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Congress to Resume Consideration of Five Immigration Bills

September 9, 2008
With just over three weeks remaining in the 110th session of Congress, sources on the Hill note that Democratic leadership in both chambers will attempt passage of five immigration-related bills. The House Judiciary Committee will consider four bills, while the Senate will take up reauthorization of E-Verify - the online, electronically operated system that allows employers to check the work authorization status of their new hires.

Legislation to be considered when the House Judiciary Committee meets this week includes: H.R. 5882; H.R. 5924; H.R. 5950; and H.R. 6020.

  • H.R. 5882 would "recapture" visas that the State Department did not issue in fiscal years 1992 through 2007. (Gallery Watch, August 1, 2008) Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Steve King (R-IA) has called this measure "fatally flawed," pointing out that the total number of "recaptured" employment-based and family-sponsored visas would amount to more than 555,000. (Id.)
  • H.R. 5924 addresses perceived worker shortages in nursing and therapy fields by lifting the cap on employment-based visas for physical therapists and nurses until 2011. Rep. King has also expressed opposition to this bill, arguing that it would only exacerbate a shortage of nurses in other countries. King has said that the nursing shortage in the United States can be attributed to a lack of teachers at the graduate nursing level, a problem that won't be solved by "throwing money at it." (Id.)
  • H.R. 5950 would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "to establish procedures for the delivery of medical and mental health care to all immigration detainees in...DHS custody." (Congressional Research Service Summary, May 1, 2008) These procedures would be required to provide care that addresses "all detainee health needs." (Id.)
  • H.R. 6020 would grant any person who served honorably as a member of the U.S. armed forces in certain "contingency operations" the opportunity to become a naturalized citizen. (See H.R. 6020; Congressional Research Service Summary, May 8, 2008) Sections 4 and 6 of the bill waive several inadmissibility standards for aliens who served or are serving honorably in the military. The waiver also extends to their families, including parents and siblings. This means that an illegal alien, with a family member in the military, would be eligible for lawful permanent resident status. The categories of admissibility waived include the likelihood of becoming a public charge, entering the U.S. illegally for employment, entering the U.S. without permission, and presence in the U.S. without proper documentation. (H.R. 6020, Sec. 4(c) and Sec. 6(d)) The American Legion, which has expressed opposition to the bill, testified in May: "This would seem to reward law breakers and - possibly - illegal immigrants with a short cut to citizenship that is nothing less than an official pardon for illegal acts: an amnesty." (Testimony to Congress, May 20, 2008)

On the Senate side, Congressional Quarterly (CQ) has reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to bring a five-year E-Verify reauthorization to the floor at some point in September. The bill - H.R. 6633, the Employee Verification Amendment Act - overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 407 to 2 just prior to the August recess. In addition to the five-year reauthorization, H.R. 6633 contains language requiring DHS and the Social Security Administration to enter into a reimbursement agreement in regards to funding the operation of E-Verify. (Sec. 3(a)) The legislation also requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct two studies on E-Verify to determine what causes errors in non-confirmations and the economic impact of the program on small businesses. (Sec. 5 and 6)

Several other E-Verify reauthorizations have been proposed in the Senate, including S. 3257, sponsored by Arlen Specter (R-PA), which would extend E-Verify for five years and reauthorize several other visa categories. (CQ Today Online News, August 21, 2008; S. 3257) Senator Robert D. Menendez (D-NJ) - who has put a legislative hold on Specter's bill - has introduced S. 3414 which reauthorizes E-Verify for five years, but also includes a provision that would recapture visas that the State Department did not issue in fiscal years 1992 through 2007. (CQ Today Online News, August 21, 2008; S. 3414 Sec. 2) CQ reports that Menendez supports H.R. 6633 and that Specter, along with other Republicans, has petitioned Majority Leader Reid to bring forward an E-Verify reauthorization free of other programs. (Id.)

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