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Immigration Reform “Office Hours” Week Twelve

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State of Play on Senate Bill Mark-up; Preview Next Week’s Focus on Legal Immigration, and the Roadmap to Citizenship; House Immigration Agreement; CAP Economic Benefits of Immigration Report

Today, America’s Voice Education Fund and fellow immigration experts held the twelfth in a series of weekly press briefings, or Immigration Reform “Office Hours.”  Each week, a different and diverse group of speakers shares the latest information on the players, politics, legislation and other developments in the debate in Washington and around the nation.

Moderated by Patty Kupfer, Managing Director, America’s Voice Education Fund, today’s call featured Christina Jimenez, Managing Director, United We Dream; Angie Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Center for American Progress; Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change; Mee Moua, President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center; Josh Stehlik, Employment Attorney, National Immigration Law Center and Patrick Oakford, Research Assistant, Economic Policy Department, Center for American Progress.

Today’s call included a discussion of the Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up of Title III and Title IV this past week; and a preview of the Title II mark-up this coming week, which will focus on legal immigration and the path to citizenship. As we head into the third week of markup, speakers highlighted how the heart of the legislation remains intact and that despite the sideshows and attempts by the far right to derail the reform effort entirely, the bipartisan center continues to hold and strengthen.

Speakers also commented on the announcement that the House of Representatives’ own bipartisan “Gang of 8” has reached an agreement in principle on immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The speakers agreed this is a major breakthrough. The fact that a bipartisan group in the House – one that includes several conservative Republicans, two Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, the Ranking Member of the Immigration Subcommittee and a red-state Democrat – has forged agreement on a reform package that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is not only historic, but it takes the prospect of enacting reform another step closer to reality.

During the call speakers also discussed the Center for American Progress’ brief “National and State-by-State Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform”. This brief is a follow-up to the Center for American Progress’ report “Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants.” The brief breaks down the economic gains of passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants for 24 individual states.

As we look towards next week, we will be looking forward to more details from the House agreement and the final details of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s amended bill. The movement in both chambers signals that—amidst the furies and partisanship in Washington—bipartisan lawmaking is still, in fact possible.

Here are a few other notable developments that are adding to the momentum and boosting prospects for passage this year:

  • Broad Immigration Reform in Senate Remains Intact:  Early this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee cast a near-unanimous vote against an amendment from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to restrict future legal immigration, underscoring the growing irrelevance and isolation of the anti-immigrant movement in this year’s debate.  Fawn Johnson captured the dynamic in a National Journal article titled, “Republican Immigration Critic Gets Slapped Down,” writing, “The committee’s overwhelming ‘No’ vote shows that the battle for Republicans’ souls on immigration has shifted away from groups that want to reduce the influx of foreigners, like the Heritage Foundation, NumbersUSA, and Fairness for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), toward free-market groups that applaud increased immigration, such as Americans for Tax Reform and the CATO Institute.”
  • Pro-Reform Conservatives Are United:  In the second week of Senate Judiciary markup, immigration reform backers from both parties stood strong in the face of a battery of amendments aimed to derail the carefully constructed agreement between labor groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  In response to Sen. Sessions’ argument that legalizing those without status would be damaging to the country, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “I would suggest that the strength of this country is not the degree one holds, but the character the individual possesses. So I’m very confident and hopeful that out of this 11 million who today have low skills will come some of the brightest in the future.”  Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) stood in agreement with Graham saying, “legal immigration is a fundamental pillar of our country.”  Additionally, a “productive meeting” between President Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) signaled yet again that the pro-reform movement is winning and that immigration is moving full steam ahead.
  • The Anti-Reform Movement Becomes Further Isolated and Irrelevant: In addition to the Senate proceedings this week, a rogue’s gallery of anti-immigrant House Republican held a Hill press conference to rail against immigration reform.  The six man press conference was led by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the notorious xenophobe who has compared immigrants to dogs and cattle, and once called immigration a “slow motion Holocaust.”  Also in attendances was Rep. Louie “Terror Babies” Gohmert.  They were joined by Rep. Mo Brooks, who said at a 2011 constituent town hall in reference to undocumented immigrants that he thinks it’s right to “do anything short of shooting them.” Brooks also has showed his tenuous grasp of history by stating that President Ronald Reagan would “insist” on deporting undocumented immigrants (despite Reagan signing the 1986 immigration reform bill into law and his avowedly pro-immigrant beliefs, captured by his valedictory address to the nation).  Additionally, the group repeatedly cited the discredited and toxic Heritage Foundation report, proving that they’re the last group of Republicans trying to shine a positive light on this flawed study.  Like the Senate markup, the House press conference underscored the fact that these opponents are rapidly losing influence.  As Kate Nocera of BuzzFeed noted in an article, “Small Turnout for ‘Anti-Amnesty’ Leaders in Congress,” the event was “striking as much for its small numbers as for the intensity of its views.”  And adding insult to injury, conservative Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin, reminded pro-reform conservatives that they “shouldn’t be cowed by the screeching from figures like King.”