2013 Immigration Reform in Review

It’s been a busy 2013 for Immigration Lawyers. In January 2013 President Obama was sworn into a new four year term. He promised during his inauguration speech that immigration reform was a priority for the administration. Shortly after a group of bi-partisan Senators called the “Gang of Eight” announced that they had a comprehensive plan to fix the broken immigration system. NJ’s Senator Menendez was among the gang members along with Republican Marco Rubio.

The President was pleased and announced that he wanted included an increase in border security, employer accountability and a path to citizenship. Meanwhile the targeting of immigrants for deportation and detention increased. Between 2008-2012 over a million people were subject to detention, more than 90% were without serious criminal records.

In the spring hearing began in DC concerning reform. People began to share their stories, attitudes towards those in the US without documentation began to change. 71% of those asked said that undocumented immigrants should be given status.

In April I went to Washington DC and participated in a Day of Action with several hundred immigration lawyers on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. We met with all the NJ Congressional and Senatorial staff and had good personal conversation with several lawmakers. Hopes were high for immigration reform and our own Senator Menendez was instrumental in pushing the Senate to consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The bill was 843 pages long and promised to fix the broken immigration system once and for all. While the bill wasn’t perfect it was nevertheless a victory for immigration advocates who fought long and hard to get something done.

The bill provided new visas for workers, a 13 year path to citizenship, and a DREAM Act with a path to citizenship. The bill has high fees and penalties which would prove to be difficult for some to afford, an E-Verify program making it mandatory for employers to verify legal status of workers and enhanced border security. After a vigorous debate the bill was passed in June 68 to 32. However, detention and deportation continue. The issue was now taken to the Republican controlled House of Representatives who were still upset at the President for Obama Care and unwilling to compromise on anything.

The House of Representatives refused to discuss or debate any comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, invoked the Hastert rule and refused to bring any bill to a vote unless the majority of his party voted to move it forward. By doing so they sent the President a message that there will be no reform in 2013 but the President urges them to reconsider. They refuse and went out on summer recess. Detention and deportation continued at a rate of 1,100 people per day.

In November seeing no movement the Democrats in the House began to say they would be willing to accept a piecemeal approach to immigration reform rather than a comprehensive reform that the Republican’s would not support. Even the President said he was in favor of that approach “if that’s what it takes to reform the system”.

In January 2014 Speaker Boehner announced he would support limited reform but he declined to specify what that means. We remain hopeful the Speaker Boehner will encourage his members to take up the immigration reform issue in light of the bi-partisan cooperation we saw late in the year that passed a budget despite tea party opposition. The Speaker appears to be attempting to put some distance between him and his Republican tea party members.

How it all plays out in 2014 remains to be seen. 2014 is an election year and many members are afraid of picking up this hot issue as they fear losing their seats in the election. However, immigration reform is an issue that must be dealt with to gain the Hispanic vote essential for a victory and both parties realize this. We are hopeful that immigration reform will pick up momentum as the year progresses.