By Leslie Wollack
Although prospects for House action on comprehensive immigration reform remain unclear, the House Judiciary Committee has adopted four individual immigration bills which would have a major impact on local governments.
First, The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2278, would give states the power to create and enforce their own immigration law as long as they are consistent with federal law. NLC has joined with other associations representing state and local governments to strongly oppose H.R. 2278.
"This bill wrongly relieves the federal government of its mandate to enforce civil immigration laws and shifts both the responsibility and the cost of civil immigration enforcement to state and local governments", said the letter signed by the League of Cities, National Association of Counties, US Conference of Mayors and National Conference of State Legislatures. "If passed, H.R. 2278 will burden states and localities with excessive costs, place new federal responsibilities on the shoulders of state and local law enforcement without the benefit of adequate training, and preempt state and local policies."
Enforcement must be clear, balanced, predictable, non-discriminatory, fully funded and consistent. It must rely on an appropriate division of responsibilities based on historical enforcement activities and workloads.
H.R. 2278 would shift the federal responsibility for enforcing civil immigration law to state and local governments, hinder state and local law enforcement efforts to work with immigrant communities in preventing and solving crime, and divert critical resources from state and local law enforcement agencies. The bill contemplates future funding to state and localities to offset increased enforcement and incarceration of federal civil immigration laws, which the organizations believe is unrealistic in this time of budget constraints.
The full letter can be found here.
The second bill, The Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1772, would expand the use of federal electronic databases to screen new job applicants. The comprehensive immigration bill adopted by the Senate, S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, also calls for use of this national verification system, known as E-Verify, within five years. H.R. 1772 would require all employers to use the system, run by the federal government, within two years. The Legal Workforce would require state and local governments to screen current employees as well as future new hires, which would place a large burden on local governments. In addition, E-Verify has been found to have numerous errors and clearing up problems in the system could take a long time, a problem that would be exacerbated by more people using the system. .
The third bill is The Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773; it was adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on June 19. The bill creates a new temporary agricultural guestworker program and loosens regulations on farmers who want to bring in guest workers but does not provide increased worker protections and rights. The Senate immigration legislation also creates a new guest worker program which was developed as a compromise between farmers and farm worker groups. The bill in the Senate would create a new guest worker program for agricultural workers, and was the product of a deal between growers and farm workers. S. 744 would allow current farm workers a path to legal status.
The final House bill, Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas (SKILLS) Act, HR 2131, would create 55,000 green cards per year for employers to bring in high skilled workers, increases the number of visas for 155,000 temporary high-skilled workers and creates 10,000 visas for immigrant entrepreneurs.
The bipartisan Senate bill that has already been passed, caps temporary workers between 135,000 and 180,000 per year based on an agreement developed between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions.
House leaders have been meeting with their colleagues to map out the future for immigration reform but have not announced their strategy. While immigration advocates had hoped to have a bill to the House before the August recess, some House leaders have indicated their immigration discussion will wait until the fall.
Local officials are encouraged to contact their representatives calling for comprehensive reform that balances enforcement and a path to citizenship, providing stability to communities and allowing the power of immigrant communities to strengthen local and national economies.