Speaker Paul Ryan Ready to Pass Immigration Reform Legislation Before November Midterm Elections

A Discharge Petition Filed on May 9th Could Force a Vote on Four Immigration Bills

The majority of Republicans, including President Donald Trump, support enacting legislation to secure the border and provide Dreamers who can pass background checks with a path to earn legal status. So why hasn’t Congress done just that? The answer is that polarized hardliners on both sides of the aisle.

Democrat extreme hardliners refuse to vote for any legislation that secures the border, even if it would provide a path to earn legal status for Dreamers. Republican extreme hardliners refuse to vote on any legislation that provides a path for Dreamers to earn legal status, even if it would lead to the adequate securing of the US’ southern border.

These politicians know that by refusing to compromise, they are impeding the immigration solutions that Americans want, need, and have been calling for for years. These hardliners know that they will never achieve what they are "advocating" for by voting in this manner, and they are hoping that during their campaign, their constituents will revere them as "true" liberals or "true" conservatives for their voting record, without realizing that they have failed to produce any positive results. As Senator John Cornyn put it, “There’s a saying in Washington, D.C., that some people want a solution while others want an issue they can use for the next election.”   

On Thursday May 10, during his weekly legislative briefing, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stated that he would like to have a vote on legislation that secures the border and provides a resolution for DACA before the congressional midterm elections in November. “We want to fix this DACA problem, we want certainty, and we have a border security problem that needs to be addressed. These should not be mutually exclusive goals… I want to fix this problem, so I would like to have an immigration vote before the midterms,” he said. That vote, or votes on several immigration bills in the House, could come soon due to a discharge petition that was filed last Wednesday.

On Wednesday May 9, Representative Carlos Curbelo filed a motion to discharge a committee from the consideration of Representative Jeff Denham’s H.Res.774. If the petition receives 218 signatures from Representatives in the House, it will invoke the “Queen of The Hill” rule, forcing the House to consider and vote on four different immigration proposals. If that happens, the bill that receives the most votes, and at least 218, will be adopted by the House. Then it will have to pass through the Senate and receive a signature from President Donald Trump before it becomes law.

In the same legislative briefing, Speaker Ryan deflected questions about the discharge petition, and although the Speaker has the power to schedule the much needed immigration reform bills for floor consideration and debate, he has failed to do so. He justifies this by stressing the importance of efficiently utilizing the House’s time, saying “I want to have something that can make it into law, I don’t want to have… show ponies, I want to have actual law, and that means the White House has to be a part of this, and it’s got to be a bill the president can sign.

The president has been calling for Congress to legislate a solution to secure the border and protect Dreamers. Back in January, he even said that he would sign off on any bill to legalize Dreamers that can pass the Senate with 60 votes. Then, in February, the Senate voted on four immigration bills, including one that mirrored the White House’s framework on immigration reform and border security framework, but they all failed to receive the 60 votes required to be adopted. The White House’s framework received the fewest votes out of any of the bills because it included reductions in future levels of legal immigration, a measure that would negatively impact the American economy, which the president has learned and changed his mind on since.    

So that is what has led up to the discharge petition and resolution to force a debate and vote on four immigration bills in the House. Denham believes that his resolution will help to put politics aside and force Representatives in the House to have a productive public conversation about, and hopefully pass, an immigration bill in the best interest of all Americans. “The biggest issue we’re facing today is actually having the debate in front of the American public. We talk a lot about transparency around here and regular order; well that’s exactly what we’re doing here today. We want to follow regular order and have a debate on the House floor in front of the American public and debate various bills,he said.

If the resolution does indeed pass, the four bills that would be put to a vote will be updated and adjusted versions of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) bill “Securing America’s Future Act,” Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) DREAM Act, a proposal from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) that is expected to be similar to the White House’s framework on immigration reform and border security, and Representative Will Hurd’s (R-TX) “Uniting and Securing America Act.”

The Uniting and Securing America Act (USA Act) is perhaps the most effective and beneficial bill being considered, with the greatest chance of passing because it includes the things that most Americans support, while excluding more controversial measures. The bill is comprehensive, yet precise, and includes provisions to adequately fund effective border security, legislate a permanent solution for DACA, cut down on catch and release by reducing delays in immigration courts, and address the factors in central America driving illegal immigration.

The four main provisions of the USA Act are:

Adjustment of status for certain individuals who entered the United States as children

This provision provides a conditional path to permanent legal status for certain individuals who came to the US younger than 18-years-old and have been physically present here since 2013. In order to be eligible for the initial eight-year period of conditional permanent residency the bill provides, recipients must be able to pass a background check with no felony or significant misdemeanor convictions. They also must be either be admitted to an institution of higher education, have earned a high school diploma or GED, or be enrolled in high school or something equivalent. After eight years of conditional status in which they must continue to reside in the US and maintain good moral and legal standing, the beneficiaries of this bill could apply for lawful permanent residency if they completed one of three tracks to permanent legal status. These tracks require that they either complete two years in a higher institution of education, serve in the Uniformed Services for at least the period for which they were obligated to serve on active duty and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge, or have been employed for periods totaling at least three years and at least 80 percent of the time that the alien has had a valid employment authorization. They must also demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak English, show an understanding of American history, principles and form of government, and pay a fee that covers the cost of the application.

Secure miles with all resources and technology

The bill also includes a provision to grant federal money to agencies securing the border, as long as the efforts are done as efficiently as possible. Among several measures to improve security at the southern border are eradicating carrizo cane and salt cedar along the Rio Grande River to increase visibility, mandatory air and marine operation flight hours, and the expansion and modernization of high volume ports of entry. It also authorizes operation Stonegarden, which would appropriate $110 million a year for the fiscal years 2018-2022 to Aid US Customs and border protection and state and local law enforcement entities in protecting and securing the US’ northern and southern borders.

Reducing significant delays in immigration court

With over 680,000 cases currently backlogged, the average wait time for an immigration case to be heard is about 711 days. The bill seeks to address this problem to allow the judicial facet of the US’ immigration system to work more efficiently by increasing the number of immigration judges by 55 a year for the fiscal years 2018-2020. The bill also includes a provision to increase the number of board of immigration appeals attorneys by 23 a year for the fiscal years 2018-2020 to ensure due process is upheld. Resources for hiring necessary support staff for the attorneys and judges are provided for in the bill as well. By increasing the number of immigration judges and appeals attorneys, deportation cases and proceedings will be completed faster, and as a result less instances of "catch and release" wil occur. Asylum seekers will also have their cases heard faster, and the people who have the right to be here under current law will recieve the legal proceedings they need to properly begin life in America at a faster rate.    

Advancing reforms in central America to address the factors driving migration

The final provision of the bill provides that the president appoints a senior official “to coordinate the efforts of the Federal Government…and the efforts of international partners to strengthen citizen security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity in Central America and to protect vulnerable populations in the region,” with a special focus on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

While most Americans support allowing Dreamers who came to our country illegally as children through no fault of their own to remain in America under certain conditions because it is the right thing to do morally, it also makes sense economically. Our nation has already invested in educating them, and now that they have grown up in our schools and acquired the skills needed to contribute to our economy, it makes no sense to spend money on trying to deport them, especially when considering the United States' aging population demographic and current labor shortages at 3.9% unemployment . At the same time, any path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants should be coupled with increased border security to deter future illegal immigration and prevent this situation from happening again in ten years. Border security, or the knowledge of who and what are entering the United States, is a key factor of our national security, plain and simple.

If Denham’s resolution passes as it very well may, or if Speaker Ryan avoids the discharge petition by holding true to his words and allowing floor time to debate different immigration bills in the house before the November mid-term elections, in the coming month there will a lot of talk about what the best solutions to fix different broken facets of our nation’s immigration system are. Immigration hardliners up for re-election will have the chance to gain clout from producing real results by legislating a compromise that finally secures the border and provides a path for Dreamers to earn legal status, or they could be replaced if they continue to maintain the broken status quo we have in America of an unsecured border and unidentified and unverified people by voting against every bi-partisan piece of immigration legislation. Congress should take this chance to put politics aside, and finally act in legislating immigration policy, like the USA Act, that is in the best interests of Americans.

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