Immigration Reform and Children

Immigration reform affects many demographics of immigrants—farm workers, family members of citizens, skilled workers, and others—and though they have not been in the spotlight in the recent debate over immigration reform, children are no exception. If the immigration bill passes, then undocumented immigrants who were under 18 years of age when they crossed the border will be eligible for a briefer path to citizenship than their adult counterparts. While other immigrants would have to wait ten years after applying for citizenship to receive it, immigrants who entered the U.S. as children would be required to wait only five years.

Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist and immigration activist, is generally in favor of the bill. Vargas, now 32, entered the United States as a child and would be eligible for a quicker path to citizenship under the new bill. Says Vargas, “[A]s someone who’s from the ‘elder DREAMer’ generation (those of us over age 30 who were educated here in the U.S. and consider America our home) — I am more than elated. In my travels around the country talking about immigration reform and asking people how do they define American, I’ve met numerous DREAMers in their 30s and 40s who tell me, ‘I am a DREAMer before there was a DREAM Act. I have a dream, too.”

The bill also contains provisions for protecting immigrants who are minors, for keeping families together, and for giving immigrants who are arrested or deported more clout as far as what happens with their children. About 5,000 children are currently in foster care in the United States because their parents have been deported or detained. In the majority of these cases, the only grounds for the parents and children being separated, sometimes permanently, is the parents’ undocumented status. Under the current bill, parental rights would be much more difficult to dismiss based on parents’ immigration status.

If the bill passes, federal restrictions would be lifted on offering immigrants who have graduated from high school in the United States in-state tuition at public universities. The decision regarding to whom to offer in-state tuition would fall to the states, many of whom would likely extend the benefit to undocumented graduates of high schools in their states.

One-fourth of the children in the United States are children of immigrants, one million of whom are undocumented. Over the past two years, the United States has deported over 200,000 immigrants who had American citizen children. This works out to an average of 250 parents deported per day.

Immigrants are not the only people who would benefit from reforming the way the immigration system handles the children of undocumented immigrants. According to Don Hernandez and Wendy Cervantes from the Foundation for Child Development and First Focus, “Children of immigrants account for nearly the entire growth in the U.S. child population between 1990 and 2008”—population growth that the United States needs in order to remain competitive economically.

Source: Huffington Post, “Immigration Bill Would Expand Dream Act To Dreamers Of All Ages,” Elise Foley,
June 17, 2013

Source: Public News Service, “High Stakes for Children in Immigration Reform,” Alison Burns,
May 21, 2013

Source: The Hill, “Making immigration reform work for children,” Bruce Lesley,
February 26, 2013

Border Control and Immigration

The Senate voted 67-27 on Monday to strengthen border security between the United States and Mexico. Several Senators were prevented from voting by a storm in Washington that delayed their flights. The bill’s supporters had been hoping to accrue 70 votes in favor of the security provisions, but 67 votes were enough to help the bill escape filibuster. The vote marks the ability of the Senate to end the debate over the amendment and move on to vote about it.

The White House issued a statement about the vote. “We are pleased the Senate continues to work together on commonsense immigration reform,” said White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne. “As the president said today, this is a strong bipartisan bill that meets his principles, and now is the time to get it done.” In this week’s radio and internet address, President Obama quipped that “it’s time to fix our broken immigration system once and for all.”

If the current immigration bill is signed into law, the price tag of the new law will exceed $38 billion. Republicans have been reluctant to sign onto the bill unless the border is secured, citing concerns that the United States’ new path to citizenship would encourage a sudden onslaught illegal immigration. By agreeing to what basically amounts to a militarized southern border, Democrats have cleared aside the stated concerns of the Republicans, leaving them with little choice but to stand by their assertions that what was holding them back was the unsecured border. “Basically the Democrats have called our bluff,” said South Carolina Republican and Gang of Eight member Lindsey Graham. “When it comes to the southern border, I don’t know what more to do, short of just shooting people.” Republican Bob Corker commented, “If you really believe in making sure that we address our border security, this amendment is something you should support. This amendment gives results.”

Graham says the 40,000 additional members of the border patrol force are the equivalent of “three combat brigades.” Graham was a part of immigration efforts in 2007 that did not result in any change to the country’s laws. Said Graham about the two efforts, “What I’m not going to let happen this time is let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Those are your choices: Status quo or the Gang of Eight bill.”

Some Republicans have been making concerted efforts to embrace the bill, citing research showing that their party will rapidly lose support if they do not manage to attract Hispanic voters. 44% of Hispanic voters supported President Bush in 2004, while only 27% of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney in 2012. It was this fact that pushed Graham to try again with immigration reform. “I called Schumer and said ‘Let’s get the band back together,’ ” says Mr. Graham. “After the 2012 election,” he says, “my worst fears were being realized.”

By removing most Republican doubts about border security, Democrats have likely secured enough votes for the bill for it to pass the Senate. Whether it passes the House is not so safe a bet.

Source: CNN, “Immigration reform passes key Senate test,” Alan Silverleib,
June 25, 2013

Source: NY Daily News, “President Obama continues push for immigration reform after Senate debate, but bill still faces hurdles in House” Dan Friedman,
June 23, 2013

Source: AG Web, “Senate Advances Immigration Reform Bill,” Bloomberg,
June 24, 2013

Source: Voice of America, “US Senate Advances Border Security Requirements in Immigration Reform Bill,” Michael Bowman,
June 24, 2013

Negotiations Begin in the Senate

Senators reached a compromise yesterday that would require the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Additionally, the amendment would add 20,000 border agents, nearly doubling the size of Border Patrol, and it would require the government to purchase aerial drones to police the border. The additional price tag for this additional security is about $30 billion.

The compromise, which Democrats made in hopes of reaching their 70 vote goal, managed to win over only two Republicans—Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, and Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer from New York remains hopeful; he said on the Senate floor, “We’re not there yet. We’re climbing each day, but we’re not there yet. But I think we will get there.” Not everyone is so optimistic about the vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada said regarding the Schumer, “No one, no one [of] 100 senators; no one other than the senator from New York thought we could get 70 votes. I doubted he could get 70 votes. He knows I doubted that. No one in this body thought we could get 68, 72 votes except him.”

For Democrats, winning Republican support comes down to making the path to citizenship more difficult than they feel is optimal. Paying back taxes, waiting for several years, and submitting themselves to criminal background checks are some of the issues immigrants affected by the bill may or may not have to face, depending on how much members of each party are willing to compromise. In recent polls, Republican support of the immigration bill has nearly doubled when the pollster has mentioned the requirements for citizenship.

Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, is not impressed with the current version of the immigration bill. Said Sessions earlier this week: “The longer it lays in the sun, the more it smells, as they say about the mackerel.” Sessions’ rhetoric has toned down since 2006, when Sessions famously said of immigrants from the Dominican Republic: “Fundamentally, almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming because they have a skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society.” But though Sessions’ wording has softened, his opinion has not. Sessions strongly opposes what he believes to be the United States’ trajectory—moving toward becoming a welfare state—and he sees the current legislation as one more step on that ladder. The Gang of Eight has no hope of convincing people like Sessions to vote for the bill, but they hope to pick off enough more Republican Senators to put significant pressure on the House to pass the bill as well.

Source: NY Times, “Senator Tries to Run Out the Clock on Immigration,” Jonathan Weisman,
June 17, 2013

Source: NY Daily News, “Compromise on Senate immigration reform bill will result in tighter border security,” Dan Friedman,
June 20, 2013

Source: The Hill, “Schumer: Immigration reform bill does not yet have 70 votes,” Alexander Bolton,
June 21, 2013

Source: Five Thirty Eight, “In Immigration Reform, Republican Support for Citizenship Hinges on Obstacles,” Micah Cohen,
June 21, 2013

John Boehner refuses to put forward immigration bill without majority support of Republicans

In direct opposition to recent speculation that House Speaker John Boehner would violate the unofficial Hastert rule—which states that “the majority party will not bring any legislation to the floor of the House without support from a majority of the majority party, a majority of the majority rule”—Boehner said on Tuesday that he will not put forward an immigration bill that violates the rule: “I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have majority support of Republicans. ” Though Boehner has bypassed the rule in the past, in the cases of Hurricane Sandy relief funds and the fiscal cliff deal, he has differentiated this situation from those, opting, he says, for more unity. Later, Boehner added, “This town thrives on nonstories. And the biggest nonstory of the week is this speculation that I’m somehow planning secretly to pass an immigration bill without a majority of Republicans.”

The Senate voted on four amendments to the bill today—two from Democrats, and two from Republicans. Republican Senator John Thune from South Dakota presented an amendment that would require the completion of a 700-mile, double-layered fence along the U.S./Mexico border. The amendment was defeated 54 to 39.

Republican Senator David Vitter presented an amendment that would establish a biometric tracking system, the purpose of which would be to catch immigrants who remain in the country after their visas have expired. The Department of Homeland Security would need to set up the system at every international border crossing in the United States before immigrants would be eligible, under the new bill, to apply for citizenship. The amendment was defeated 58 to 36.

Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana introduced an amendment regarding the adoption of non-native U.S. children by Americans. Her amendment makes it easier for Americans to adopt non-native children, changing the requirement that both adoptive parents must visit their potential child’s home country before adoption; under this amendment, only one parent would need to make the trek. Her amendment also extends citizenship rights to children adopted by American parents who turned 18 before a law granting such rights passed in 2000, and clarifying that adoptive children need only be present in the country at the times of their adoptions. This amendment passed unanimously.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester introduced an amendment that would include in the Border Oversight Task Force representatives from Native American tribes. The amendment passed 94 to 0.

Source: CBS Miami, “Immigration Reform Bill Sputtering In Capitol,” Tim Kephart,
June 18, 2013

Source: The Washington Post, “2 amendments to immigration reform bill passed, 2 defeated” ED O’Keefe,
June 18, 2013

Source: CNN, “Senate negotiators seek new compromise on immigration,” Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh,
June 18, 2013

Two reasons why the Immigration Bill may become Law

By overwhelming majority, the Senate voted on Tuesday to open debate on the immigration reform bill. The bill would create a path to citizenship for many immigrants currently living illegally in the United States. Tuesdays’ vote vote was 82 in favor of opening debate to 15 opposed. The 15 opposed senators were all Republicans. While two days ago, analysts were skeptical of the bill’s chances of becoming law, its odds appear much more favorable now, for a number of reasons.

The first is that House Speaker John Boehner, who has consistently opposed the Senate’s immigration bill up to this point, said in an interview with George Stephanopoulous on Tuesday that he would be willing to break the “Hastert Rule”—the idea that Republican Speakers of the House must only allow a bill to be voted on if the majority of the party supports the bill. Of this decision, Boehner has said that “it’s not about what I want. It’s about what the House wants. And my job is– as speaker– is to ensure that all members on both sides have a fair shot at their ideas.” Despite his announcement that he would allow the bill to be voted on, Beohner still said that the House bill would have to go through the Judiciary Committee, which would result in what he expected to be a “a House bill [that] will be to the right of where the Senate is.”

The second is that Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, announced her support for the bill. Ayotte’s support for the bill is significant because of when she voiced it. Wanting to move the bill further right, Marco Rubio has informed Senate Democrats that their only chances of getting the bill through the Senate and the House—and therefore, of its garnering a significant number of Republican votes—is for the bill to include some conservative amendments, such as an increased budget for border security.

Rubio encouraged Ayotte to hold off in announcing her support not because he didn’t want it, but because Republican support at this point weakens his argument that the bill needs to undergo significant changes in order to pass. Were Ayotte to have announced her support only after such changes were adopted, no one would know that her vote wasn’t contingent on the bill’s rightward swing. Ayotte’s early support may be an indication that Republicans who favor immigration reform are not rare, and that there is a contingent of Republicans whose support of immigration reform outweighs their party ties.

While Republicans largely wish to avoid being seen as supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, others, notably Jeb Bush, are trying to frame the issue as an economic one. Offering a path to citizenship would increase the legal work force, create new areas for investment, and potentially allow for drops in wages. Jeb Bush argued that “Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.” Others see support for immigration reform as a necessity if the Republican Party is to remain relevant as voting demographics continue to become more and more diverse.

Source: Good Morning America, Transcript: Exclusive Interview With House Speaker John Boehner on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More,June 11, 2013

Source: Business Insider, “IT’S OVER: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Is Going To Pass” Josh Barro,
June 11, 2013

Source: Business Insider, “John Boehner Gave The All-Important Signal That Immigration Reform Can Pass The House,” Brett Logiurato,
June 11, 2013

Source: NY Times, “Conservatives Urged to Back Immigration Overhaul” Julia Preston,
June 13, 2013

Vote Begins in the Senate

The Senate will vote for the first time today on the immigration reform bill. The vote is regarding whether or not to begin debating the bill. The last immigration reform bill attempt—a project led by John McCain six years ago—fell apart at exactly this stage. At least 60 Senators need to vote in favor of beginning the debate in order for the discussion to begin. The bill currently exceeds 1,000 pages.

Some analysts have begun speaking about the immigration bill in less optimistic terms than they had been. Three months ago, it looked as though the bill would pass, they say. Now, the bill’s passage is not a given. “Passage of a bill is becoming much more doubtful,” said Bill Helfand, an attorney who specializes in civil rights and employment. “What started out as a consensus on reform has crumbled into partisan bickering. We were impressed that the two political parties were working together on this, and that Washington would get something done. But that’s no longer the case.”

The vote before the Senate today is called a “cloture vote.” Senatorial optimism regarding the bill passing by July 4th is rooted in the nature of a cloture vote, which would limit the amount of time a bill can be considered to 30 hours (in addition to the time its consideration has already taken). If 60 Senators vote in favor of cloture, the legislation will be protected from being blocked by filibuster.

President Obama has voiced his desire for the Senate to begin debate and eventually pass the bill. The president has pinned his hopes for immigration reform on the current bill before the Senate, and today’s vote will play a significant role in that bill’s future—though most observers believe the vote today will easily favor beginning the Senate debate. Said the president, “If you’re serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it…to truly deal with this issue, Congress needs to act. And that moment is now.”

Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is one of the Senate’s harshest critics of the immigration bill, has said that President Obama’s support of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants stands between him and a vote for the bill. Because the pathway to citizenship is not peripheral to the immigration bill—indeed, it forms the core of the bill—senators like Ted Cruz stand little chance of being swayed by the potential Senate debate. Democrat Harry Reid has offered his opinion regarding major changes of the type it would take to procure the votes of senators like Cruz: “Senators will propose a number of ideas to make the legislation better. Some will offer ideas to make it worse. But those suggestions must preserve the heart of the bill.”

Source: CBS News, “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill faces first vote in Senate, Nancy Cordes,
June 11, 2013

Source: CNBC, “Immigration Reform: Why It Might Not Happen” Mark Koba,
June 11, 2013

Source: FirstRead NBC News, “Senate votes to begin historic immigration reform debate” Carrie Dann,
June 11, 2013

Source: CNN, “Senate votes to debate immigration reform” Ted Barrett and Tom Cohen,
June 11, 2013

Discussions begin in the Senate

Today marks the first day of the Senate debate over immigration reform. Senator Jeff Sessions, who took the floor for an hour this morning, made several remarks about what he understands to be the major problems with the bill: the unsecured border between the U.S. and Mexico. Said Sessions, “The legislation offered by the Gang of Eight says they fixed it. ‘Don’t worry. We’ve taken care of all that is needed. We have a plan that will work in the future and end the illegality,’ Well, it won’t do that. That’s the problem. It will definitely give amnesty today, immediate legal status for 11 million people today. But the policies of enforcement for the future . . . are not fulfilled in this legislation.” Sessions also warned that the bill would reward law breakers, increase joblessness, and provide incentives for more people to enter the country illegally.

Today’s Senate immigration discussion kicks off what will likely be at least a month-long debate about the new immigration legislation. As Harry Reid has previously commented, he would like to see a final vote take place before the Senate begins its July 4th recess. An initial vote taken this Tuesday will measure Senate support and opposition to the bill before the debate officially begins.

In addition to Sessions, Senators Bill Nelson from Florida and Barbara Boxer from California—both Democrats—took the floor today as well. Nelson argued that mass deportations would cause an economic collapse in the United States, if such a deportation were possible. But Nelson doesn’t believe it is possible. Said Nelson this morning, “Does anybody think the solution to the problem is deport 11 million people? You couldn’t do that.” People found to be in the country illegally should be required to pay fines, not be deported, he added.

While Nelson argued from the perspective of the immigrants, Barbara Boxer took a different tack, arguing that the immigrants’ potential pathways to citizenship would benefit the country that provides it as well. The pathway would boost the economy, says Boxer. The addition of more legal workers would result in more jobs and higher wages. According to Boxer, “That’s what happens when workers come out of the shadows.”

Marco Rubio has been working with Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas to formulate changes to the bill that would make it more appealing to Senate Republicans. “One of the reasons why I was asked to even join this effort was to help bring Republicans on board, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Rubio about the partnership. “What’s stymieing efforts in the Senate is that we don’t have the votes to pass it because too many members on both sides of the aisle do not believe it goes far enough on border security. They do not trust that the Department of Homeland Security will secure the border and prevent another wave of illegal immigration.” Whether Rubio and the rest of the Gang of Eight will prevail in moving their bill through the Senate remains to be seen, but it likely won’t be long before we find out.

Source:, “Sessions leading opposition to immigration bill on Senate floor” Challen Stephens,
June 7, 2013

Source: The Washington Post, “Senate begins floor debate on comprehensive immigration reform bill” David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman,
June 7, 2013

Source: The Hill, “Rubio working with Cornyn to ease GOP concerns over Senate immigration bill” Alexander Bolton,
June 5, 2013

Source: First Read, “They’re off! Immigration debate begins on Senate floor” Carrie Dann,
June 7, 2013

Senators Speculate about Votes Needed

Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Gang of Eight, is telling the media that he doesn’t believe the Senate immigration reform bill has the sixty votes it would need to pass the chamber. In reply to a question from Fox News yesterday about the reality of missing votes, Rubio replied, “I think even the Democrats would concede that.” Democrats have 54 seats in the Senate, making bipartisan support of the bill a necessity.

Rubio’s statement comes a week after Democrat Harry Reid appeared on a Nevada TV program saying, “I think we have 60 votes.” Democrat Chuck Schumer, another member of the Gang of Eight, predicted on June 2nd that immigration would pass by Independence Day. “We’re going to put immigration on the floor by June 10. I predict it will pass by July 4,” said Schumer. “We’re hoping to get up to 70 votes.”

Even if those 70 votes appear, Representative Ileana Ros—Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said the following on Sunday: “The Senate bill is not going to move in the House. I think the speaker has made it clear that we will have our own work product.”

Rubio has vowed not to vote for his own bill if it is not amended to boost border security. Some believe Rubio’s tough talk regarding the bill may be a strategy to garner eventual support from his fellow Republicans for the bill—if Republicans see that Rubio was tough on the bill but eventually came around, the thinking goes, then other Republicans may do the same.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rubio joined a meeting between conservative senators and House conservatives to discuss immigration. The meeting was the first bicameral GOP meeting on immigration. Senator Rubio’s increasingly frequent comments about border security may also be the result of conversations with House conservatives, for whom the issue of border security is a major obstacle to passing the bill.

John McCain, another conservative member of the Gang of Eight, has said that he has no guess as to how many senators will vote for the bill, and he will not beg for votes. Says McCain, “I have never counted votes in 20-something years. That is the whip’s job,” McCain says. “We discuss the provisions of the bill, but I don’t go around and ask people to vote for it. They make their own judgments. I would run for whip if I had wanted to do that.”

Source: The Hill, “Rubio: Senate immigration reform bill lacks 60 votes” Daniel Strauss,
June 4, 2013

Source: Political Ticker, “Schumer thinks immigration bill will pass by July 4” Ashley Killough,
June 2, 2013

Source: ABC News, “Can Anyone Make Up Their Mind on Immigration Reform?” Lauren Fox,
June 5, 2013

Past Immigration Offenses

If the immigration reform bill becomes law, it will mean forgiveness of most past immigration-related offenses for those who apply for a path to citizenship. This is among one of the more controversial aspects of the bill, and it is a topic about which undocumented immigrants and people employed in the immigration sector have many questions and concerns.

Immigrants who apply for legal status in the United States will not be penalized for entering the country fraudulently, for visa fraud, or for re-entering the country after they have been deported. In addition, immigrants who have been arrested for being in the country illegally and who ignored deportation orders to remain in the country will not face penalties or negative legal consequences for doing so. In the eyes of the law, such offenses will be wiped clean when immigrants begin the process of applying for legal status.

Not everyone is happy about the potential for past immigration violations to be forgiven. Kenneth Palinkas, president of the 12,000 member U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Union (USCIS), announced on Monday that he is opposed to the immigration reform bill. He said the following in a statement: “The legislation will provide legal status to millions of visa overstays while failing to provide for necessary in-person interviews. Legal status is also explicitly granted to millions who have committed serious immigration and criminal offenses.”

Members of the USCIS are the ones directly responsible for examining and approving visa applications. One of Palinkas’ concerns, he says, is that the number of USCIS employees is inadequate to handle the potential onslaught of applicants. Lacking proper resources, his employees may end up under pressure to “rubber-stamp” applications for citizenship and visas.

Amnesty for past immigration offenses is not without precedent in the U.S. legal system. In 1986, 2.7 undocumented immigrants—the majority of whom had entered the country illegally—were granted a pathway to citizenship. It is in part because of that event, say opponents of amnesty, that they oppose forgiving immigration offenses again. Amnesty in 1986 did not stop illegal immigration, they say, and neither will amnesty in 2013.

Similarities between the 1986 bill and the current bill certainly exist, but they are not as strong as some may think. Both bills establish pathways to citizenship. The current bill, however, forces a 10 year probationary period on potential citizens before they can apply for citizenship. Applicants for citizenship would also need to pay any outstanding taxes, pass a background check, and pay over $2,000 in fees. Compared to the 1986 bill’s pathway to citizenship, the current process immigrants would have to wade through is much more extensive and drawn out. Whether the barriers to citizenship written into the bill will ultimately be enough to appease people who believe the bill to be too lenient remains to be seen.

Source: NY Daily News, “IMMIGRATION: When immigration reform bill is alw, it will likely forgive most immigration law violations” Allan Wernick,
May 29, 2013

Source: Yahoo News, “USCIS union president fights immigration reform bill” Liz Goodwin,
May 20, 2013

Source: ABC News, “Amnesty: The Scariest Word in Immigration Politics” Ted Hesson,
May 3, 2013