Congressional Republicans Continue Field Hearings on Immigration, Introduce New Immigration Reform Proposal
By Julia Gelatt
Migration Policy Institute
August 1, 2006
House Republicans will continue their field hearings on immigration reform this month, with plans to hold 21 hearings in 13 states. Proponents of comprehensive reform have described the hearings as a "waste of time" and a tactic meant to delay House-Senate negotiations.
The House held several hearings in July, including
hearings by the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism (on
border vulnerabilities and international terrorism) in San Diego, CA, on July 5 and in
Laredo, TX, on July 7.
Various House committees also held hearings on aspects of immigration reform in
Washington, DC, in July. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in Philadelphia, PA,
on July 5 and in Washington, DC, on July 12 on the need for comprehensive immigration
reform, and the Senate Armed Services committee held a hearing on immigrants in the armed
forces in Miami, FL, on July 10.
Republicans Introduce New Immigration Reform Plan
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) have
introduced a new immigration reform bill that would allow the country's unauthorized
immigrants to join a temporary worker program only after the president certifies that
US borders have been secured. The plan would strengthen border enforcement through measures
similar to those included in the House and Senate bills.
Announced July 25, the bill aims to strike middle ground between the House and
Senate proposals for immigration reform. Republican leadership on the Hill generally
welcomed the proposal as a step forward, while other members of Congress predicted the plan
would make little ground in bridging the House-Senate divide on immigration.
Observers remain skeptical that Congress can yet come to agreement on immigration
reform. Some speculate that this summer's field hearings will only serve to cement divided
opinions on immigration. Others say there is little chance contentious legislation
will be passed before the November elections.
The Hutchison-Pence temporary worker proposal is aimed at inducing the majority of
the estimated 11.5 to 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the country to self-deport to
their home countries, and reenter under a new temporary worker visa — the "Good Neighbor
SAFE (Secure Authorized Foreign Employee) Visa." The visa would permit entry for up to two
years, and could then be renewed as many as five times. It would be available only to
citizens of countries participating in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and
Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
Applicants and their spouses and families would be processed through "Ellis Island
Centers" operated by private US companies. Temporary immigrants could obtain a new
"X-Change" visa after 12 years in temporary status, which would confer lawful residence but
no access to public benefits. After five years on an X-Change visa, immigrants could apply
for permanent adjustment of status.
Policy Beat in Brief
- To read more about the Hutchison-Pence proposal, see a detailed summary of the plan here.
Voting Rights Act. Both the House and Senate have approved a 25-year extension to
the Voting Rights Act, including a provision that calls for ballots and other election
materials in voters' native languages when nonnative speakers in the jurisdiction number
above 10,000 or make up more than 7.5 percent of the electorate. The act, originally passed
in 1965, was adopted to counter the disenfranchisement of black voters. Most provisions of
the act were permanent, but a few were set to expire in 2007. The House approved the bill
in a vote of 390 to 33, while the Senate vote was 98 to 0. President Bush had urged
Congress to pass the extension before the August recess.
Medicaid Requirements. The Bush administration has issued regulations
providing states some avenues to get around the strict proof-of-citizenship requirements
for Medicaid applicants that went into effect on July 1. The requirements, intended
to block ineligible immigrants' access to Medicaid, had raised concerns that some US
citizens receiving Medicaid might also experience difficulty documenting their citizenship,
and therefore lose their medical coverage. Under the regulations, about eight million
elderly or disabled current Medicaid recipients would be exempted from new documentation
requirements. The regulations also stipulate that states may rely on a variety of
government program databases to establish citizenship. If no documentation of citizenship
is available, states could accept sworn affidavits from the Medicaid applicant and at least
one other person. The regulations will also allow states that provide coverage for legal
immigrants to continue current procedures for verifying that they meet eligibility
- To read the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act
Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006," (HR 9) click here.
DHS Funding. The Senate voted to grant the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) $32.8 billion for fiscal year 2007 in a unanimous vote on July 13. The bill
includes an amendment introduced by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) to raise US Citizenship and
Immigration Services service fees in order to raise $350 billion for aircraft, buses, and
other vehicles for use by Border Patrol agents and for improvements in fences and other
infrastructure at the border. The bill would also make digging tunnels under the border a
felony offense and delay implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative until
June 1, 2009. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require travelers entering or
reentering the United States from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean to provide documentation
establishing their identity and citizenship. The Senate added about $700 million to the DHS
appropriations bill the House passed in June, mainly in additional funds for port security.
The two chambers will now need to reconcile their bills in a conference committee.
- To read more about the new Medicaid proof-of-citizenship requirements, see the July 2006 Policy Beat.
- To view a Medicaid website outlining the proof of citizenship requirements, and new
regulations, click here.
- To read the amendments added by the Senate to the DHS appropriations bill (HR 5441),
- To read more about the DHS appropriations bill passed by the House, see the July 2006 Policy Beat.
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