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The White House and Congress Propose Various Immigration Reforms

In the campaign leading up to the Trump presidency, it was made clear that immigration would be a focal point for the incoming Administration. In just days after assuming office, the President issued a series of executive orders that would drastically affect the immigration field. From preventing travel and increased ICE raids, to the border wall and expedited removals, to hiring American and terminating DACA, these actions from the White House have sparked a number of immigration reform bills in Congress, with some garnering bipartisan support.

However, in the wake of the broader immigration reform debate in Congress, The White House issued a series of reform priorities to be considered, the tone of which are tremendously punitive and draconian, and justify harsh consequences based on alleged rather than real problems. Some of these priorities are predictable: funding for the border wall, increased interior enforcement measures, and funding cuts for sanctuary cities. These priorities also include reforms to family-based immigration and inclusion of a merit-based visa system for employment-related petitions. The proposals of course will be considered by members of the House and the Senate, mostly to determine where there will be areas of needed compromise, given that the President will have to sign an immigration reform bill into law.  (Sufficient votes to override a presidential veto is unlikely.)

Nevertheless, several efforts at piecemeal reform have taken shape in the legislative branch, with no small number originating from Republicans. In the Senate, the RAISE Act includes provisions that drastically curtail family-based immigration and promote a merit-based or points system. Additionally, the E-verify system would be federally mandated nationwide. The RAISE Act bill was endorsed by the President when it was first introduced and is complemented by a House version, the Immigration in the National Interest Act. Even more restrictive, that proposed legislation would cap legal immigration at 500,000 per year, transition to a merit-based system favoring English-language skills, and cut family-based immigration. Mandating E-verify is a staple of the Act as well. A third proposal, the Legal Workforce Act, is solely aimed at implementing the E-verify program nationwide.

Additional bills are more focused than the sweeping changes to legal immigration and mandatory E-verify. Another bill, the Protect and Grow America Jobs Act, alters the requirements for H-1B visas in a protectionist fashion and would attempt to limit the outsourcing of American jobs. Under this proposal, an H-1B visa would be contingent upon a $100,000 salary. Likewise, the Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act simultaneously provides $1.6 billion for border security measures and green cards to DACA recipients, while at the same time making gang membership a removable offense. Gang membership has a bill all its own — the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. Passed by the House in September, this bill defines a “criminal gang” and a “gang member” and authorizes ICE to remove aliens based on their gang membership and gang related activity regardless of whether the foreign national actually has been convicted of a removable act. The bill is currently under consideration in the Senate. Finally, a new Agriculture Guest Worker Act proposes a guest worker program that would allow an additional 500,000 foreign nationals to work year-round on American farms and ranches. The guest worker visa would be valid for 3 years but participants in the program would have to spend at least 45 days in their home country during that time.

However, the most notable legislative efforts to date have been those dedicated solely to protecting DACA recipients. Those efforts include the DREAM Act of 2017 and the SUCCEED Act, outlined above. In any case, it is clear that there is sincere interest in the legislative branch to “fix” our immigration system. As of yet, however, none of the proposed bills has passed both chambers of Congress and there will likely be significant negotiations and compromises before any of these bills are forwarded to the President’s desk for signature.