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July 01, 2013

Fate of immigration reform uncertain following Senate passage of its plan

The fate of immigration overhaul legislation remained uncertain this month following Senate passage June 27 of a comprehensive package and House committee action on separate targeted bills.

After the Senate’s 68-32 vote in favor of its bill, S. 744, ABA President Laurel G. Bellows applauded the Senate for making “bipartisan concrete progress” toward immigration reform. In correspondence to all senators June 26, Bellows said the bill, while not perfect, would implement steps toward accomplishing the goals of enhancing border and national security, realistically and humanely addressing the undocumented population and the need for immigrant labor, preserving family unity, and protecting the tradition of due process and judicial review.

Provisions in the bill supported by the ABA to enhance the fairness and efficiency of the immigration adjudication and detention system include the following: increasing access to counsel in immigration proceedings for the most vulnerable noncitizens such as children and the mentally disabled; increasing resources for the immigration court system; expanding the federal Legal Orientation Program; increasing the use of alternatives to detention; and enhancing oversight of conditions in detention facilities.

The bill also would implement a legalization program with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States and incorporate the ABA-supported DREAM Act, which provides an opportunity for young people brought to this country as children to earn legal status through higher education or service in the military.

Bellows called on the House to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, saying that the “nation does not need a perfect bill; we need a realistic strategy to bring millions out of the shadows.”

In the House, as a bipartisan group of representatives works on a plan to be unveiled following the August recess, separate immigration bills have garnered committee approval. None of the bills, however, address problems with the immigration adjudication and detention systems or provide a path to citizenship.

In addition to H.R. 1417, a bill approved by the House Homeland Security Committee that focuses on border security, the following bills have cleared the House Judiciary Committee:

    • H.R. 2131, to raise the number of visas for highly skilled workers and allow more foreign graduates of U.S. graduate schools and immigrant entrepreneurs to obtain green cards;

    • H.R. 1772, to require employers to begin using the E-Verify system within two years to ensure that potential employees are in the country legally;

    • H.R. 1773, to require minimum wage for farmworkers and allow 500,000 annual visa for temporary farm laborers who may stay for 18 months; and

    • H.R. 2778, to give state and local law enforcement officials the power to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants – a function currently authorized only for federal officials.

The House Judiciary Committee also began consideration of its own version of the DREAM Act by scheduling a July 23 hearing on the issue.

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