Restarting the House Immigration Debate
Before the government shutdown, Members of Congress and their constituents were talking about important city issues, immigration among them. NLC joins the chorus of voices asking the House of Representatives to move on a common sense approach to immigration reform. For cities, the issue is an economic one; immigrants bring incredible talent and energy to communities. Local leaders also are responsible for community safety and cohesion, and a vulnerable population living in the shadows can be a threat to public safety and public health for the community as a whole. In an effort to get the Congressional immigration debate re-energized, last week House Democrats introduced an immigration overhaul bill that mirrors the bill adopted by the Senate last June without the so-called “border surge” that called for 700 miles of new border fence. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her 165 Democratic co-sponsors don’t expect the House to consider their bill anytime soon, but they do hope their proposal will remind their House colleagues that immigration reform remains a pressing concern for our nation. House Republicans immediately panned the proposal and made it clear the House will not consider the measure but will proceed with “regular order,” which has meant a piece-meal approach to immigration reform. Instead of a comprehensive, bipartisan measure such as The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act adopted by the Senate in June, two House Committees have been working on individual bills – none of which deal with the most contentious issue of allowing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and ultimately a path to citizenship. Two f these new bills are opposed by NLC. The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act would criminalize federal immigration violations, overturn last year’s Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s restrictive immigration law and place all burdens of enforcement on local governments, negatively impacting public safety. The Legal Workforce Act of 2013 would mandate that local governments retroactively use an electronic employment eligibility verification system such as E-Verify, run by the Department of Homeland Security. In contrast, the bill put forward by the House Democrats would allow the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants to get temporary legal status within six months, and apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years if they pass a criminal background check, pay fines and learn English. The bill would revamp the legal immigration system to allow more high-tech and lower-skilled immigrants to enter the country each year. The bill would substitute a House Homeland Security Committee bill requiring an administration border security strategy that stops 90 percent of illegal border crossings. A bipartisan “gang” has been working for years behind the scenes to develop a common sense immigration overhaul bill. While the Senate has been able to bridge the partisan gap and adopt a comprehensive bill, the only bipartisan success has been the House Homeland Security Committee effort to develop a sensible approach to border security. Once Congress has resolved the current mess it has created with the shutdown and looming debt ceiling deadline, we urge House leaders to not delay the immigration debate any more. 2013 is the year to pass this critical legislation and keep our cities' economies humming. About the Author: Leslie Wollack is NLC's Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability. Through Federal Advocacy, she lobbies on behalf of cities around transportation, finance, infrastructure and community development. Follow Leslie on Twitter at @lawollack.