Saturday, July 11, 2009

Senate Bill Includes Immigration Measures

On July 9, the Senate, by a vote of 84 to 6, passed a DHS funding bill which includes a variety of immigration enforcement and benefits measures. The measure now goes to a House-Senate Conference Committee which must reconcile this bill with a funding measure previously passed by the House of Representatives which contains none of the immigration amendments added by the Senate.


The Senate adopted an amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) to provide that the DHS must complete 700 miles of actual fencing along the U.S.- Mexican border by the end of fiscal year 2010. Despite being funded for several years, the DHS has only managed to erect a fraction of this amount.

The bill also includes an amendment by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) which is aimed at preventing the DHS from rescinding the "No-Match" rule. Secretary Napolitano had announced her intention to do so earlier this week. This rule would require employers to fire workers who are unable to resolve discrepancies in their Social Security Records.

The bill also includes an amendment by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) which would effectively make the "E-Verify" program permanent for federal contractors. Not only would "E-Verify" be used to check the immigration status of new hirees, it would also apply to existing employees who are assigned to work under a federal contract. Before the Sessions' amendment passed, 10 Democrats joined most of the Republican Senators in voting for a procedural motion. The House bill would extend the "E-Verify" program, but only for a period two years.

However, both the mandatory "E-Verify" program for federal contractors and the implementation of the "No-Match" rule have both been enjoined by a Federal Court order since 2007. Therefore, it is not clear that either provision of the Senate bill would become effective even if they remain in the final bill after a House-Senate Conference Committee meeting, and are signed into law.

The Senate bill also contains an amendment by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IO) which allows employers, for the first time, to use the "E-Verify" program to screen existing employees as well as new hires.

DHS spokesman Matt Chandler criticized these amendments. He stated that they "are designed to prevent real progress on immigration enforcement and are a reflection of the old administration's strategy: all show, no substance."


The Senate also adopted two amendments offered by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT). The first would eliminate the "widow's penalty". This would allow foreign-born widows and orphans to remain eligible for permanent residence even when the U.S. citizen spouse/parent dies before they achieve such status. The second would extend the "Conrad 30" J waiver program for physicians and the religious worker program for non-ministers until September 30, 2012. Currently, both programs are due to expire on September 30, 2009.

Finally, the Senate bill includes an amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) which would make the EB-5 Regional Center Investor program permanent. Currently, the program is due to expire on September 30, 2009.


What should we make of the Senate's sudden interest in adding far-reaching immigration amendments to an appropriations bill?

Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, states, with regard to the "No-Match" rule that "while the Senate might think it has taken a step to fix illegal immigration, it has actually set into motion a rule that will jeopardize the jobs of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who could be unjustly fired under the rule due to SSA database errors."

Mary Giovagnoli of the Immigration Policy Center is not impressed by many of the Senate's actions. She states that "enforcement-only amendments win on the Senate floor — bad policy, but great political theater. Unfortunately, political theater is often hard for politicians to resist when they are dealing with complex issues that defy simple solutions."

We link to her analysis of the enforcement provisions of the Senate bill and to the ACLU's press release from our "Media" page at

Since Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has promised to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill by Labor Day, we hope that the most controversial immigration amendments to the DHS appropriations bill will be stricken by the House-Senate Conference Committee. Perhaps it would be better if major changes in our immigration laws were made after legislative hearings and an opportunity for Members of Congress to examine the arguments for and against each measure.


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  2. It's amazing to me that it took this long to get rid of the widow's penalty. So many people out there were suffering for the deaths of their loved ones, as if losing them wasn't enough. These people aren't fortunate enough to get immigrant investor visas, and didn't have the funds to draw attention sooner. But no use complaining now that it's done!