Updates: Congressional v. Administrative Actions Addressing Immigration Reform

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Updates: Congressional v. Administrative Actions Addressing Immigration Reform

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Contributed by Amber L. Blasingame, Associate Attorney, Colorado Springs

The swearing in of a Republican-controlled congress significantly diminishes the probability of a comprehensive immigration reform bill and intensifies the immigration debate on Capitol Hill. On January 14, 2015, Republicans in the House passed a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill with five different amendments intending to impede implementation of President Obama’s Executive Actions announced November 20, 2014. And looking forward, Congress has already begun to introduce fragmented legislation proposing to reform immigration enforcement measures and business immigration legislation, while opposing relief to undocumented individuals presently residing in the United States.

If Congress does not pass an appropriations or funding bill for DHS with President Obama’s approval, then DHS may be facing a shutdown on February 27, 2015. In January, the House of Representatives past an appropriations bill with several amendments attacking the President’s Executive Actions announced in November 2014. Representatives Aderholt, Mulvaney, and Barletta introduced an amendment that effectively would defund the implementation of the President’s Executive Action, including the enforcement memorandums which went into effect on January 5, 2015. Representative Blackburn’s amendment to the bill would prevent extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program and possibly end current DACA benefits. Representatives DeSantis and Roby proposed an amendment that on the surface appears to protect victims of domestic violence, but in reality not only proposes repetitive protections for victims but increases the chances of a victim’s deportation, limits the agency’s authority to establish enforcement priorities based on public safety and national security, and prevents the implementation of the November 20, 2014, Executive Action. Representative Schock’s amendment accuses US Citizenship and Immigration Services of raising the needs of undocumented immigrants above those “following proper immigration laws and procedures,” and encourages the agency to terminate adjudication of all applications submitted by undocumented aliens. Shock’s amendment, if followed, would result in hindering benefits for asylees, victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and serious crimes, inadvertent overstays, and the spouses and immediate relatives of Military service personnel. As of January 15, 2015, it is unknown how the Senate will vote on the House’s appropriations bill. While opposed to the President’s Executive Action, Senate Whip John Cornyn assured the public that shutting down DHS was “off the table.”

Also, in January, both sides of congress announced bills addressing enforcement and employment based immigration reforms. Representative McCaul reintroduced a version of an earlier proposed enforcement bill, the Secure Our Borders First Act, on January 16, 2015. Congressman McCaul declared that the administration had thus far “failed” to secure the country’s borders and “failure is not an option.” His bill offers the “toughest border security bill ever before Congress.” In addition to building fencing and implementing technology along the borders, the bill requires 100{b6b8f04f7bd4b863c4cfed8339fd19419bda3e071c79bc5ac8c810cb9c52e30f} “operational control” of the southwest border within five years at the risk of non-compliance penalties as affirmed by a government appointed commission. On the other side of the debate, on January 13, 2015, seven Senators introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 (“I-Squared”). As proposed, I-Squared would increase the H-1B Cap from the current 65,000 to a minimum of 115,000 and permit the cap to fluctuate based on market demand up to a maximum of 195,000, as well as eliminating the 20,000 cap for H-1B petitions on behalf of beneficiary’s with advanced degrees earned in the United States. The bill also proposes to authorize employment authorization for H-4 dependents, extends “dual intent” to foreign students, recaptures unused “green card” or visa numbers, exempts certain individuals from the employment based “green card” quotas including derivative family members, STEM U.S. advanced degree recipients, aliens of extraordinary ability, and outstanding professors and researchers, modifies annual per-country limits for both employment and family based green card petitioners, and increases fees for H-1B and employment based green cards to create grant funding for STEM education and training.

While Congress continues to debate the President’s Executive Action, DHS is pushing forward to meet the February 20, 2015, deadline to expand DACA, and the May 20, 2015, implementation of DAPA. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reviewing detained removal cases and as of December 2014, released about 600 individuals eligible for DAPA and expanded DACA. Implementation of enforcement priorities effective January 5, 2015, is unclear at present. Much of the uncertainty arises from the lawsuit, Texas v. United States, brought by over 20 state attorney generals and governors currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

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