President Obama and other supporters of immigration reform see an open road on Capitol Hill toward passing legislation and have stepped up efforts with less than 20 working days left in this legislative session.
The White House confirmed Monday that Obama will hold a Roosevelt Room meeting on immigration reform, after a Republican senator influential in getting such legislation passed in his chamber expressed optimism that the Republican-led House could be poised to follow.
The administration has not released the names of the meeting attendees. But Press Secretary Jay Carney, in confirming the session, suggested the White House will continue to tout reform support from both political parties and big business, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Immigration reform will reduce the deficit by $850 billion over the first 20 years,” Carney told reporters. “It’s good for the economy and the right thing to do. We hope the House will follow the Senate and take action.”
A Senate Budget Committee spokesman said Carney delivered the talking points used by the business lobbyists pushing this immigration plan.
"But what does the Congressional Budget Office’s report actually show?" he asked. "The immigration plan would increase on-budget deficits, spike unemployment and slash workers’ wages. The White House is offering its full-throated endorsement of a plan to displace millions of low-income U.S. workers at a time of crippling joblessness.”
Exactly how House leaders will address immigration reform has re-emerged as one of the biggest questions in Washington, with just 17 working days remaining on their legislative calendar.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, says the big Capitol Hill lobbying effort last week by business, religious and law-enforcement leaders appears to have jump started a purported House plan that could get support from the chamber’s small-but-powerful conservative caucus because it would not provide a “special” path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million illegal residents.
“I think that we’ve got a good shot at a breakthrough there,” Flake told the Arizona Republic. “The House can move this as fast as they want if they decide to do this. There is time and space on the calendar between now and the end of the year, if we decide we can do it.”
The Senate passed legislation this summer that creates a new -- or special -- 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that includes background checks and paying back taxes and penalties while not having to first return to their native country for a waiting period.
However, many conservatives say living in the United States illegally and being allowed to stay until achieving citizenship is “amnesty.”
Flake says the House’s step-by-step plan would allow so-called “dreamers” -- young people brought to the United States illegally as children -- to stay. And the older illegal population could try to achieve citizenship through existing or non-special channels such as their children or employer sponsors, according to the newspaper.
A Senate GOP staffer said the concern is whether incremental House measures -- starting with border security -- get passed and implemented in succession or simply passed and packaged in a way that would make them essentially tantamount to the Senate’s comprehensive bill.
Some of that concern was belied last week when Texas GOP Rep. Michael McCaul said he would not let chamber negotiators meet with their Senate counterparts in conference, amid concerns they could get steam rolled by upper chamber leaders like Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“I am not going to go down the road of conferencing with the Senate bill and I told [House Speaker John] Boehner that he needs to stand up and make that very clear,” McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. “We’re not going to conference with the Senate period.”
Still, critics fear the bills could be combined through other legislative tactics and that anything given Senate approval would have enough support from rank-and-file Republicans to get a floor vote and enough Democratic support for passage.
GOP Leaders Plan Immigration Push after Debt Ceiling Debate
While the rest of the country is fixated on Congressional budget battles, House Republican leaders continue to negotiate immigration legislation behind the scenes, preparing for what appears to be an amnesty debate in the House as soon as late October.
Only days ago, Rep. Mike McCaul Chairman of the House Homeland Security expressed confidence immigration will soon be on the House agenda. "I would think that [immigration] would be the next agenda item in the queue after we're done with this mess," Rep. Michael McCaul told reporters this past week, referring to clashes over government funding and the pending debt ceiling debate.
Likewise, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte , recently said he anticipates swift movement on immigration following the debt ceiling debate. During an interview with NPR's Kojo Nnamdi last month, Goodlatte told listeners the House could move on immigration legislation shortly. "[M]y best estimate is that we will be ready to take up immigration bills very soon. It may be October, but in my opinion, the five bills that have been passed out of [committee]…are ready to go to the floor of the House. And it's my hope that they will come to the floor of the House as soon as possible."
Other Members have pushed the date back until closer to the Thanksgiving recess, which takes place the week of November 25. According to true immigration reformer Rep. Steve King "[L]eadership is looking to a date near Thanksgiving to try to move something."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Doug Heye, has confirmed immigration remains on the House agenda, but has refused to say when it may be addressed. "Moving immigration forward remains a priority, but right now there's no firm timetable," he said. (Fox News Latino, Sept. 30, 2013)
When the House acts, it is widely expected that Speaker John Boehner will first take up Rep. McCaul's border bill, co-sponsored by fellow Texan and longtime amnesty advocate Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Unfortunately, H.R. 1417 shares many of the same problems with the Senate amnesty bill For example, H.R. 1417 requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit a plan for apprehending 90 percent of illegal border crossers, but fails to require that DHS actually achieve that goal. Many anticipate House Leadership intends to use H.R. 1417 as a vehicle to conference with the Senate bill.
In addition to H.R. 1417, Speaker Boehner is also expected to bring to the floor one or more immigration bills authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte . Chairman Goodlatte recently met with leading pro-amnesty Democrats about reaching a consensus on an amnesty scheme for the current 11-12 million illegal aliens in the country. According to news reports, Goodlatte sat down with Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Henry Cuellar to discuss how to move forward legislation. According to Rep. Cuellar, Chairman Goodlatte expressed willingness to work with the pro-amnesty representatives and to support some of their amendments to his immigration bills. (Roll Call, Sept. 26, 2013)
Pro-Amnesty Groups Plan October Push
Pro-amnesty groups announced last week plans to increase pressure for "comprehensive" immigration reform this fall. First, pro-amnesty activists are planning a so-called "National Day for Dignity and Respect" on October 5, with rallies and protests in dozens of cities calling for the end of all deportations of illegal aliens in the country. (Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2013) Then, on October 8 there will be a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to pressure House Republicans to pass "comprehensive" reform. (Id.; USA Today, Sept. 26, 2013) "We will see an outpouring from the community demanding a serious effort by Republicans to get immigration reform moving in the House," said long-time amnesty advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). (USA Today, Sept. 26, 2013) "I think the call will be so loud it will be hard to continue stalling." (Id.) Congress "should understand we're not going away," he added. (Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2013)
However, since Congress rarely addresses hot-button issues — such as amnesty — during an election year, pro-amnesty groups have acknowledged time is of the essence if Congress is to approve a legalization program. "We really need the House to take action to have floor votes this fall," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-amnesty America's Voice. (USA Today, Sept. 26, 2013) "If they don't, it's going to be — not impossible — but much tougher as we move into an election year." (Id.) Indeed, the House has fewer than 30 working days remaining in 2013, leaving current efforts to pass amnesty up in the air. "I think it's the conventional wisdom that immigration reform is dead in the House," speculated Stephen Yale-Loehr, an "immigration scholar" at Cornell Law School. (Id.) "But I think there could still be a surprise," he opined. (Id.)
White House Sees "Positive Signs" from House GOP that Senate Amnesty Bill Will Become Law
At a Georgetown University symposium entitled "Implementing Immigration Reform: Imagine the Possibilities" last Wednesday, a high level Obama administration official expressed optimism about the possibility that S. 744, the Senate comprehensive amnesty bill, would become law.
Obama's Senior Policy Director for Immigration, Felicia Escobar, said the White House has received "positive signs that Speaker Boehner and the Republican caucus do want to find a solution." (The Daily Caller, Sept. 25, 2013). Escobar based her statement on conversations held with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Moreover, Escobar suggested the White House was not fixated on the House passing a comprehensive amnesty bill. If the House brings to the floor a bill that is not comprehensive, Escobar said, it was "OK if we can get to a place and sit down and negotiate a final product" that incorporates amnesty. (Id.)
Refusing to take up an immigration bill before Congress' annual August recess, House Leadership left the American people wondering when it would bring legislation to the floor for a vote. However, recent comments from GOP leadership aides indicate Republicans are now considering bringing immigration-related legislation to the House floor this fall. Indeed, an aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters last week that GOP leaders "hope to consider [immigration] legislation" in October.
The aide's remarks appear to confirm statements made by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a leading amnesty proponent, who told constituents at a town hall in late-July that House leaders planned to take up immigration in October. This surprised some, as House Leadership had been evasive in setting a timetable. In fact, when specifically questioned about Ryan's timeline a week later on Fox News Sunday, Leader Cantor dodged the question, telling host Chris Wallace, "We will have a vote on a series of bills at some point..."
However, despite the Majority Leader's Office's sudden willingness to confirm an October vote, the growing number of issues that the House must also address this fall is already threatening the recently announced timeline. These priority legislative items include the need to pass a budget for the new fiscal year the pending debt ceiling debate, and possible resolutions on whether to take military action in Syria.
Underscoring the possibility that these items may push immigration to the sidelines, Speaker Boehner told reporters last week that the President would be in for a "whale of a fight" over the debt limit. "If we have to deal with the debt limit earlier, it doesn't change the overall dynamics of the debate, but — just in terms of timing — it might make it harder to find time for immigration bills in October," confirmed one House Republican leadership aide. Indeed, the House is in session only 14-days that month, and less than 40 House working days remain before the year ends. (Id.)
Because 2014 is an election year, many see the end of the 2013 calendar year as the unofficial deadline for Congress to pass an amnesty. As the calendar moves closer to Election Day, political observers predict that legislative leaders will not have the appetite for such a divisive debate.
Even so, GOP Leaders in the House still suggest they intend to vote on at least one immigration bill in an effort to conference with the Senate amnesty legislation. For example, House GOP Policy Chair James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters he was convinced that his fellow Republicans were prepared to vote down any piece of legislation emerging from conference committee with which they did not agree, insinuating that a House-Senate conference committee was a done deal. When the Senate and House pass different bills, they must resolve the differences in the legislation through a "conference committee." After the conference committee reaches agreement on identical bill language, the newly-agreed upon legislation goes back to each chamber to vote for final passage.
Whenever House leaders decide to bring up immigration, they will lead with "border security" and enforcement-style legislation. However, the "border security" bill currently making its way through the House, the Border Security Results Act (H.R. 1417) authored by Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) is nothing more than a repeat of the Senate amnesty bill's weak border provisions. H.R. 1417 does not require that DHS actually obtain situational awareness or operational control of any part of the border; it merely requires DHS to submit a plan for doing so.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez Frustrated Amnesty Push Stalled
Long-time amnesty advocate and Gang of Seven leader Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is frustrated that "comprehensive" immigration reform has stalled in the House of Representatives. "I was hopeful we would be in a better place today," Gutierrez conceded to reporters during a town hall event in House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-VA) district last week.
After four years of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the bipartisan group has yet to release an amnesty bill. While Gutierrez claims the group has drafted a 500-page "comprehensive" bill, he is unable to articulate the path to final passage because the Gang's three GOP members have not yet officially endorsed the legislation. "I will be very clear and succinct: I have already signed off," Gutierrez stated. "It is now time for my Republican colleagues to step forward and to announce a date. If they give me a date, I'll be there and we'll present legislation and present it to the public."
Gutierrez casts the blame for the Gang's inability to produce a bill squarely on House leadership. "I think it is very, very important to understand, that unlike the Senate, the group has not received any support," Gutierrez said "In the Senate," he continued, "it was clear that the group of eight was going to have the support [of leadership], and that there would be hearings and theirs was going to be the main bill."
In a desperate attempt to guilt the House into passing amnesty legislation, Gutierrez has resorted to fear mongering. "[S]omeone's going to lose a finger, a hand, an eye, a life today because an unscrupulous employer is going to put them in harm's way, someone's going to die; there's a woman that's going to be raped in a field somewhere in America today" because the House has not passed the Senate's massive amnesty bill, Gutierrez audaciously declared at an event in Rep. Frank Wolf's (R-VA) district.
Senator Menendez (D-N.J.) said Friday that the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill doesn’t have enough votes to pass the Senate.
The bill won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 13-5 vote, but Menendez said it lacks the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate — despite the bill's four Republican co-sponsors.
“We don’t currently have 60 votes identified in the Senate,” Menendez said in an interview with Univision. “We need to add more votes on the floor. That means that the community in your state, in every state, should be contacting your state’s two U.S. Senators saying that they want comprehensive immigration reform, that they are going to judge their political future based on this vote.”
Supporters of the bill are pushing for a strong bipartisan vote of 70 or more to put pressure on the House to take up the legislation.
In addition to the four GOP co-sponsors, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted for the bill in committee, though he has not committed his support in the floor vote.
Menendez said he was “optimistic” that the bipartisan coalition could cobble together the super-majority the bill will need to get through the Senate. The New Jersey Democrat said he expected a lengthy debate period, likely starting when Congress reconvenes the week of June 10 and potentially stretching to the Fourth of July break.
“I believe that in those three weeks we can get the necessary votes and we will have the community,” he said. “We are expecting that and working for that.”
The Hill reported on Friday that the “Gang of Eight” plans to meet daily when the bill is up for debate to discuss where lawmakers stand on proposed amendments.
Menendez said the bill would need a strong showing in the Senate “so we can put pressure on the House” to act. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the “Gang of Eight” bill does not have the votes to make it out of his chamber.
“I don’t know why he said that without looking at the votes, without looking at his own Republican colleagues who will support it,” Menendez said. “But we want to push this bill forward with the most positive votes we can find, more than 60, the 60 we need to be able to pass it here in the Senate, so we can put pressure on the House.”
“Speaker Boehner, will have to decide how he will proceed," Menendez continued. "But I want to have a good vote in the Senate so we send the message that the Republicans and the Democrats are together in favor of immigration reform.”
WASHINGTON — A State Department official “received several million dollars in bribes” from Vietnamese residents seeking visas, according to newly public court documents.
In a previously undisclosed criminal complaint, Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged scheme that investigators say spanned several countries. In some cases, investigators say, desperate Vietnamese paid up to $70,000 each for visas granting legal entry to the United States.
The “co-conspirators” advertised that the charge would be between $50,000 and $70,000 per visa but also that they’d sometimes charge less, State Department investigator Simon Dinits said in an affidavit. “They also encouraged recruiters to raise the price and keep the amount they charged over the established rate as their own commission,” the affidavit said.
Investigators say the alleged conspiracy occurred while Sestak was handling non-immigrant visas in the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Sestak served in the consulate until last September, when he left in preparation for active-duty service with the Navy. By then, investigators say, an informant had tipped them to the alleged visa scheme.
An attorney for Sestak didn’t offer comment Thursday.
Sestak, who turns 42 this year, was quietly arrested in Southern California about a week ago. Citing a “serious risk defendant will flee,” authorities secured a judge’s order to hold him without bail until he can be transferred back to Washington, where the complaint was originally filed under seal May 6.
Though it’s since been unsealed, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington declined Thursday to comment on the case until Sestak has been returned to the city. A State Department representative also declined to comment.
Dinits, a special agent with the department’s Diplomatic Security Service, spelled out the allegations against Sestak and five unnamed co-conspirators in a 28-page affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint. The allegations include a close accounting of how the Foreign Service officer, according to investigators, shifted ill-gotten gains across international borders.
“He ultimately moved the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through offshore banks, primarily based in China, to a bank account in Thailand that he opened in May 2012,” Dinits said. “He then used the money to purchase real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand.”
Sestak joined the consulate staff in Ho Chi Minh City in August 2010 and served as the chief of the non-immigrant visa staff. It was a busy office and Sestak came to have a remarkably lenient record for granting visa applications, Dinits said.
From May 1, 2012, to Sept. 6, investigators say, the consulate received 31,386 non-immigrant visa applications and rejected 35.1 percent of them. During the same period, Sestak handled 5,489 visa applications and rejected only 8.2 percent of them, according to investigators.
Sestak’s reported visa rejection rate fell to 3.8 percent in August, shortly before he was to leave the office.
According to Dinits, one of Sestak’s alleged co-conspirators was the “general director of the Vietnam office of a multi-national company located in Vietnam.” The four others were friends or relatives of this individual. All live in Vietnam.
Dinits said one co-conspirator “reached out to people in Vietnam, and in the U.S.,” and would advertise that visas could be guaranteed, including for those who wouldn’t otherwise be likely candidates. Other co-conspirators would help prepare the applicant and Sestak would review the application, according to Dinits.
Last July, Dinits said, an informant advised consular officials that 50 to 70 people from one village in Vietnam had illegally paid for their visas. That prompted investigators to start tracing online visa applications using Internet Protocol addresses, the unique numbers used to find particular computers or servers on the Internet. The investigators reported tracing money transfers, including $150,000 allegedly sent to Sestak’s sister in Florida. They also snooped on email accounts
“This opportunity will only last for a few more months, and after that it’s over,” one alleged co-conspirator wrote in a July 5 email quoted by Dinits.
In an effort to continue to keep the immigration issue front and center while Congress is on its two-week Easter recess, President Obama conducted interviews with major Spanish language networks Telemundo and Univision.
During the taped interviews, President Obama expressed confidence that Congress would pass an amnesty bill this summer so long as the Senate Gang of Eight stays on track to introduce legislation the week of April 8. "If we have a bill introduced at the beginning of next month as these senators indicate it will be, then I'm confident that we can get it done certainly before the end of the summer," President Obama told Telemundo. "My sense is that they are close," Obama added on Univision. "My expectation is we'll see a bill on the floor of the Senate next month."
The President rejected the notion of securing the borders prior to granting amnesty to the nation's 11-12 million illegal aliens. "[W]e don't want to make this earned pathway to citizenship a situation in which it's put off further and further into the future," Obama said. "There needs to be a certain path for how people can get legal in this country, even as we also work on these strong border security issues."
President Obama also dismissed a rift in negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO over a new guest worker program that will be part of the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform plan. This split is not "threatening to doom the legislation," insisted President Obama. "It's a resolvable issue." Currently the two groups disagree over how many guest workers should be allowed in the country (although the latest reports say the groups have agreed on a phased-in 200,000) and the wages they should be paid.
Finally, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to introducing his own legislation if the Senate ultimately fails to come to an agreement. If there's a "breakdown," he told Univision, "I'm prepared to step in. But I don't think that's going to be necessary," the President concluded.
Arizona’s sweeping anti-illegal-immigration law suffered another blow Monday when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with day laborers looking for work in the state.
A three-judge appellate panel unanimously upheld a lower court injunction that prevents the state from enforcing a part of SB 1070 that would prohibit motorists from stopping traffic to solicit day laborers.
Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, considered the decision a disappointment, her spokesman said in a prepared statement. “This provision offered one more tool for law enforcement to use in combating crime in our neighborhoods as a result of illegal immigration,” said the spokesman, Matthew Benson.
Civil and immigrant rights activists praised the court’s decision, saying the provision attacked day laborers’ 1st Amendment rights.
The court reaffirmed "that the freedom to seek work is constitutionally protected,” the American Civil Liberties Union said.
In Phoenix, Betty Guardado, secretary-treasurer of organized labor group Unite Here Local 631, said the provision had simply targeted “working people, Latinos and immigrants.”
“Arizona's elected leaders should stop wasting the public's time, money and patience trying to pass and enforce unfair laws,” Guardado said in a statement.
In the court’s opinion, Circuit Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote that Arizona had singled out day labor solicitation for harsh penalty while leaving alone other types of solicitation that block traffic.
“Arizona defends this content-based distinction by invoking the ‘unique’ danger posed by labor solicitation. That justification is only minimally supported by the record and, tellingly, SB 1070’s introduction says nothing about traffic safety,” Fisher wrote for the court. “Rather, it emphasizes that its purpose is to encourage self-deportation by stripping undocumented immigrants of their livelihood.”
The provision restricts more protected speech than is necessary, violating the 1st Amendment, the court concluded.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of SB 1070 but allowed the most controversial portion to take effect: Arizona can compel its law enforcement officials in most circumstances to check the status of someone they stop for lawful reasons if they suspect the person is in the country illegally.
It’s unclear whether Brewer will appeal the 9th Circuit's ruling.
“The governor will be conferring with her legal counsel regarding the state’s next steps in this case,” Benson said.
— President Barack Obama announced after a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Friday that he will lay out some of his plans for immigration reform on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Members of the caucus who were present at the meeting said Obama assured them that he shares the group’s basic beliefs about immigration reform, most notably that making a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — which some Republicans oppose — is an absolute must as they push for legislation.
“The President was pleased to hear from CHC members and noted that they share the same vision, including that any legislation must include a path to earned citizenship,” the administration in a statement. “The President further noted that there is no excuse for stalling or delay.”
Seven members of Congress were present at the meeting, including Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Immigration Task Force Chairman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.).
Obama told the group that his plans for immigration reform align with their own, especially with regards to the need for a pathway to citizenship, Becerra said after the meeting.
“He said on more than one occasion that his principles virtually mirrored the Congressional Hispanic Caucus principles — and if you look at our principles, we are determined to fight against creating a second class of Americans,” Becerra told HuffPost. “I don’t think there’s any light between where we are and where he is on the issue of having America legally create a second class of citizens.”
The Associated Press reported that the White House will launch an effort on immigration next week, as will a bipartisan group of senators, likely the so-called”gang of eight” – four Republicans, four Democrats — who have already begun to work toward a deal.
A Senate Democratic aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the group’s plans, told HuffPost that the senators hope to release a set of principles in February, and then a bill.
A pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States is considered a non-negotiable for many Democrats and immigrant advocates, who argue anything else would result in a huge group of second-class residents. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that advocates for a pathway to citizenship will have to cave and accept temporary status instead, with no special road to citizenship.
Meanwhile, senators plan to move ahead on other piecemeal immigration bills. The Hill reported Friday that Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida are teaming up with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Chris Coons of Delaware to introduce a bill next week that focuses on visas for high-skilled workers.
Obama administration officials have said they believe piece-by-piece reform would be less productive, but Hatch told The Hill he thinks his bill could aid in the broader legislative effort.
“I think we need to break the ice and let people know that this is the art of the doable … at least I think it’s very doable, and I think everybody ought to come on [to support it] because it makes sense and it’s a bipartisan bill already,” he said. “If we put that through that says to them, well maybe we can do more and if we can do more, I’m going to be right there helping.”
Becerra said that the president indicated again on Friday to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he wants a comprehensive bill. The congressman declined to speak about the bipartisan work in the House, but said there is “lots of conversation” going on between the members. His view is that bipartisan groups in each chamber should work on their own bills, then come together to find an agreement that can pass both houses, he said.
“It’s up to Congress to pass legislation, and so Congress ultimately has to draft and present legislation,” he said. “And the smartest thing would be to draft a bipartisan bill that has bicameral support with the president right there at the helm as well.”
Menendez said in an email that he is “very enthused” about Obama’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform.
“The President’s leadership is essential to our ultimate success,” he said. “I applaud him for announcing his commitment at the very beginning of this term and hope that the bipartisan process that is ongoing in the Senate will lead us to passage of a bill he can sign.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will dedicate most of its time this spring to comprehensive immigration reform, including changes for technology companies and agricultural businesses, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, said Wednesday.
"We have to find a way through the partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change on immigration laws, and that should include a path for citizenship," Leahy said at Georgetown University Law Center this morning. "I know I’m going to hear a lot of different views on this, but I hope that in the end we can honor those who came before us from distant lands in search of freedom and opportunity."
The committee will start next month with public hearings, Leahy said. He did not mention specific proposals, but hinted at reforms targeting H1-B visas by mentioning "innovating for technology companies" and H2-A visas by mentioning the "hardworking men and women who play vital roles supporting our farmers."
Leahy also said the committee will continue oversight of the nation's counterterrorism efforts and protecting civil liberties, including the administration's use of drones abroad as well as in the United States.
"I am concerned about the growing use of drones by federal and local authorities to spy on Americans here at home," Leahy said. "This fast-emerging technology is cheap and I think just because it’s available doesn’t mean it helps us. There could be a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans."
The committee will begin examining reforms to national gun policy to remedy "tragedies like last month's shootings in Newtown," Leahy said. He said hearings would find a way to better protect communities from mass shootings "while respecting the fundamental right to bear arms recognized by the Supreme Court."
The committee will also focus on promoting national standards and oversight for forensic labs and practitioners, as well as fiscal issues related to the high rate of imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences, Leahy said.
The reliance on mandatory minimum sentences has been "a great mistake," Leahy said. "Let judges act as judges and make up their own mind what should be done. The idea we protect society by one size fits all…it just does not work in the real world."
Leahy also said there are too many young people, minorities, and people from the inner cities, who are serving time where others who do the same crime get lighter penalties. He used the example of someone from the inner city buying $100 of cocaine could spend years in prison, while a Wall Street banker would only face reprimand, and maybe spend a week of public service on Park Avenue.