Senate to Consider Increasing U Visas this Week
The U.S. Senate is widely anticipated to take up the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) this week. Although VAWA was initially passed in 1994 to increase protections for women suffering domestic violence and abuse.
The version currently before the Senate, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy contains provisions that could increase the number of U-visas by 34,000. It does this by increasing the number of U visas granted annually from 10,000 (the current ceiling) to 15,000, until all unused U visas since 2006 are recaptured.
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in 2000 to allow aliens who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a victim of domestic violence, rape, or certain other crimes to obtain temporary legal status if they help law enforcement prosecute those crimes.
An alien can obtain a U visa regardless of legal status, remain in the country for four-years at a time, receive work authorization, and become eligible for a green card after three years.
If the Senate passes S. 1925, it goes to the Republican-controlled House where it is expected to face an uphill battle.
Last Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 64-34 to make major revisions to the State's immigration enforcement law, HB 56. The changes were adopted through the passage of HB 658, introduced by Rep. Micky Hammon, also the House author of HB 56.
HB 658 weakens HB 56 in several ways. It limits the circumstances under which law enforcement officers check immigration status, weakens the penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens, eliminates the prohibition on renting apartments to an individual a landlord knows is an illegal alien, and eliminates the requirement that schools collect immigration data on their students for inclusion in state reports.
Debate on the Alabama House floor was long and contentious. Opponents said the bill did not go far enough, calling for an outright repeal. Early on, the House Legislative Black Caucus led a filibuster, saying the law had led to discrimination and other unintended consequences. Rep. Hammon, however, promoted the changes as merely clarifying HB 56, particularly for law enforcement. "We've had a year to examine our law and talk to people who work with the law every day," said Hammon. "We have put together some clarifications and simplifications and few language changes in the law."
This Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona's immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. The Arizona legislature passed SB 1070 in April of 2010 and within months, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the State in an attempt to strike down the law.
At issue before the Supreme Court are four sections of SB 1070:
- Section 2: Requires state and local law enforcement officers, during a lawful stop, arrest or detention, to inquire about immigration status if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is an illegal alien.
- Section 3: Provides that it is a violation of state law for an illegal alien to be in violation of the federal alien registration statutes.
- Section 5: Creates a misdemeanor offense that prohibits illegal aliens from applying for work, soliciting work in public places, or performing work in Arizona.
- Section 6: Authorizes state and local police officers to conduct a warrantless arrest of an individual if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed a removable offense.
All four of these sections were enjoined by the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then upheld that injunction.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed by a 22-12 vote key legislation Wednesday that would close a loophole under current tax law that allows illegal aliens to collect the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). The ACTC is a refundable credit that allows individuals with three or more children to reduce their federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each child who meets certain criteria.
Currently, illegal aliens are eligible for this credit because the IRS only requires applicants for the ACTC to provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Last year, the Inspector General for the U.S. Treasury Department released a report revealing that illegal aliens annually receive $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits, primarily through the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC).
But during last week's committee hearing, the Ways and Means Committee voted to close this tax credit loophole by requiring that individuals who claim the ACTC provide a valid Social Security Number (SSN).
The ACTC amendment is now part of a budget reconciliation proposal that will go to the House Budget Committee for inclusion in a larger package aimed at saving tax-payer dollars. While passage in the House seems likely, the bill's prospects in the Senate are uncertain.