Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007

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From February to June 2007, the Senate went through an extensive effort to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S.1348), also known as the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. If passed, it would be the first such legislation in many years. After months of debate and multiple revivals of the bill, the process ultimately failed as no agreement could be reached.

Current status

Summary

After two different versions and several compromise attempts, the comprehensive immigration reform bill failed a final vote to end debate and proceed to a final vote, 46-53 (60 votes were needed). The bill is widely expected not to be taken up again until after the 2008 elections.



Bill summary

As introduced, the bill would:

  • Work authorization and legalization of undocumented aliens: The Secretary (of Homeland Security) may adjust the status of a lawfully admitted alien to permanent residence if the alien files an application and pays a fine. The alien must have established residency in the United States five years before April 5, 2006 and not been legally here after that date. Employment for three years prior to the date is also required and criminal activity is considered.[1] Aliens here illegally may be allowed to leave the U.S. and then seek readmission as a non-immigrant or immigrant provided they were in the U.S. on January 7, 2007 and continuously thereafter. Those aliens must have been employed before January 7, 2007 and have not been unemployed for more than 60 days. They also must have no criminal record.[2]
  • Temporary workers: Temporary work is considered not to exceed ten months. Earned status means the alien has worked a specific number of hours during the 24 months ending December 31, 2005. Temporary workers that meet the criteria can apply for earned status within seven months after the bill is enacted. The status and the application for status can be rescinded for criminal activity and other prohibitive behavior.[3] The bill provides for up to 1.5 million temporary visas to be issued for five years after enactment of this bill. The alien is not eligible for any form of public benefit until 5 years after the earned status is conferred.[4] The earned status can be changed to an alien admitted for permanent residence if the alien has performed 5 years of agricultural employment for at least 100 work days of 575 hours per year over the next five years or 3 years of that work for at least 150 work days or 863 hours. A fine of $400 is to be paid and tax liabilities must be paid.[5]
  • Responsibility of employers: Employers hiring H-2A workers must provide them with market level housing for free and family housing when necessary. They may also provide a reasonable housing allowance. Transportation costs of the worker to the place of employment from home and from the place of employment at the end of the job (beyond 100 miles) must be provided by the employer. Transportation between living quarters and the worksite is also the employer’s responsibility. Wages must be paid with increases adjusting to various government indicators.[6]
  • National strategy of border security: A strategy is to be developed and is due in one year to include comprehensive border surveillance, risk, financial, and legal assessment and a description of activities underway. Ultimately, North American security will be reported on targeting illegal entry into the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The Secretary is authorized to increase personnel in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs by 2,200 over five years and to apply 25% of personnel to enforcement compliance.[7]
  • Travel documents: A lower-priced, no more than $24.00, passport card may replace a passport for entering Canada, Mexico or Caribbean countries and Bermuda. Pre-enrollment assures that frequent cross-border travelers may gain expedited status. A 72-hour turnaround visit is allowed without passport.[8]
  • Ports of entry/fencing: Temporary or permanent check points near the Mexican border are maintained and additional ports of entry as needed may be opened. Aging fences in Tucson and the surrounding area will be replaced. 150 miles of additional barriers will be built. An assessment of the challenges to a physical Southern border is to be studied.[9]
  • Improving security, Mexican border, Guatemala and Belize: Cooperation and security needs are to be assessed and technical assistance is provided to Guatemala and Belize to improve issuance of passports, control smuggling, identify fraudulent documents and tracking gangs and violent aliens.[10]
  • Mandatory detention and related actions: Beginning October 2008, an alien attempting to illegally enter the U.S. shall be detained until removed or admission is granted. An alien may be released with a notice to appear if a background check is done and a $5,000 bond is posted. Evading inspection brings a fine and up to 3 years and up to ten or life if involved in violence.[11]
  • Documentation, detention and removal of illegal immigrants: Those in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1972 must document entry date, continuous residence, and moral character. Visas will be denied to citizens of any country that will not allow their citizens to be deported from the U.S.[12]
  • Employing aliens: An Electronic Employment Verification System is to be implemented for employers to verify employees to identify if an individual is eligible for U.S. employment. All employers must participate within 18 months of when that system is funded by Congress at not less than $400 million. The System will be accessed by phone or Internet. The System must respond in ten days if it can affirm the employee’s identity and eligibility. Employees not confirmed have ten days to contest. If they do not contest, the non-confirmation notice becomes final. If the System does not respond to a contest, the non-confirmation is final after 30 days. The employee has 60 days to appeal. If the non-confirmation is inaccurate, the U.S. will reimburse the employee for lost wages up to 180 days after the administrative review is completed or the day after re-employment (whichever comes first). Misuse of the data for identity fraud is a felony.[13]
  • Children: Aliens who entered the U.S. as children (under 16 years old) who on the date of enactment have not yet reached age 30 can be converted to permanent resident status if the individual meets the continuous presence and admissibility requirements for adjustment described above and has graduated from high school and continued on to college. An alien who is adjusted to lawful permanent residence under this provision is eligible for student loans, and federal work-study programs, but not Pell Grants.[14]
  • National language: English is declared the national language of the United States. The bill would state “Unless otherwise authorized or provided by law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. If exceptions are made, that does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English. If any forms are issued by the Federal Government in a language other than English.”[15]

Actions taken on Senate bill

Initial negotiations on the bill

  • The Act was reported to be co-sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and unveiled early in March. The bill was reportedly much like the bill passed by the Senate in 2006, including a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants, a guest worker program for new foreign workers and tougher enforcement of immigration laws. Unresolved were the issues of what the last date of residency immigrants had to prove to apply for citizenship, whether new guest workers would be eligible for permanent residency status, and demands by some Republicans that illegal immigrants first return to their home countries to file applications for citizenship. McCain and Kennedy had also reportedly made a change from the previous year's bill in that it did not distinguish between immigrants who had been in the U.S. for varying lengths of time. The 2006 Senate bill received support from 23 Republican Senators but died in negotiations with the House, which had passed a Republican-backed version that had fewer opportunities for citizenship and more enforcement measures than the Senate version.[16]
  • McCain and Kennedy had consulted with business, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and immigrant advocates in the writing of the bill, but some Republican Senators, including John Cornyn (R-Texas), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), complained that they had been shut out of the process.[17]
  • By April 2007, however, McCain appeared to have abandoned the effort to reintroduce the bill, though Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had introduced a complimentary House version, the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act, or STRIVE Act (H.R.1645-OpenCongress info page). The Washington Post reported that opponents of the bill said that McCain was abandoning the bill, whose legalization provisions were deeply unpopular with many conservative Republicans, as his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency heated up.[18]
Main article: John McCain: U.S. presidential election, 2008
  • At the end of April 2007, bipartisan negotiations surrounding the bill came to a standoff. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that talks would resume and that he "firmly intends to start the floor debate the week of May 14." [19]

Bill is introduced in Senate

<USbillinfo congress="110" bill="S.1348" />

  • On May 8, 2007, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced that after numerous closed-door meetings, a "grand bargain" had been struck. It would include funding for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, an additional 6,000 agents at the border, as well as mandating strong employer sanctions against employing illegal immigrants. Specter claimed that the "grand bargain" did not include the issue of amnesty or a guest worker program, though he said that it would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. [20]
  • On May 9, the bipartisan team of senators reached an agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, also known as the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S.1348-OpenCongress info page).
  • On May 11, 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) postponed his deadline for seeking cloture on the immigration bill, seeking to avoid the threat of a Republican filibuster.[21] On May 16, 2007, Reid agreed to delay debate on the immigration bill by another week. He was quoted as saying, "They tell me they're 80 percent of the way there. Well, that's fine. The other 20 percent is hard."[22]
  • On May 21, 2007, the Senate voted to move forward on considering the bill cloture on S.1348 (the compromise bill discussed above), 69-23.[23]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="173" />

Amendments

Summary
Following the cloture vote, the Senate considered several amendments to the bill. These dealt with, among other things, the "guest worker" provision, making English the national language, and the punishments to be levied on those who entered the U.S. illegally in the past.
Main article: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007/Amendments


"Blue-slip resolution" threatened

During the Senate debate over a comprehensive immigration bill in May 2007, House Republicans opposed to the bill - including Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) - threatened to employ a procedural measure called a "blue-slip resolution" that would send force the bill into the House. The basis for the resolution would be a constitutional rule requiring that all revenue-related bills originate in the House. Specifically, they argued that the Senate bill's provisions requiring illegal immigrants to pay back taxes violated this constitutional rule and the House's prerogative. Sen. McCain had introduced the amendment to insert the back-taxes provision.[24]

Motions to end debate and vote on bill in Senate fail

On June 7, 2007, an initial vote to end debate (invoke cloture) failed, 34-61.

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="204" />

A second attempt to end debate and force a vote on the bill failed by a vote of 45-50. The previous two days had seen numerous amendments voted on, and while Republicans asked for more time to discuss amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he had delayed the bill long enough, and the Senate needed to vote on the final legislation. Reid's procedural move to force a vote fell far short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, however.[25] Comments by Reid indicated that he believed some senators were determined to defeat the bill due to what they saw as partisan provisions within it.[26] Following the vote, he said that the Senate was "finished" addressing immigration "for the time being," while Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) explained that the immigration legislation was "on life support, but it is not dead."[27]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="206" />

President Bush calls for revival of bill

On June 11, while on a trip to Europe following the G8 summit, President Bush promised to visit Capitol Hill and lobby Senate Republicans in disagreement over the failed bill upon his return, in hopes of reviving and still passing the measure.[28] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated that he was willing to return to the immigration bill if Senate Republicans could agree on a limited number of amendments and a time limit for debate.[29]

Back in Washington, DC, Bush attended the Senate Republicans' weekly policy lunch for the first time in five years. The president and Sen. Reid urged Republican senators to work toward passing a bill, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he didn't expect much progress, and explained that "Most senators have pretty well made up their minds."[30]

Bipartisan deal in Senate revives bill in new form

  • On June 13, 2007, a bipartisan meeting between key Democrat and Republican Senators came to a tentative agreement over the failed immigration bill, in an attempt to revive the comprehensive legislation. The deal would primarily involve increased funding of $4 billion for border security workplace enforcement, to try to garner more Republican support. In the meeting, Senators also worked out a plan to allow a limited number of amendments to come to the Senate floor, including one proposed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) that would require illegal immigrants applying for permanent legal residency status to return to their country of origin beforehand. Many GOP Senators who had opposed the bill announced that they were now considering support for the legislation under the provisions of the new agreement.[31] The following day the deal was announced. It specified that each party could bring 11 amendments to the floor for a vote and that $4.4 billion in fees raised by the legislation to increasing border security and preventing illegal immigrants from gaining legal employment. The deal was reached following significant pressure from President Bush to pass a bill, as well as pressure from pro-immigration groups.[32]
  • On June 19, 2007, as the legislation began to stall again, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened to have the Senate continue debate and work through the July 4 break if progress was not made on the comprehensive immigration and energy bills. Canceling the break would clash with the schedules for many Senators, especially those of presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, (D-N.Y.) Barack Obama, (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Reid warned, "If they’re going to be gone from the Senate, they’re likely going to miss votes."[34]
  • By the end of the week on June 21, continued debate and disagreement over comprehensive energy legislation forced the immigration bill to be postponed further, until at least the beginning of the next week, with continued conflict over the limited nature of debate on the measure. A weekend session had been under consideration, but was canceled.[35]
  • On June 26, the Senate passed a cloture motion, 64-35. This vote indicated that a compromise had been reached since the failed cloture vote on June 7. At the time, supporters of the bill were 15 votes shy of forcing to end debate. Several Republican proponents of the legislation withheld their support, demanding that more time be granted to consider the measure. On June 26, however, 64 senators, including many Republicans, supported the bill. [36]

House GOP members disapprove of Senate deal

In response to the revival of the bill in the Senate, the House Republican caucus floated a resolution on June 26 that read, "Resolved the House GOP Conference disapproves of the Senate immigration bill." The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), was expected to comfortably pass the caucus. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) commented, "basically what we are saying today is it is dead-on-arrival in the House, we can’t have secret deals, this has to go through committee, it has to go in pieces... A comprehensive bill will not pass the House."[37]

Final cloture vote fails

After numerous votes, efforts to compromise, amendments, and modifications, the immigration bill failed a final cloture vote on June 28, 2007 by a vote of 46-53. The bill fell 14 votes short of the 60 necessary to close debate and move to a vote.[38] The bill's opponents and supporters were not clearly drawn along party lines, as 37 Republicans joined 15 Democrats and one independent in voting against ending debate, while 34 Democrats and 12 Republicans wanted to move toward final passage.[39]

President Bush, in a rare admission of defeat, commented, "A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn't find a common ground...It didn't work."[40]

Senators from both parties weighted in on the bill's failure. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a strong advocate of the bill, commented, "Everyone knows that our immigration laws are broken... And a country loses some of its greatness when it can't fix a problem that everyone knows is broken. And that's what happened today."[41]

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who voted against the bill, said his vote sent the message "that the American people want us to start with enforcement, both at the border and at the workplace, and don't want promises. They want action, they want results, they want proof, because they've heard all the promises before."[42]

Supporters and opponents of the controversial legislation said that it probably would not be resurrected until after the 2008 elections.[43]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="235" />

Support, opposition and critiques

Organizations supporting bill

Republican criticism of the bill

Many conservative Republicans criticized the bill and President Bush for his support of the legislation supporting what they consider to be "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. One such vocal opponent, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who was also vying for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, stated that Bush's bill could "destroy the party" and was "sure as heck not going to help the country," believing that the president was leading the party "awry" over the issue. Rep. Tancredo supported an immigration policy focused on border security and a stop to most legal immigration while the country assimilated the vast numbers of recent immigrants, a position held by many of his Republican colleauges.[45]

President Bush criticizes GOP opponents of bipartisan bill

On May 30, 2007, at a Border Patrol training facility in Glynco, Georgia, President Bush criticized members of Congress within his own party for their attempts to thwart the bipartisan immigration bill agreed to by the White House and congressional Democrats. The president accused many of his fellow Republicans of using little more than "scare tactics" to stop what he considered "the last, best chance to fix an immigration system that all sides agree is broken." Critics of the measure had called the immigration compromise an amnesty program for illegal aliens. Bush responded that the plan did not constitute amnesty, as those in the U.S. illegally would be punished and forced to pay a fine in order to remain in the U.S. and on a path to citizenship.[46]

Criticism from the Heritage Foundation

Writers from the Heritage Foundation had many criticisms of the immigration bill, arguing that the policies it created would be a bureaucratic nightmare and that the cost of amnesty for illegal immigrants would be astronomical.

James Sherk, a labor policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, argued that the temporary guest worker program suggested in the bill had the right goals, but set out to complete them in a way that would needlessly send employers through complicated bureaucratic procedures before they were able to hire any immigrants. The bill, Sherk described, would create restrictions to try to prevent immigrants from taking away American jobs. The restrictions would require employers to pay federally mandated wages, advertise the job for at least 3 months unsuccessfully, to hire any American worker that applied for the position, and to prevent employers from firing U.S. workers in the six month period starting 90 days before the hiring petition was filed. All of these restrictions would mean that it would be extremely difficult for an employer to hire a specific foreign employee without having to jump through hoops for months on end.[47]

Sherk suggested, alternatively, that the temporary guest worker permits be bid on by employers, meaning that the price of the permits would go up if foreign workers were more desirable, meaning American workers would be protected as the cost of the permits would counteract any kind of wage cut an immigrant would offer.[48]

Robert Rector, domestic policy expert at the Heritage Foundation had separate objections to the immigration bill. He criticized the White House plan to provide what he considered amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, and refuted White House statistics over how much an amnesty would cost American taxpayers. The White House, he argued, overestimated the amount of skilled immigrants would be coming in. These would be the immigrants with high school diplomas, and the ones more likely to be a tax contributor rather than a tax burden. Rector argued that immigrants were disproportionately poorly educated, and that providing amnesty would give them access to more federal welfare programs as well as Social Security. Heritage research estimated the cost of low skill immigrants to taxpayers, "low skill immigrants (those without a high school degree) receive, on average, three dollars in government benefits and services for each dollar of taxes they pay. This imbalance imposes a net cost of $89 billion per year on U.S. taxpayers. Over a lifetime, the typical low skill immigrant household will cost taxpayers $1.2 million."[49]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Sources

  1. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  2. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  3. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  4. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  5. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  6. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  7. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  8. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  9. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  10. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  11. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  12. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  13. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  14. American Immigration Lawyers Association, [1] Section-by-section Summary, May 21, 2007.
  15. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Immigration," TheWeekInCongress, May 25, 2007.
  16. Michelle Mittelstadt, "Kennedy, McCain keep immigration bill closeted," Houston Chronicle, Feb. 28, 2007.
  17. Michelle Mittelstadt, "Kennedy, McCain keep immigration bill closeted," Houston Chronicle, Feb. 28, 2007.
  18. Jonathan Weisman, "President Renewing Efforts on Immigration," Washington Post, April 8, 2007.
  19. Carrie Budoff, "Immigration debate nears Hill standoff," Politico, April 30, 2007.
  20. Jeremy Jacobs, "Specter announces ‘grand bargain’ on immigration," The Hill, May 8, 2007.
  21. Elana Schor, "Reid postpones Senate vote on immigration" The Hill, May 11, 2007.
  22. Carrie Budoff, "Immigration vote delayed until Monday" Politico May 15, 2007.
  23. Info page on S.1348, OpenCongress.org.
  24. Elana Schor and Jackie Kucinich, "GOP plots blue-slip," The Hill, May 30, 2007.
  25. Jonathan Weisman, "Immigration Overhaul Bill Stalls in Senate," Washington Post, June 8, 2007.
  26. Robert McElroy, "The Week in Congress," TheWeekInCongress, June 8, 2007.
  27. Carl Hulse and Robert Pear, "Immigrant Bill, Short 15 Votes, Stalls in Senate," New York Times, June 8, 2007.
  28. Michael A. Fletcher, "Bush Vows to Revive Immigration Plan, Backs Gonzales" Washington Post, June 11, 2007.
  29. Carl Hulse, "Democrats Say They May Revisit Immigration Bill" New York Times, June 11, 2007.
  30. Jonathan Weisman and Michael Abramowitz, "Bush, Senators, to meet on Immigration," Washington Post, June 12, 2007.
  31. " Senators think they might have another immigration deal," Associated Press (via CNN), June 14, 2007.
  32. Jonathan Weisman, "Immigration Bill Has New Life In Senate," Washington Post, June 15, 2007.
  33. Info page for S.1639, OpenCongress.org.
  34. Sam Youngman, "Reid wields July 4 threat," The Hill, June 19, 2007.
  35. John Stanton, "Immigration Bill Postponed," Roll Call, June 21, 2007.
  36. Klaus Marre, "Immigration bill survives key vote 64-35," The Hill, June 26, 2007.
  37. Jackie Kucinich, "House GOP disapproves of Senate immigration bill," The Hill, June 26, 2007.
  38. Staff Reports, "Senate immigration bill suffers crushing defeat," CNN, June 28, 2007.
  39. Manu Raju. "Immigration bill routed," The Hill. June 29, 2007.
  40. Peter Baker. "Bush May Be Out of Chances For a Lasting Domestic Victory," Washington Post. June 29, 2007.
  41. Peter Baker. "Bush May Be Out of Chances For a Lasting Domestic Victory," Washington Post. June 29, 2007.
  42. Peter Baker. "Bush May Be Out of Chances For a Lasting Domestic Victory," Washington Post. June 29, 2007.
  43. Peter Baker. "Bush May Be Out of Chances For a Lasting Domestic Victory," Washington Post. June 29, 2007.
  44. Michelle Mittelstadt, "Kennedy, McCain keep immigration bill closeted," Houston Chronicle, Feb. 28, 2007.
  45. Klaus Marre, "Tancredo says immigration bill could ‘destroy’ GOP " The Hill, June 6, 2007.
  46. Peter Baker, "Bush Chides GOP Critics of Immigration Plan" Washington Post, May 30, 2007.
  47. James Sherk, "A Bureaucratic Nightmare: The Senate's Temporary Guest Worker Program," Heritage Foundation, June 26, 2007.
  48. James Sherk, "A Bureaucratic Nightmare: The Senate's Temporary Guest Worker Program," Heritage Foundation, June 26, 2007.
  49. Robert Rector, "White House Report Hides the Real Costs of Amnesty and Low Skill Immigration," Heritage Foundation, June 26, 2007.

External resources

External articles