The summer of 2014 was expected to go very differently when it comes to the immigration debate. For much of the year, pro-immigration advocates in both parties were patiently waiting for the end of the Republican primary season. In January, Speaker John Boehner presented a framework for immigration reform that many thought had a realistic chance of attracting bipartisan support. After an immediate backlash from right wing anti-immigrant forces in his party, he backtracked and said immigration reform couldn’t move forward because House Republicans couldn’t trust President Obama to implement immigration reform legislation. Many, however, believed that Boehner’s quick reversal was designed to divert attention from work being done behind the scenes in several House Republican offices to get ready to move legislation in the summer.
The primaries went relatively smoothly and immigration was not a decisive issue in race after race. But then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was shockingly defeated by a Tea Party candidate who attacked Cantor for being soft on immigration (which was hardly supported by Cantor’s actual record). While a variety of analysts disputed the notion that immigration was the key issue in the election, a narrative developed and Boehner gave in to pressure from his right flank not to move immigration reform legislation in 2014.
Boehner’s decision prompted President Obama to give a Rose Garden statement informing the media that the Republicans were not going to move immigration reform and the President would do what many had been urging for more months – issue an Executive Order making dramatic changes to the immigration system to accomplish many of the goals not accomplished legislatively. This would include measures to provide relief to millions of undocumented immigrants and to reform legal immigration as well.
Shortly after the address, a crisis was beginning to become known at the southwest border involving the arrival of 50,000+ children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who were fleeing horrific violence in those countries. Ugly protests and massive media attention to the plight of the young immigrants began to dominate news coverage and pressure mounted on Congress and the President to deal with the crisis. The President offered a legislative proposal that involved spending billions to beef up border security and provide resources for the courts to handle the immigrants. Initially, the President indicated he would support eliminating some due process protections for the children in order to expedite deportations. His own party balked at this and the President reversed course.
Republicans, however, decided they would defy the President. The House GOP’s bill provided him with a fraction of the funding he requested and it contained the due process protection roll back that President Obama now said would trigger a veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also suggested he would use any House bills on immigration an opportunity for sending back comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
On Thursday, July 31st, the House was to vote on the border funding bill to deal with unaccompanied minors. Speaker Boehner pulled the bill at the last moment because it became apparent that conservatives in his party would rebel and not vote for it unless they got to vote on legislation repealing the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Boehner gave in and the next day a vote on both the border funding bill and a separate DACA repeal bill both were brought to the floor. Each passed narrowly on party-live votes with all but four Republicans voting for the border bill (joined by a lone Democrat) and the DACA repeal bill won with all Republicans but 11 supporting and three Democrats abandoning their party.
The vote was widely reported in the media and many believe it marks the complete abandonment by Republicans of the pro-immigration shift the party took in response to the drubbing the GOP took in the 2012 presidential election where many blamed the Hispanic vote for Mitt Romney’s loss to a generally unpopular President Obama.
President Obama took advantage of the disarray in the GOP on the immigration issue and brought up the problems in a press conference also held on Friday. There he indicated that the GOP’s failure to provide funding for more enforcement as envisioned in the various comprehensive immigration reform bills meant that he would need to reallocate resources – a subtle hint that his promised executive order would mean many undocumented individuals would not be removed. The President suggested that his order would come during the August recess when Republicans were on their astonishingly long five week vacation.
And here we are. The House has passed immigration bills which will not be taken up in the Senate and which would be vetoed. And the President is getting ready to release executive orders that are expected to be massive in scope. The implications for the 2014 election are not yet clear and some are predicting that the Republicans will be so angered that they will pursue impeachment proceedings against the President, something that some Democrats are actually welcoming as the conventional wisdom is that the public doesn’t have an appetite for this political exercise. Stay tuned. August is going to be very interesting.
In firm news, the summer has meant comings and goings for many of Siskind Susser’s young professionals. We bid goodbye to Bailey Hutchison who has been this newsletter’s associate editor and our webmaster for the past year. We wish her well as she heads to Europe for greener ventures. And we welcome Rose Baker in to the position. Rose has been shadowing Bailey for the last six weeks and is already an old pro. She’s got some big projects on her plate including overseeing the transition to our new web site (where you may be reading this if everything stays on schedule. We also bid goodbye to law clerks Justin Mantell and Shayna Giles who are off to law school. We wish them both well and appreciate their hard work.
I also made some headway on bringing attention to an issue that has bothered me for a while. The Veterans Administration has had a terrible J-1 physician program for years and it has been universally reviled by immigration lawyers who make sure our physician clients know how difficult it is to work with that agency. More than 25% of the country’s doctors are international medical graduates and 80% come on J-1 visas. Most of these doctors need a government agency to support their staying. But the VA’s program is one of 55 around the country and it is probably the least doctor-friendly. With the VA’s scandal in the news and the general consensus emerging that a shortage of doctors was the problem, it proved a good opportunity for me to educate people on the J-1 issue. USA Today published an opinion column I wrote which can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/07/10/va-doctor-shortage-immigration-law-physicians-column/12494295/ .
Disclaimer: This newsletter is provided as a public service and not intended to establish an attorney client relationship. Any reliance on information contained herein is taken at your own risk.