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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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Yesterday, I wrote about a great bill that was introduced by Senator Menendez that would recapture hundreds of thousands of unused green card numbers, ease the strict per country limits that cause long lines for nationals of some countries and also make it easier to get a waiver when someone is subject to an unlawful presence bar.It also changes the definition of an "immediate relative" to include spouses and children of permanent residents, a provision which would be wildly popular in the Hispanic community since it would cut out the multiyear waits typical in the Family 2A category.

And, oh yeah, there's another bill that people are talking about. The E-Verify program (DHS' much discussed electronic employment verification system) expires in November.

E-Verify is the heart of the entire enforcement agenda for the antis and with Congress set to adjourn in the next week or so and with the distinct possibility that this will put off all legislation until next February or so when the new Congress comes in, getting E-Verify extended in the next few days is a huge deal. A five year extension has passed the House already. The Senate has done nothing yet.

So it was with great interest that I read in yesterday's CQ Today print edition that Senator Menendez is blocking the E-Verify reauthorization bill in order to force consideration of the recapture bill. The article describes Republicans as being infuriated and saying that the recapture bill is a nonstarter and demanding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bring up a clean E-Verify extension bill.

On the House side, interestingly, the recapture bill was set for a markup in the Judiciary Committee yesterday and Congressman Conyers abruptly adjourned the hearing after a bill barring horse slaughtering was finished yesterday. According to my sources, several members of the Committee were shocked that the markup on the recapture bill didn't happen even though Conyers is a strong backer of the measure. Strange.

So that has me speculating. Is something cooking with the Democratic leadership and the Obama campaign? I think the Democrats smell blood. They know John McCain is in trouble with Hispanic voters based on recent polling data. He's polling anywhere from 10 to 20 points worse than Bush did in 2004 and the Hispanic vote partially explains why Obama finds himself ahead in places like New Mexico and Colorado, states Bush won in 2004. Erosion of support in the Hispanic community could also cost McCain Florida, a state McCain cannot lose if he has any chance of winning the election.

As I reported earlier this week, the McCain campaign and congressional leaders have been clamping down on the anti-immigrant wing of the party. You didn't really think these folks suddenly decided they no longer care about this issue, did you?

What I don't think is a coincidence is the sudden reemergence of immigration in the presidential debate. Suddenly, Obama is blasting McCain on immigration and looking for more and more forums to make his claim that he's pro-immigration and his party's solidly behind him. And he's quick to remind Latinos that John McCain turned his back on them and denounced his own comprehensive immigration reform bill, something that Latino voters are now saying is one their top priorities.

McCain is asking Latino voters for a do-over and claiming that he was only pandering to his base. He was always pro-immigration. It's just politics, you understand.

As you might expect, this message is not selling particularly well. And Democrats know it. They also know that with the economy in free fall, most Americans are not thinking that much about immigration anymore and the issue has dropped back to its historically low rank on issues of concern to the typical voter. So Democrats can be more visibly pro-immigration without having to fear negative consequences.

You probably see where this is going. Provoking a confrontation over immigration with Republicans in the month of October can only have good results. Democrats might actually pass a bill they really want. And they score politically as well.

There's no time to bring up a massive comprehensive immigration reform bill between now and the election. Something smaller and simpler, but what? Oh wait, there's that recapture bill! And there's that must pass E-Verify bill. Now there's a great way to put immigration back on the front pages. Link the two and force Republicans to vote no on a pro-immigration bill likely to have a hugely positive impact in the Hispanic community if they want the E-Verify program to survive. If the Democrats can keep the two bills linked, Republicans who can't stomach more immigration will have to vote no on E-Verify, something they'll have trouble explaining to their constituents. And Republicans who think E-Verify is too important to die, will help deliver a win on the recapture bill.

And in the mean time, McCain will have to openly confront the angry antis in his party. Some of the hardliners in his party will call the provisions easing the unlawful presence waivers to be a "back door amnesty." If McCain goes against them, he'll be seen as a liar by the people in his party who he promised that he would not support an "amnesty" without enforcement first. And if he votes with the antis, it will be all the Hispanic community needs to hear to confirm they're right to support Obama.

October could be interesting.


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  1. Dan's Avatar
    I was thinking the seems to me that Democrats are preparing for the "Red October" and will tie up E-verify and recpature together. It's a win-win situation for Democrats. If the bill fail, then e-verify fail. If the bill is passed, then recapture is passed.

    The remaining question is Pres. Bush...I think he will sign it during his lameduck days!
  2. ASDF's Avatar
    Your analysis is excellent. Even though senate does not adjourn right away, the house will adjourn as soon as the 700 billion dollar thing is taken care of. Assuming Dems and Reid get this to floor, Is it mandatory that house vote on a bill that senate has voted in lame duck session? Other wise, how will house pass this?

  3. ASDF's Avatar

    Dont celebrate too early. There are too many ifs and buts. There is a house approved E-verify bill which Reid will have to let go in favor of Melendez bill. I would love to see this happen, but I am wondering how will house vote on this other than in lame duck session. Then there is the whole germane thing if an attempt to tack it to the appropriations bill in Dec
  4. George Chell's Avatar
    More likely the hard reality of numbers next year when the Dems have 57-59 seats in the Senate (a near filibuster proof majority) and 250 + seats in the House will help recapture bill's chances. Whether that happens during lameduck or next year is still an open question. I think Menendez will push harder if the GOP is annihilated (loss of 5-7 seats) in the Senate on November 4.
  5. Young's Avatar
    I think your analysis did not take into account the fact that the E-Verify is extended until March 6th 2009 via Continuing Appropriation Resolution. How does this affect your analysis above?
  6. AD's Avatar
    I heard a rumor today that the election may be cancelled due to the financial crisis.
  7. gary's Avatar
    Not going to happen (unfortunately), Greg

    And now, i'm not sure of Conyers as a strong backer of the recapture. He adjourned the meeting in just under an hour, knowing full well there will not be another opportunity this year. I would rephrase, "conyers APPEARED to be a strong backer"
  8. George Chell's Avatar
    "I heard a rumor today that the election may be cancelled due to the financial crisis."

    I wont be surprised. We are now officially more communist than China, and the Red States could well be the communist states. As a preacher used to say better dead than red..or better a dead state than red state!

  9. Keisha's Avatar
    A good one Greg.

    I could have taken poilitics as my major...I made a big mistake.It's interesting.

  10. Peter's Avatar
    Greg, I am curious as to why you oppose enforcement of the law. Aren't you a lawyer and duty bound to uphold the law not encourge others to break it? Why would you want to demonize others (the "antis") for merely wanting to enforce the current law (which is precisely what E Verify is designed to do)?

    Sincerely, Confounded
  11. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    I don't oppose E-Verify or E-Verify's extension. In fact, I think E-Verify will be a critical part of our long term immigration enforcement efforts. I just think that the bills should be linked. Dealing with enforcement without dealing with the badly broken legal immigration laws is simply unfair. Because it takes just one Senator to block a bill in the Senate, efforts to address legal immigration have been blocked consistently over the last several years. The only way to deal with this reality is to find a "must pass" bill to tie the recapture effort to so we can finally address this ongoing issue.

    E-Verify WILL survive. There's too much invested in the program to let it die. The only question is what kind of trade off pro-immigration advocates can get as part of that re-authorization process. This is how politics works.
  12. Ryan's Avatar
    The E-verify system does not work. There are many legal American Citizens rejected by the E-Verify system and no effective recourse for quickly correcting errors. In America the concept of "better 10 guilty men go free than one innocent to jail" should also apply to this situation. An American citizen should not be denied the right to work and have to spend countless hours and money to fight a bureaucracy that cannot correct errors. Such a deprivation of property (ones human capital) without an effective due process system is not acceptable.

    The task is daunting to create and effective system that respects the rights and privacy of Americans. E-verify does not meet the standards we need to address the problem of illegal employment.

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