, testing whether business and labor groups can hold together on a delicately crafted deal that already is under attack.

For 11 million illegal residents, the legislation in the Senate is their best hope of removing the threat of deportation and charting a path to eventual U.S. citizenship after a major push in Congress to reform a 1986 law died in 2007.

The ambitious bill would put more federal dollars into strengthening the southwestern U.S. border against illegal crossings and aims to revamp a dated visa system so that more foreign workers – high- and low-skilled – could enter.

But in a preview of the tough fight ahead, the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday released a study concluding that the legislation would end up costing the U.S. government $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years as illegal immigrants become citizens and thus eligible for government programs.

The study was quickly attacked by other conservatives, who said it failed to take into account the economic benefits of legalizing the 11 million people.

Amendments to the 844-page bipartisan bill, the product of months of negotiations, were flowing into the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin considering the measure on Thursday.

If its backers including President Barack Obama get their way, the legislation will emerge from the committee later this month positioned for approval by an overwhelming majority in the full Senate.

But first, groups ranging from gay rights activists to construction industry representatives are converging on Capitol Hill, trying to win changes.

“Every lobbyist who has any interest in immigration reform is going to be all over the Hill,” said Emily Lam, of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents high-tech companies such as eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo! as well as other companies such as Citibank and Verizon.

In the first quarter of 2013, 500 organizations and companies registered to lobby on immigration. A sampling includes the Commissioner of Baseball, MGM Resorts , the U.S. Olympic Committee, Perdue Farms, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and a variety of companies in the business of secure identification, such as Cogent, a 3M Company .

The lobbying activity has the eight senators who wrote the bill – four Democrats and four Republicans – nervous that any change could unravel the entire effort.

But that is not discouraging lobbyists from trying.

The construction industry and other business representatives plan to push for increases in the number of low-skilled foreign workers they would be allowed to hire. If successful at any stage of a complicated legislative process, organized labor’s support for the bill could erode amid fears the bill would undercut American workers.

Several business groups also are concerned about E-Verify, a system for checking the legal status of workers. All businesses would be required to use it for new hires. Businesses do not object to the mandate but want to make sure they are not held liable if the system turns up erroneous information.

ANGLING FOR A BIG VOTE

Meanwhile, gay-rights activists want the legislation to allow U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced the same-sex partner provision as a separate measure earlier this year, along with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Immigrants’ rights groups expect him to offer it as an amendment to the immigration bill.

Including such an amendment “will virtually guarantee that it (the bill) won’t pass” the Senate, said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the eight senators who wrote the legislation.

He made the prediction in an interview last week with the newspaper Politico.

If any of the controversial amendments do clear the Senate Judiciary Committee, they could complicate strategists’ efforts for a resounding vote in the full 100-member Senate.

Anything less than 70 votes for passage, they fear, may not be enough to build the type of momentum needed to get the measure through the more resistant Republican-led House of Representatives.

“Seventy (Senate) votes would give the bill a big boost,” a senior Senate aide said. “Less than 70 wouldn’t kill it, but it would make it a heavier lift.”

The strategy of building a big Senate vote to help create momentum to get legislation through the House worked twice before this year: Once on a bill to avert “the fiscal cliff” of steep, across-the-board tax hikes, and also on a measure to renew a landmark law combating domestic violence against women.

The Senate passed the two measures on bipartisan votes of 89-8 and 78-22, respectively.

In both cases, House Speaker John Boehner cleared the way for passage even though a majority of his Republican lawmakers were not on board.

House Speakers generally do not like passing bills opposed by the members of their own party and if they do it too often, it could stir up a political firestorm.

But with the growing number of Hispanic-Americans becoming more influential in U.S. elections, Boehner has expressed support for immigration reform, though he has not endorsed the Senate bill.

“Boehner could decide to save Republicans from themselves by allowing immigration reform to pass,” said Ron Bonjean, a former House Republican leadership aide turned political strategist. “And it could cost him the speakership,” he added.

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Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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Illegal immigration declines

(AP)

The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. has dropped for the first time in two decades — decreasing by 8 percent since 2007, a new study finds. The reasons range from the sour economy to Mexican violence and increased U.S. enforcement that has made it harder to sneak across the border.

Much of the decline comes from a sharp drop-off in illegal immigrants from the Caribbean, Central America and South America attempting to cross the southern border of the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, which based its report on an analysis of 2009 census data.

The findings come amid bitter debate over Arizona’s strict new immigration law, which was passed earlier this year but is on hold for now as it is challenged in federal court. The Obama administration contends the state law usurps federal authority and promotes racial profiling, while Arizona leaders say states are justified to step in if federal enforcement falls substantially short.

The study released Wednesday estimates that 11.1 million illegal immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2009. That represents a decrease of roughly 1 million, or 8 percent, from a peak of 12 million in 2007.

The study puts the number of illegal immigrants down to about where it was in 2005. They still make up roughly 4 percent of the U.S. population.

The Homeland Security Department’s own estimate of illegal immigrants is slightly lower, at 10.8 million. The government uses a different census survey that makes some year-to-year comparisons difficult.

An increase in unauthorized immigrants leaving the U.S., by deportation or for economic reasons, may have played a factor in the falling number.

In recent years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported an increasing number of illegal immigrants, reaching a high last year of more than 389,000 people, according to government figures.

States in the Southeast and Southwest saw some of the biggest declines in the number of illegal immigrants from 2008 to 2009, including Florida, Nevada and Virginia. Arizona saw a decrease, but it was too small to be statistically significant.

It’s hard to figure out how much of the decline to attribute to the bad economy and how much to federal immigration enforcement, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew who co-wrote the analysis.

“They’re certainly acting together,” he said. Passel said illegal immigrants now find it more expensive and dangerous to cross into the U.S. and also have less incentive to do so given the languishing job market in construction and other low-wage industries.

The Pew analysis found the sharpest decline — 22 percent — among illegal immigrants from Latin American countries other than Mexico. This may reflect a lesser-known aspect of the immigration debate that broke into the news again last week when the bodies of 72 Central and South American migrants were found in a cartel stronghold in northern Mexico: Thousands of non-Mexicans go missing on their way to the United States, falling victim to demands that they pay impossible ransoms to criminal gangs that control access to the U.S. border.

“While people are arguing the government is not stopping illegal immigration, our data suggests the flow of undocumented immigrants sneaking into the country has dropped dramatically,” Passel said.

The estimates by Pew will add to the political back-and-forth on immigration reform.

President Barack Obama, who is challenging the Arizona law, has pledged to push an overhaul of federal immigration law but has declined to set a timeline.

After the passage of Arizona’s immigration law, more than a dozen states were considering similar legislation or have issued legal opinions aimed at strengthening immigration enforcement. They include Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and Utah.

Boosted by immigration and high numbers of births among Latinos, minorities now make up roughly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which they are projected to become the majority of Americans by mid-century. Roughly one in four counties currently have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point.

Still, the Census Bureau has made clear that projected minority growth — particularly among Hispanics — could change substantially depending on immigration policies and the economy.

Other Pew findings:

_The states with the highest percentage of illegal immigrants were California (6.9 percent), Nevada (6.8 percent), Texas (6.5 percent) and Arizona (5.8 percent). The numbers are expected to play an important factor in whether those states lose or gain fewer U.S. House seats than expected after the 2010 census.

_Illegal immigrants make up about 28 percent of the foreign-born population in the U.S., down from 31 percent in 2007.

_The unemployment rate for illegal immigrants in March 2009 was 10.4 percent — higher than that of U.S.-born workers or legal immigrants, who had unemployment of 9.2 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate of welcoming more immigrants to the U.S., said he was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“It exemplifies what I’ve been saying all along,” Bloomberg told reporters. “Not totally, but generally, people come here from around the world — whether they come here legally or illegally — to work, to build a better life for themselves and for their families. And when our economy is down, it’s just tougher to get a job.”

The Pew analysis is based on census data through March 2009. Because the Census Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status, the estimate on illegal immigrants is derived largely by subtracting the estimated legal immigrant population from the total foreign-born population. It is a method that has been used by the government and Pew for many years and is generally accepted.

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Associated Press writer Sara Kugler Frazier in New York contributed to this report.

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Online:

Pew Hispanic Center: http://pewhispanic.org/

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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Immigration ruling sends ‘hands off’ message to states

(AP)

States that had been watching Arizona’s immigration law in hopes of copying it received a rude awakening when a judge put most of the measure on hold and agreed with the Obama administration’s core argument that immigration enforcement is the role of the federal government.

The ruling marked a repudiation of the Arizona law as U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton indicated that the government has a good chance at succeeding in its argument that federal immigration law trumps state law. It was an important first-round victory for the government in a fight that may not be settled until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in.

But opponents of the law said the ruling sends a strong message to other states hoping to replicate the law. “Surely it’s going to make states pause and consider how they’re drafting legislation and how it fits in a constitutional framework,” Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, told the Associated Press. “The proponents of this went into court saying there was no question that this was constitutional, and now you have a federal judge who’s said ‘hold on, there’s major issues with this bill.'”

He added: “So this idea that this is going to be a blueprint for other states is seriously in doubt. The blueprint is constitutionally flawed.”

Gov. Jan Brewer called Wednesday’s decision “a bump in the road” and vowed to appeal. The key sponsor of Arizona’s law, Republican Rep. Russell Pearce, said the judge was wrong and predicted that the state would ultimately win the case.

In her temporary injunction, Bolton delayed the most contentious provisions of the law, including a section that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. She also barred enforcement of parts requiring immigrants to carry their papers and banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places — a move aimed at day laborers that congregate in large numbers in parking lots across Arizona. The judge also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.

“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,” said Bolton, a Clinton appointee who was assigned the seven lawsuits filed against Arizona over the law.

Other provisions that were less contentious were allowed to take effect Thursday morning, including a section that bars cities in Arizona from disregarding federal immigration laws.

The 11th-hour ruling came just as police were preparing to begin enforcement of a law that has drawn international attention and revived the national immigration debate in a year when Democrats are struggling to hold on to seats in Congress.

The ruling was anxiously awaited in the U.S. and beyond. About 100 protesters in Mexico City who had gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy broke into applause when they learned of the ruling. They had been monitoring the news on a laptop computer. Mariana Rivera, a 36-year-old from Zacatecas, Mexico who is living in Phoenix on a work permit, said she heard the news live on a Spanish-language news program.

“I was waiting to hear because we’re all very worried about everything that’s happening,” said Rivera, who phoned friends and family with the news. “Even those with papers, we don’t go out at night at certain times there’s so much fear (of police). You can’t just sit back and relax.”

Lawmakers or candidates in as many as 18 states say they want to push similar measures when their legislative sessions start up again in 2011. Some lawmakers pushing the legislation said they would not be daunted by the ruling and plan to push ahead in response to what they believe is a scourge that needs to be tackled.

Arizona is the nation’s epicenter of illegal immigration, with more than 400,000 undocumented residents. The state’s border with Mexico is awash with smugglers and drugs that funnel narcotics and immigrants throughout the U.S., and the influx of illegal migrants drains vast sums of money from hospitals, education and other services.

“We’re going to have to look and see,” said Idaho state Sen. Monty Pearce, a second cousin of Russell Pearce and a supporter of immigration reform in his state. “Nobody had dreamed up, two years ago, the Arizona law, and so everybody is looking for that crack where we can get something done, where we can turn the clock back a little bit and get our country back.”

Kris Kobach, the University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the law and train Arizona police officers in immigration law, conceded the ruling weakens the force of Arizona’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants. He said it will likely be a year before a federal appeals court decides the case.

“It’s a temporary setback,” Kobach said. “The bottom line is that every lawyer in Judge Bolton’s court knows this is just the first pitch in a very long baseball game.”

In the meantime, other states like Utah will likely take up similar laws, possibly redesigned to get around Bolton’s objections.

“The ruling … should not be a reason for Utah to not move forward,” said Utah state Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican from Herriman City, who said he plans to co-sponsor a bill similar to Arizona’s next year and wasn’t surprised it was blocked. “For too long the states have cowered in the corner because of one ruling by one federal judge.”

The core of the government’s case is that federal immigration law trumps state law — an issue known as “pre-emption” in legal circles and one that dates to the founding of America. In her ruling, Bolton pointed out five portions of the law where she believed the federal government would likely succeed on its claims.

The Justice Department argued in court that the law was unconstitutional and that allowing states to push their own measures would lead to a patchwork of immigration laws across the nation and disrupt a carefully balanced approach crafted by Congress.

Arizona argues that the federal government has failed to secure the border, and that it has a right to take matters into its own hands.

For now, the federal government has the upper-hand in the dispute, by virtue of the strength of its arguments and the precedent on the pre-emption issue. The Bush administration successfully used the pre-emption argument to win consumer product cases, and judges in other jurisdictions have looked favorably on the argument in immigration disputes.

“This is clearly a significant victory for the Justice Department and a defeat for the sponsors of this law,” said Peter Spiro, a constitutional law professor at Temple University who has studied immigration law extensively. “They will not win on this round of appeals. They’ll get a shot after a trial and a final ruling by Judge Bolton.”

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Associated Press Writers Paul Davenport and Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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