Pro-immigration advocates have achieved a victory in a major showdown in the House of Representatives on the extension of Section 245i of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 245i is the provision that allows aliens otherwise eligible for permanent residency but who are out of legal immigration status or who have ever violated their immigration status to avoid processing their visas outside the country (and, consequently, avoid the new immigration bars) and, instead, process their visas in the US. 245i's extension will be critical to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who might otherwise be barred for three or ten years from reentering the US if they are forced to leave the country. By a vote of 268 to 153, the House rejected a motion by California Republican Dana Rohrabacher that would have instructed the conference committee considering the permanent extension of Section 245i to vote against its permanent extension. The vote is not binding one way or the other on the conference committee, but is still seen as greatly easing the pressure on conference committee members to vote against Section 245i. Nevertheless, there are some in Congress, including conference committee member Harold Rogers, calling for a temporary extension of Section 245i instead of a permanent one.
The 245i vote is serves to illustrate an acrimonious debate within the Republican party over immigration policy. Hispanic Republicans have been vocal proponents of the section's extension, while many of the most conservative members of the party have been opposing the rule. The leaders of the Republican party actively pushed for a defeat of the Rohrabacher motion since the party's anti-immigrant image is now being viewed by political analysts as a reason for serious Republican losses in the last election. Many see the two to one vote by Republican House members against the bill is a reflection of a major shift by Republicans on the immigration issue. Democrats, by contrast, are seen as being pro-immigration and most voted against Rohrabacher.
The conference committee will make its decision on 245i as part of the budget bill funding the Departments of State, Commerce and Justice. The Senate conferees are the following:
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Ted Stevens (R-AK)
Pete Domenici (R-NM)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO)
Thad Cochran (R-MI)
Ernest Hollings (D-SC)
Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Daniel Inouye (D-HA)
Dale Bumpers (D-AR)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
The House conferees are the following:
Harold Rogers (R-KY)
Kim Kolbe (R-AZ)
Charles Taylor (R-NC)
Ralph Regula (R-OH)
Michael Forbes (R-NY)
Tom Latham (R-IA)
Bob Livingston (R-LA)
Alan Mollohan (D-WV)
David Skaggs (D-CO)
Julian Dixon (D-CA)
David Obey (D-WI)
If you are represented by any of the conference committee members, you are urged to contact them to voice your opinion on this vote. For information on contacting these committee members, please visit the new law update page on our web site at http://www.visalaw.com/newlaw.html. Please DO NOT contact these representatives if you are not represented by them. This could actually be counterproductive.
Another major area of immigration legislation currently being considered in Congress relates to relief for the tens of thousands of Central Americans now subject to deportation on the new immigration laws. The Senate is considering a bill (S.1076) introduced by Florida Republican Connie Mack which would allow Niceraguans, Guatemalans and Niceraguans in deportation proceedings to use the old, more liberals standards for being granted relief rather than the tougher new rules. The older rules allow a person who has been in the US for at least seven continuous years, who have no criminal history and who can show their deportation would cause an extreme hardship to stay in the US. Texas Senator Phil Graham is pushing for a limit of eighteen months on the use of the old rules and no compromise has yet been reached.
In the House of Representatives, there are reports of a compromise between Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith that would result in the following:
- an amnesty for an estimated 50,000 Niceraguans
- ABC class members and certain asylum applicants would be eligible to apply older suspension of deportation rules and the cap of 4,000 on the number of persons eligible for suspension would be lifted for this group
- the unskilled worker immigration category would be eliminated
- judicial review would be barred
The Senate and House bills will need to be reconciled in a conference committee. Many expect the measure to be tacked on to a budget bill rather than being decided on its own.
In the meantime, Haitian leaders have criticized the fact that they have not been included in the bill and have been planning demonstrations to voice their concern. More than 15,000 petition signatures have been collected by Haitian leaders to present to members of Congress.
One other bill being considered by Congress is a measure that would direct the Justice Department to determine how many tourists overstay their visas. The House Judiciary Committee has now approved the measure. The INS estimates the number to be 2.1 million, but it is planning to implement a computerized system that would collect information from tourists in order to track the entry and exit of every person who comes to the US.