D.C. Report: Congress talks immigration reform

U.S. CapitolImmigration Reform

There has been considerable debate in Washington over the last several weeks about immigration reform, with the House and the Senate taking very different approaches to the issue.

In the House, Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced that the Judiciary Committee would introduce a series of bills in the near future intended to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

Chair Goodlatte indicated that the first proposal would establish a guest worker program for agriculture, and it would also require employers to use an electronic verification system to determine the immigration status of its employees.

Last week, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) joined Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who is helping lead the House bipartisan efforts on immigration reform, in Chicago to discuss the issue.

In a speech at the City Club of Chicago, Ryan called on Congress this year to enact legislation that improves border security, bolsters enforcement of existing immigration laws, establishes a new guest-worker program, creates an expedited pathway for children of undocumented immigrants to become fully legalized and sets a “path to earned legalization” for the 11 million immigrants currently in the United States illegally.

Congressman Ryan now appears willing to use his national presence and ability to draw significant media coverage to encourage his House colleagues to work to resolve this issue.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, led by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” (including Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin), a comprehensive 844-page immigration reform bill was introduced, S. 744 “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” The Senate Judiciary Committee already has begun to conduct hearings on this legislation.

S. 744:

  • Creates a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) program to legalize undocumented workers who have been physically present in the U.S. since Dec. 31, 2011;
  • Establishes border security milestones that must be met before RPIs can become lawful permanent residents (LPRs);
  • Contains DREAM Act provisions for a more expedited pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals who (i) entered the U.S. before age 16; (ii) completed high school or the equivalent; and (iii) completed at least two years toward a bachelor’s degree or served in the U.S. military for four years;
  • Creates a “Blue Card” program for undocumented agricultural workers;
  • Creates two “merit-based” immigrations systems that will exist parallel with the current employment and family-based systems. Track 1 will set aside 120,000 immigrant or permanent resident visas annually for individuals who can demonstrate that they have sufficient “points” to qualify. Track 2 will be a system for allocation of immigrant visas to clear out the backlog of long-pending employment-based and family-based cases filed prior to enactment;
  • Establishes an electronic employer verification system for the immigration status of employees;
  • Increases the annual cap on new H-1B petitions. The 20,000 cap for holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities will be replaced with a 25,000 cap for holders of advanced degrees in STEM fields from U.S. universities; and,
  • Creates INVEST non-immigrant visas that will be available to overseas entrepreneurs who plan to start their own companies in the United States and who can demonstrate that at least $100,000 has been invested in the relevant business or that such a business has generated no fewer than three jobs and $250,000 in revenue.

There is growing sentiment in Washington that the immigration reform issue will be resolved sometime this summer.

Gun Control

Following the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School late last year, President Obama has been pushing Congress to deal with the issue of more stringent gun control measures.

In the U.S. Senate, a bipartisan compromise that sought to expand background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines failed to garner the 60 votes needed for passage. At the same time, the Senate also defeated a proposal to expand permission to carry concealed weapons and to focus law enforcement efforts on prosecuting gun crimes.

Calling it “a pretty shameful day for Washington,” President Obama vowed to continue his fight for additional gun control measures. The Senate has tabled this issue, at least temporarily, although both sides continue to work to develop a compromise.

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Last week, Congressman John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, called upon students, parents, college leaders and higher education stakeholders to share their views on policies and amendments that should be included in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The committee is particularly interested in examining ways to:

  • Empower students as consumers in higher education;
  • Simplify and improve the student aid and loan programs;
  • Increase college accessibility, affordability and completion;
  • Encourage institutions to reduce costs;
  • Promote innovation to improve access to and delivery of higher education; and,
  • Balance the need for accountability with the burden of federal requirements.

The House Education and Workforce Committee and various subcommittees are beginning public hearings on some of these topics. For additional information on upcoming hearings and ways to submit input, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov.

Congress is in recess this week.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.

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