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Immigration law in the United States is perpetually changing. This blog is meant to serve as a resource for current updates in law and policy that affect immigrants and immigrants' rights. This blog should not be construed as legal advice; it is the author's opinion on relevant news in the immigration context. If you have any questions about how the changing law and policy may affect you, please contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.


End the Quota!

On March 4, 2014, the President submitted his budget request for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Congress. Included in that budget was $1.8 billion to detain 30,539 immigrants per day-an arbitrary, congressionally-imposed figure not based on the demonstrated needs of the agency. Congress first enacted the detention bed quota in 2007, and ICE as well as some members of Congress interpret the quota to require ICE not only to maintain those beds but also to keep every bed filled every day. In this year's budget American taxpayers are spending $2 billion to keep on average 34,000 immigrants locked up every day. Though statute requires some individuals to be detained, thousands of people are detained unnecessarily.

On Tuesday, March 11th, call your Senators and Representative and tell them Congress should eliminate the detention bed quota, which ensures funding to keep 34,000 immigrants locked up in ICE detention facilities on any given day.


The detention bed quota does not serve a law enforcement purpose

The detention bed quota is an aberration in law enforcement. While ICE justifies detention of some 
immigrants because they pose a public safety risk, many immigrants do not need to be jailed. Over half 
of immigrant detainees between 2009 and 2011 had no criminal history. Additionally, no other federal 
or local law enforcement agency detains people to meet a quota. Elimination of the bed quota would 
bring ICE in conformity with national law enforcement practice. 
Immigration detention is permissible only to ensure compliance with court hearings and final orders of 
removal or to protect the community where an individual poses a safety threat. Moreover, in many 
situations, detention is not needed to meet those goals. For example, the government can release 
individuals with bond or use other alternative to detention. People who are on alternatives to detention 
appear in court 99% of the time and comply with removal 84% of the time. 

The detention bed quota is a wasteful use of limited tax dollars

Immigration detention is costly

The United States spends about $159 per day to detain one individual and about $2 billion annually on immigration detention. Elimination of the bed quota would help give ICE more flexibility to apply the most effective and least restrictive form of custody necessary. 
Other proven and much more cost-effective alternatives to detention are available. ICE has a spectrum 
of supervision options, including community-based alternatives, bond, and GPS-enabled ankle monitors, which cost between 70 cents and $22 a day—a fraction of the cost of detention. These are the same 
tools used nationwide by local and state authorities to supervise individuals in their custody.
America needs a fair and humane immigrant enforcement system that prioritizes keeping families together and respects due process

Detention often results in family separation, especially for individuals detained in remote facilities or far 
from their home, a problem that can be exacerbated by the need to fill detention beds in facilities 
across the country. Family separation negatively impacts children, especially when the parent is the sole 
caregiver, and can undermine the economic stability of the family. 
Each year about 400,000 people are placed in immigration detention. Some will spend a few days in 
detention, while others will spend months or years fighting their deportation from behind bars. This 
includes asylum seekers and people with valid claims for relief. While noncitizens in removal 
proceedings have the right to be represented by counsel at their own expense, many detention facilities 
are located in remote areas making it difficult for detainees to seek an attorney. On average, 84% of 
detained immigrants go through proceedings without legal representation. The detention bed quota 
increases the number of people who must go through removal proceedings unrepresented. 




House Democrats Unveil Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal

Today, in an important effort to keep the conversation and momentum on immigration reform moving forward in the House, a group of centrist Democrats introduced their version of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Although the full text has not yet been made available, it is said to be a modification of the bipartisan Senate bill of the same name adopted earlier this year. Among other reported changes, the House bill takes a different path on border security, incorporating a bill introduced by Republican Congressman Mike McCaul which passed unanimously out of the House Committee on Homeland Security in May of 2013. The House sponsors—including Representatives Garcia, Chu, Polis, DelBene, and Horsford—adopted provisions of the McCaul-Thompson bill as a replacement for the costly, controversial “border surge” strategy adopted by the Senate under the Corker-Hoeven amendment.  

Substantively, the comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced today reflects a series of bipartisan policy and political compromises made during deliberations in the Senate. The original co-sponsors represent diverse interests from within the Democratic Party, including the New Democrats Coalition, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

The following is a statement from the American Immigration Council’s Executive Director, Benjamin Johnson:

“The introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House presents an important opportunity for bipartisan cooperation and is a reminder that Congress can and must work on more than one issue at a time. The bill’s co-sponsors have demonstrated a willingness to take a fresh look at the decidedly imperfect Senate bill and use it as a starting point for shaping truly bipartisan legislation. To succeed, Republicans must either seize the opportunity to turn this into a truly bipartisan moment for moving immigration reform forward, or put forward an alternative vehicle for fixing our broken immigration system.”


Immigration Reform Fattens State Economies, Too

By Paul McDaniel

“Should the United States be pro-immigrant?” asked Tax Watchdog Grover Norquist. “That’s like asking whether McDonald’s should make hamburgers. It’s made the United States work for several hundred years. It’s what’s made us different, what’s made us more successful,” said Norquist during a recent call summarizing a new report from Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) on the economics of immigration reform.

Indeed, REMI’s new report builds on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) dynamic analysis of the Senate’s immigration reform bill and analyzes the bill’s key components and potential effects on all fifty states over the next  30 years. Specifically, the report explores the creation of a pathway to legal status, and an expansion of high-skilled and lesser-skilled visas. The report finds that overall economic effects of the policy changes would be positive, increasing gross domestic product (GDP) for the country and for each state, and increasing net new jobs across industries. Specifically, the report’s key findings at the national level include the following (state level fact sheets are also available from the report’s website):

  • A pathway to legal status will increase total United States employment by 594,000 net new jobs in 2018 and GDP is expected to increase by $49.9 billion by 2018. As a result, employment and GDP increase for all states.
  • Employment and gross state product is estimated to increase for all states and in all years as a result of the H-1B high-skilled program expansion: around 1.3 million jobs and a GDP increase of more than $158 billion by 2045.
  • An increase in H-2A agricultural visas would result in total employment increases of around 39,600 by 2045.
  • Fully utilizing the H-2B seasonal worker visas up to the cap will increase total U.S. employment by around 24,000-25,000 over the next 30 years.
  • The W worker visa program would lead to a total gain of around 365,000 jobs by 2045 and a rise in GDP of $31 billion.

People in every state will benefit from immigration reform, and these policy changes “will expand the economic pie for individuals and businesses across the nation,” said Fred Treyz, CEO and Chief Economist of REMI. He went on to explain that “undocumented workers, by entering the mainstream workforce, will add to overall U.S. productivity, and their increased spending will drive job growth throughout the economy.”  Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, noted of the report’s findings that “the primary impact is to have better state economies.”

Additionally, Norquist noted that the report “builds on the mounting pile of evidence that immigration reform strengthens the economy at the state and federal level. More immigration means a larger and more productive economy, which creates jobs and spurs economic growth.” Clearly, a growing mountain of evidence and research shows immigration reform’s potential economic benefits nationally, state-by-state, and locally, including sturdier economies, job creation and labor market growth, increased revenue, entrepreneurship and business growth, housing market growth, and stronger communities. As such, amid the ongoing legislative debate, Congress must acknowledge what they would be saying “no” to if they fail to enact comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.


USCIS Approves First Green Cards for Same Sex Couples

On June 26, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, in which it struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for all federal laws.  This law meant that the immigration agencies would not recognize lawful, same-sex marriages for any immigration purpose. Since the Court’s decision, the Obama administration has moved rapidly to allow U.S. citizens to petition for immigration benefits for their spouses, providing hope to an estimated 28,500 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States who might otherwise be separated by our immigration laws. 

On July 15, 2013, Karin Bogliolo, in San Jose, California, was granted her green card, making her the third gay immigrant to become a lawful permanent resident based on a same-sex marriage. Karin, 72, a U.K. citizen, and her U.S. citizen spouse, Judy Rickard, 65, have fought for years to stay together and will never again be separated by U.S. immigration law.

The demise of DOMA’s definition of marriage has enormous benefits for same-sex spouses, even beyond green cards. It will also give same-sex spouses access to countless other immigration benefits, like derivative visas for spouses of holders of nonimmigrant visas like H-1B or L visas, hardship waivers for people who have been deported or barred from reentry, eligibility for cancellation of removal, 212(h) hardship waivers of minor offenses, reopening of removal orders, and other considerations reserved for the spouses of U.S. citizens. These benefits will enable thousands of bi-national same-sex couples to return to the U.S. after having spent years in exile abroad or after being separated from their life partners and families.



Immigration bill's starts and stops

By Seung Min Kim, Politico

Every time the House bipartisan immigration group set a deadline this year, its members have blown it. First, it aimed for the State of the Union. In April, the group said, “Soon.” Members struck a tentative deal twice in May and said a bill was coming in early June. Then a key lawmaker bolted, but the group insisted it was still on track.

It’s now almost mid-July, and there is still nothing the group can show for four years of secretive talks. But given the uncertainty in the House on how to go forward on immigration, it’s not too late for the group to help dictate the path of reform — if it acts fast.

House Republicans have declared the Senate-passed legislation dead on arrival, and two House committees have cleared five separate bills — which Democrats hate — to reform pieces of the current system. Republicans have an all-hands-on-deck meeting on Wednesday to discuss various options.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a memo Friday that his chamber “may” start considering border security bills while reviewing other immigration plans. Leadership’s strategy could mean either moving each bill separately through the floor or bundling the committee-approved measures into a larger package for a full floor vote.

Republicans could also decide to take up take the House bipartisan bill, when it’s released, and pick it apart. Putting the Senate-passed bill through House committees and letting members rewrite it is another option, although that now seems more unlikely.

Or they could do nothing.

Given that there’s no obvious path forward, the bipartisan group of seven — formerly eight — feels there’s an opportunity to find a sweet spot between the two parties.

“It’s pretty clear that the Senate bill, as it stands, has little chance to pass the House,” group member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. “So ultimately, I think you’re going to see all the work that we’ve been doing is exceedingly relevant.”

They do have a bill — right now, it’s about 500 pages and has been reviewed by House legislative counsel. The group is still cagey on when it will be released, although Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, one of the group’s Democratic members, said he would be “stunned” if that doesn’t come by the August recess.

“There is absolutely no hesitation in moving forward,” Yarmuth said in a phone interview. “And still, I think both sides are optimistic that ultimately, this can be the vehicle that gets through the House.”

Immigration advocates also believe that it’s not too late for the bipartisan group to wield influence.

“I think having a House bipartisan bill is useful in that it offers an alternative to the two more evident groups in the House GOP: the do-nothing crowd and the play small ball caucus,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, said in an email.

The Democratic side — led by California Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office, according to two sources — did the actual writing of the legislation. That’s left Republicans to pore over the bill with extra scrutiny before signing off, and they’ve found several wrinkles in the language that they want to smooth out before its official unveiling.

Lawmakers and their aides have let few details of their reform plan slip outside its tight circle. From what is known, their legislation will be mostly more conservative than the plan the Senate passed.

The group envisions a minimum 15-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants — two years longer than the track written by the Senate Gang of Eight. Both bills would shorten that wait for immigrants who qualify for the DREAM Act.

Applicants would also have to admit they violated immigration laws and be placed in a probationary status. One trigger is tied to E-Verify and stipulates the legalization process would be stopped and reversed for immigrants if the workplace verification system is not set up in five years — a provision House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has publicly lamented.

The bill’s health care provisions essentially would reflect the language in the Senate legislation, meaning newly legalized immigrants would not have access to federally funded benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Health care was a major stumbling block for House negotiators, ultimately prompting Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) to drop out of the talks.

Unable to resolve an impasse over a program for lesser-skilled workers, the two sides will release separate plans. Democrats favor the agreement crafted between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions, which is in the Senate bill. But Republicans will push one tilted more toward business interests, and their plan will most likely include “significantly” more visas, including generous caps — or no caps at all — for construction worker visas, Yarmuth said. The Senate bill limits such visas to 15,000 per year.

But all this may not be enough to satisfy the conservative majority in the House, which has continually criticized the Senate bill.

“What the Senate just passed was, again, a bunch of candy thrown down there — a bunch of assets thrown down there to gain votes but without a methodical, smart border approach,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We want a smart border and smart immigration plan, something that makes sense.”

McCaul’s committee unanimously cleared a border security plan in May. And the House Judiciary Committee passed four bills tackling difference pieces of the immigration system, mostly on partisan lines.

Those bills would create a new agricultural program for guest workers, phase in a mandatory E-Verify requirement nationwide and boost the number of available green cards and visas for high-skilled workers. Another bill includes several interior security measures, like allowing state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

One big remaining piece is how Republicans plan to tackle legalization of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) supports a pathway to legalization for the undocumented immigrants but draws the line at a so-called special pathway to citizenship — akin to what he believes is in the Senate bill.

The former immigration lawyer also hinted during a town hall in Lynchburg, Va., last week that he could be open to citizenship for DREAM Act-eligible immigrants, who were brought illegally as children into the United States.

If Republicans stop short of citizenship opportunities for current undocumented immigrants, Democrats won’t give their blessing — believing those immigrants shouldn’t be relegated to a second-class tier.

“I would think very few [Democrats] would be able to support that,” Yarmuth said. “I just think that’s a commitment that we all feel strongly about. We don’t want two classes of permanent residents in the country.”

But despite everything that threatens the prospects of an immigration overhaul, key lawmakers remain optimistic on the chances of reform this year.

“I think it’s going to be slow, arduous and potentially, at times, even ugly,” Diaz-Balart said. “But I think we’re going to get there.”