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.
ACLU Sues Arizona for Refusing to Provide Driver's Licenses to Illegal Aliens
In its lawsuit, the ACLU challenges the executive order on two grounds. First, the complaint alleges that Governor Brewer's executive order is preempted by federal immigration law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and
Second, the complaint alleges that Governor Brewer's executive order violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it treats other deferred action recipients and other classes of lawfully present grantees, like temporary protected status grantees, differently than the similarly situated DACA grantees. The complaint asks the federal court to declare Governor Brewer's executive order unconstitutional and preliminarily and permanently enjoin its enforcement.
Governor Brewer has defended her executive order as necessary to uphold an Arizona state law that prohibits the granting of state benefits to illegal aliens. Brewer reasons that because the DACA program "does not and cannot confer lawful or authorized status or presence upon the unlawful alien applicants," granting driver's licenses, i.e., a state benefit, to DACA grantees would violate Arizona law
The Obama Administration has yet to weigh in on the lawsuit, but earlier this year Administration officials reportedly stated that it is up to the states to decide whether to allow DACA grantees to receive driver's licenses. Similarly, Ian Grossman, vice president of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has stated, "[t]he consensus is that well, we have our rules of who's eligible for a license... At the end of the day, it's a state-issued document, and the state has the authority to determine who is eligible for that document."
GOP Senators Introduce New Version of DREAM Act
Last Tuesday, Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced their version of the DREAM Act, which would grant amnesty to illegal aliens up to the age of thirty-two. Called the "ACHIEVE Act," S. 3639 creates a new, tiered nonimmigrant visa program, the W-visa, that puts illegal aliens on a path to a green card and subsequent citizenship.
Under the Republican plan, illegal aliens would be eligible for a W-1 visa if they:
Once an illegal alien receives a W-1 visa, the alien has six years to obtain a bachelor's, associate's, vocational/technical, or graduate degree, or to complete four years of military service. If the alien meets this threshold, the alien is then eligible for a W-2 visa. Under a W-2 visa, an alien must then either maintain employment for 36 months, or be enrolled in or complete a graduate degree program within four years.
Then, after the four-year period is up, an alien who has fulfilled the requirements of a W-2 visa becomes eligible for a W-3 "permanent nonimmigrant" visa. Although the authors of the ACHIEVE Act say it does not provide a special pathway to citizenship, the W-3 is renewable indefinitely in four-year increments, and its recipients are free to adjust status to a green card via pathways already set up under current law.
In addition to the above provisions, the bill creates a special path to a green card for aliens on a W-1 visa who have served four years in the military and are honorably discharged. Those aliens may bypass the W-2 and W-3 visa programs and directly apply for legal permanent residency through a process to be determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security in regulations.
Sens. Hutchison and Kyl said that Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio, who has been touting but not revealing his own plan for months, provided input on the proposed legislation. Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conant, confirmed that while the Senator supports the idea behind the ACHIEVE Act, he is still working on his own version. "Senator Rubio is still developing his own alternative to the Dream Act," said Conant. "[H]e intends to introduce it in the new Congress, once he is confident it will win broad bipartisan support and be signed into law."
The Illinois Senate Executive Committee approved a bill which would allow as many as 250,000 illegal aliens to receive an Illinois driver's license. The bill breezed through committee by a vote of 12-2 on Thursday. News reports indicate that SB 957 is likely to pass the full Senate next week. The bill would grant driving privileges to illegal aliens but prohibit the license from being used as a form of identification.
If passed, Senate Bill 957 would permit the state to issue temporary driver's licenses to illegal aliens who: (1) have lived in the state for at least one year and establish identity through either a consular ID or valid foreign passport. The bill further provides that a temporary driver's license would expire three years from the date of issuance shall not be accepted as a valid form of identification.
Some of Illinois' most prominent political leaders are pushing for passage of the bill as a way to "make the state's road's safer. Those in favor of providing illegal aliens with driving privileges include Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senate President John Cullerton, House Republican Leader Tom Cross and former governors Jim Edgar and James Thompson.
Other supporters claim the bill will increase the number of driver's with insurance. Advocate Ald. Danny Solis stated that, "Those people need to have a driver's license so they can have insurance so that when they are on our highways, and possibly get into an accident, everybody's protected." Opponents of granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens say not so and cite to the State of New Mexico — one of only two states that grants driver's licenses to illegal aliens —which has the second-highest rate of uninsured drivers in the United States.
Opponents of the bill argue that despite the bill's language, the temporary license would become a de facto form of identification. Senator Dale Righter pointed out the "Catch-22s" of the legislation in that, "You want to find out who it is you're dealing with, but that document's not supposed to be used to tell you who you're dealing with."
Granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens is bad public policy and repugnant to federal immigration law. It treats them as if they are legal residents and facilitates their continued illegal presence. Providing identification and driving privileges to illegal aliens only enables the illegal aliens to continue to live, work, and vote in states unlawfully.
If SB 957 becomes law, Illinois would be one of three states that provide driver's licenses to illegal aliens — along with New Mexico and Washington State. California also recently passed a law to allow illegal aliens who are granted deferred action under the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program to obtain California driver's licenses.
The Illinois Senate is expected to vote on SB 957 next week. If it passes, it will be sent to the state House, which will likely take up the measure in early January.
Earlier this month, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) challenged the Obama Administration's decision to award Social Security Numbers to alien beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In a letter to Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Michael Astrue, Rep. Gingrey wrote: "[I]t is still unclear what level of documentation will be required and what level of background checks are being conducted on the documents and the applicants. Due to this ambiguity, I call into question the wisdom of providing Social Security numbers to these petitioners," the letter reads.
The letter asks the Commissioner a series of questions intended to shed light on the Administration's process of handing out SSNs to illegal aliens under DACA.
The Obama Administration has asked for an extension of its November 30 response deadline as requested in the letter. As of November 15, Georgia ranks ninth among states for the highest number of illegal aliens applying for backdoor amnesty under the program.
Washington – Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress on Wednesday presented the nine principles that should guide comprehensive immigration reform they say will contribute to the economic recovery.
During a press conference in the Capitol, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus insisted that immigration reform is cannot be postponed any longer, adding that during the 113th Congress is the perfect time to bring undocumented foreign residents out of the shadows.
An overhaul of immigration law would increase the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a long-time leader on the issue, said the next Congress offers "an historic opportunity to help immigrants."
"We can - and should - make history in this session of Congress by passing comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
The nine principles put forward Wednesday include the registration of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants; protection of immigrant families to prevent their separation; legalization of undocumented students and visas for agricultural guest workers.
To register, undocumented people would have to provide their fingerprints, pay taxes and learn English, although those who have criminal records will be subject to deportation.
When asked by Efe about why instead of principles they did not present a bill on the matter, Menendez said that they preferred to begin in "good faith" with a bipartisan process to start the debate with "an extended hand" rather than a clenched fist.
Republicans, who have opposed anything that smacks of an amnesty, now are promoting their own plan, which does not include a path to legalization.
The defeat of Mitt Romney at the polls has forced the Republican Party to redesign its immigration stance, well aware that it lost the Hispanic vote in part because it opposed immigration reform.
On Tuesday, GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona presented a bill that will permit certain undocumented students to legally remain in the United States if they enroll in a university or enlist in the Armed Forces.
That bill is a watered-down version of the DREAM Act, which was buried in the Senate in 2010.
On Meet the Press Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are resuming negotiations on "comprehensive" immigration reform legislation. "Sen. Graham and I have talked and we are resuming the talks that were broken off two years ago," said Schumer.
Speaking to NBC host David Gregory, Sen. Schumer, who is chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, seemed convinced that Republicans are now willing to work with Democrats to pass an amnesty for illegal aliens. He also said he anticipates his "blueprint" to be the framework for it. "Graham and I are talking to our colleagues about this right now and I think we have a darn good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year," said Schumer. "The Republican Party has learned that being anti-illegal and anti-immigrant doesn't work for them politically and they know it."
Meanwhile, Senator Lindsay Graham made a similar pitch for "comprehensive" immigration reform on the CBS show Face the Nation. Using recent election results as the reason, Graham attempted to justify renewed amnesty negotiations. "This is an odd formula for a party to adopt," said Graham, "the fastest-growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election cycle. And it has to stop. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don't reload the gun." While Senator Graham stated that an immigration bill would have to take a "backseat" to addressing the impending "fiscal cliff," he nevertheless signaled his commitment to moving forward amnesty legislation. "I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem."
The Schumer-Graham outline for amnesty legislation includes the basic components of all "comprehensive" immigration reform legislation to-date: amnesty, some border security provisions, mandatory E-Verify, and a massive increase in guest workers. Different from previous amnesty bills, however, the outline also includes that all aliens receive a biometric identification card to help establish their identity.
Once the Schumer-Graham outline is turned into actual legislation, it's unclear how quickly the Senate will move on it. Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid (R-NV) has promised that amnesty legislation will be high on the agenda of Senate Democrats. But it remains to be seen how much Democrats intend to consult the rank-and-file of their own party, and whether the Senate Republicans will offer any resistance to undermining the rule of law and granting amnesty and work authorization to nearly 12 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, one of the most hard-line members of Congress on immigration, now says that comprehensive reform – which includes a pathway to legalization for the undocumented -- will be a priority in 2013. For years, Boehner, an Ohio Republican who placed some of the House's most controversial immigration hawks in leadership positions on the committee overseeing the issue, said that under no circumstances would Congress consider comprehensive immigration reform. "This issue has been around far too long," Boehner said in an interview Thursday with ABC News' "World News." ''A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."Boehner’s vow to prioritize overhauling the immigration system is significant.
It comes from someone in a key position to block, or facilitate, efforts in Congress to take up a reform bill. And it’s an indication of how the highest ranking Republicans are absorbing Latinos’ role in President Obama’s re-election as a clear message that they must be willing to compromise on issues of importance to them. More than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, who has been more open to comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws.
"I'm not talking about a 3,000-page bill," Boehner said at a Friday press conference. "What I'm talking about is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system." Two years ago, Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that under no circumstances would Congress consider comprehensive immigration reform. Boehner, who in his position at the helm wields considerable influence over how far a bill can get in the House, and even whether an issue gets attention in committees and on the floor, has been among the most hard-line members of Congress on immigration.
If people want to become citizens, they need to do it the right way. Go home, sign up, get in line like everybody else...Our schools, our hospitals, are being overrun by illegal immigrants.
- House Speaker John Boehner, Republican, in 2010 interview
Boehner has vigorously opposed any pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants. He voted against the DREAM Act, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors a way to legalize as long as they meet a strict set of criteria. Boehner supports amending the 14th Amendment to deny the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants automatic citizenship. He said many immigrants "come here so that their children can become U.S. citizens." And he wants to reinforce border security, including putting “boots on the ground,” as he said to reporters years ago.
Asked in a 2010 interview with The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review if he supports any measure that would provide a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, Boehner said firmly: “I don’t, no.”“If people want to become citizens, they need to do it the right way,” Boehner said. “Go home, sign up, get in line like everybody else.”“Our schools, our hospitals, are being overrun by illegal immigrants,” he said. He dismissed outright any notion that comprehensive immigration reform would arise for discussion in the House under his watch. Indeed, Boehner's appointees to the House's top leadership posts on immigration committees included ultra-conservatives such as Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, and Elton Gallegly of California.
“There is not a chance that immigration is going to move to the Congress,” Boehner said. “The American people will not let us look at any kind of broader immigration bill until they’re convinced we have the ability to do what we say we’re going to do.”Earlier this year, when fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, tried to float a proposal that was dubbed a “conservative alternative” to the DREAM Act, Boehner helped quash it. The senator’s bill would have legalized certain young people who came to the United States while they were children by granting non-immigrant visas so they could remain in the U.S. for college or to serve in the military.
Considered by Rubio and some more moderate Republicans as an olive branch of sorts to Hispanics on the important issue of immigration, Boehner torpedoed the plan. He told reporters that the plan did not stand a chance of passing in the GOP-led House.“I found it of interest,” Boehner said tepidly. “But the problem with this issue is that we’re operating in a very hostile political environment. To deal with a very difficult issue like this, I think it would be difficult at best.” That was a critical juncture, one that could have benefited the Republicans with Latinos, who had grown critical of Obama for voicing support for comprehensive immigration reform, but not putting action behind his words, in their view.
Some Democrats -- including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who is chair of the immigration task force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- also were so frustrated with what they perceived as Obama’s lack of force on immigration that they said they were willing to back Rubio’s plan.Obama then announced in June a new initiative that would offer a two-year reprieve to DREAMers, as they’re called, from deportation, as well as work permits. Polls showed that Obama’s Latino support, arguably higher than Romney’s – even with Latino frustration over his unfulfilled promises – jumped considerably after that.Rubio quietly abandoned his DREAM Act-light plan.
Republicans, including the Mitt Romney campaign, blamed the lack of immigration reform on Obama, who they said had used the issue to court Latinos in 2008, but then abandoned it. Obama has said that Republicans stymied efforts to address illegal immigration, and blamed them for dooming the DREAM Act, which passed the House in 2010, but not in Senate, where a 55-to-41 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the election that the vote showed that Democrats are the party of diversity, and he plans to bring up an immigration reform bill next year. He said Republicans would block such legislation at their own "peril."Meanwhile, Hispanics say they will hold both Democrats and Republicans accountable on immigration reform. "We're going to take on the Democrats, too, and Obama," said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Public Policy. "We came through for him, for them. It's time now, with immigration reform, to stop the B.S. and do something."
Some Hispanics say the Republican willingness to act on immigration reform will test the Obama administration's true commitment to the matter."The Democrats have really wanted to keep the immigration debate open" and not really take action on it, said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and former chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship during the George W. Bush administration.
"Some Republicans were reluctant to support immigration reform publicly because they felt they would have egg on their face," he said, "there was very little bipartisanship with Obama, and to make a bipartisan bill happen you have to trust you can work with the other party. If bipartisanship doesn't evolve in the next Congress, the numbers just won't be there to pass immigration reform."For their part, some Republicans are renewing their vow to stay hawkish on immigration. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted that Congress has to change 14th Amendment to solve illegal immigration. Graham tweeted, "Without changes in birthright citizenship, we will have future waves of illegal immigration."And two-term Sen. David Vitter said after Obama's re-election that he is not ready to support a bill that includes a pathway to legalization. He said Obama was re-elected because of his charisma.
"The momentum is here for comprehensive immigration reform," said Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights group. "But what is absolutely clear is that it will need the leadership of the Republican party." "This is a great opportunity for Republicans to start rebuilding their relationship with the Latino electorate, and regain the ground with Latinos that George Bush had started building."