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12/29: Getting Ready for the 110th Congress
Released 02 January 2007  By National Immigration Forum

Getting Ready for the 110th Congress

December 29, 2006
National Immigration Forum

The 109th Congress concluded with no further mischief created on immigration policy. In fact, the Congress did not even complete the minimum work for which they are responsible—passing the government’s budget—instead funding most of the government in a “continuing resolution” until February 15, 2007, and handing off the responsibility to the 110th Congress.

Since the election, Members of Congress have been busy re-organizing themselves. While the details of who will chair the subcommittees are still being finalized, the broad-stroke picture is that immigration restrictionists will be in a weaker position in the 110th Congress. The hard-line restrictionists who were in a position to block immigration reform—in the House in particular—have either been booted out of office or, by virtue of the Republicans’ loss of control of the House and thus of the Committees, have been demoted.

In the Senate, Senator Leahy (D-VT) will Chair the Judiciary Committee, taking over from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). The Immigration Subcommittee Chair will pass from John Cornyn (R-TX) to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who resumes a role he has had many times in his Senate career. In the House, although the Democratic caucus has not made their final decisions, John Conyers (D-MI) would get the Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, taking over from James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Press reports indicate that Zoe Lofgren of California is seeking the Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee.

While the opponents of comprehensive reform have been demoted, it is still, basically, a 50-50 Congress representing a 50-50 country. Comprehensive immigration reform will not come easily. Any sound immigration legislation that might pass must have bi-partisan support. Republican divisions on immigration have been much in the news until now because Republicans held the reigns of power. Now that the Democrats are in charge, divisions in their ranks will come under the magnifying glass. To pass comprehensive reform, the Democratic leadership will need Republican votes. As with just about any issue, any legislation that stands a chance of enactment will require compromise.

Still, there is a window of opportunity for comprehensive reform. Both the House and Senate leadership (as well as the President) are now talking about comprehensive immigration reform being a priority. If actually treated as a priority, there could be action prior to the time, later in the year, when Presidential politics complicates the immigration debate.

In addition to this “pull factor” of opportunity, there are what I’ll call “push factors” making comprehensive reform an urgent matter. All around the country, as the budget for immigration enforcement has increased, the prevalence of immigration raids has increased, and the ripple effect of fear among immigrants is increasing. The immigration raids, resulting in otherwise law-abiding workers being jailed and deported, are seen as unjust and absurd, but these screws are likely to continue to tighten until Congress acts to reform the laws in a comprehensive manner; the enforcement agency is getting more money, and it cannot, on its own, decide not to enforce the laws on the books, no matter how bad those laws are. Another “push factor” is the economic loss that employers are feeling in certain sectors as a result of not having the workers they need. Unless there is a major downturn in the economy, the economic screws will continue to tighten as well.

Stay tuned for details on the immigration debate as it begins in the 110th Congress. Normally, we can expect not much to happen in January, until after the State of the Union address at the end of the month. We will keep you informed as final decisions are made as to who the key players will be in the Committees having jurisdiction over immigration.

Naturalization Fees Expected to Increase
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has indicated that it will soon be proposing a fee increase for applications for naturalization and other immigration benefits. We understand that the fee increases may be “significant.” The citizenship application fee, now $400, could double.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) reports that USCIS has performed a comprehensive fee study required to justify their fee increases. It is being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The study has not been made public.

A number of factors have conspired to burden naturalization applicants (and others) with fee increases of 450 percent since 1990. Congress has mandated that USICS recover its costs for processing applications. Applicants must not only pay for the processing of their own application, but included in the fee is the charge of processing applications for which there is no fee—refugee and asylee applications, for example, and applications of those who successfully gain a needs-based waiver of fees. Other factors include USCIS calculations and processes that create disincentives for greater efficiency. For example, when the agency is sued by applicants for lengthy delays or for other reasons, the cost of the litigation is incorporated into the application fees. In another example, applicants for certain benefits can gain quicker processing by paying a “premium processing fee” of $1,000. That extra $1,000 per applicant accounted for nine percent of USICS’s fee revenue in Fiscal Year 2005. The latest Annual Report to Congress from the USCIS Ombudsman discusses the “pervasive and serious” problems that continue to plague USCIS processes. You can find that report here:

A proposed increase in fees will be published in the Federal Register, with a period of time for the public to comment. Another significant increase in naturalization fees will serve as a barrier to citizenship. We hope that advocates comment when the opportunity to do so arrives.

Resources on the Forum’s Web Sites
Here is a brief overview of some of the resources that have been posted on the Web sites of the Forum in November and December:

Community Resource Bank
Integration Success Stories: On the Forum’s integration-focused Web site, the Community Resource Bank, we have posted three integration success stories.
- There is a story about the Zarem-Golde Technical Institute, a suburban Chicago technical school that helps immigrants learn English and acquire job skills. Its record of accomplishment is due in part to assessing the needs of local employers, designing a curricula to meet those needs, and advocating for students after they've completed their training.

- There is a story about the Santa Ana (California) Police Department’s use of community policing. By reaching out to its immigrant community and partnering with other social service agencies and immigrant organizations, the Department has been able to significantly reduce crime.

- There is a story about the PRIME-LC medical program of the University of California/Irvine medical school, which trains future physicians to address the distinct healthcare needs of the Latino community.

Other Resources: Other resources and links have been posted to the Community Resource Bank, including:
- Toolkit for Responding to Local Anti-Immigrant Ordinances. This resource was compiled by the Forum in November.

- Link to publication, “The Role of Municipal Leaders in Helping Immigrants Become an Integral Part of Colorado’s Communities,” by the Colorado Trust. This document collects some of the lessons being learned in Colorado communities in order to provide greater awareness and new ideas on how municipal leaders can proactively work to integrate immigrants into their communities.

- Link to publication, “A Rural Service Provider’s Guide to Immigrant Entrepreneurship,” by the University of Northern Iowa Regional Business Center/Small Business Development Center, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration.
Press Releases:
- The Surprise Winner in This Year’s Election is… Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

- Raids, Roundups, Rate Increases, and Renewed Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric…What A Way To Celebrate The Holidays.

From our Facts on Immigration Series:
- Silver Bullet Misses Target, Shoots Restrictionists in the Foot.

- Two More Polls: Politicians Misread Immigration Issue.

Audio Files (These are recordings of our telephonic press conferences.)

- Immigration and the 2006 Midterms.

- Analysis of the Immigration Issue in Campaign 2006.

Public Opinion (Links to public opinion polling commissioned by the Forum or conducted by other organizations.)
- A National Survey of Voter Attitudes on Immigration (November 7, 2006).

- Key findings from a recent national study on immigration (November 7, 2006).

- Link to a poll by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The Debate (This section of the Web site, organized into 15 topic areas, contains links to documents that help make the case for immigrants, immigration, and immigration reform.)

- Immigrants and the Economy: Link to a report written for the National Venture Capital Association, “American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness.”

- Immigration Reform: Link to a paper by the Immigration Policy Center cautioning against replacing our current immigration system with one based on a point system, “ATTRACTING THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST: The Promise and Pitfalls of a Skill-Based Immigration Policy.”

- Immigrants and the Economy: Link to a report by the Texas State Comptroller on the fiscal impact of undocumented immigrants on Texas (a positive one).

- Immigrants and the Economy: Link to an Urban Institute Report on taxes paid by immigrants in the Washington, DC, region.

- Civic Participation: Link to a report by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote!”

- Immigrants and the Economy: Link to a paper, “BUILDING A COMPETITIVE WORKFORCE: Immigration and the U.S. Manufacturing Sector,” from the Immigration Policy Center.

- Immigration Reform: Link to fact sheet, “Modes of Entry for the Unauthorized Migrant Population,” by the Pew Hispanic Center.

DHS Watch:
- Updates from November and December.

Have a good New Year. We look forward to working with you all in the coming year. It should be another very interesting year!

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