U.S. legislators push immigration reforming bills as elections loom nearer!

Over 179 Immigration Bills introduced in the Senate in the 1st QTR of 2008 alone!

US legislators seem to be undaunted by the failure of President Bush’s Immigration Reform Bill. As it became clear that passing a comprehensive bill that satisfied everyone is going to be impossible in near future, legislators changed battle tactic and started to introduce smaller immigration bills that addressed each issue separately. So much so that in the first three months of 2008 alone around 179 Bills was introduced in the senate regarding immigration. The majority of the bills introduced focus on immigrant employment issues like penalization of employers for hiring illegal aliens and enforcement of the use of employment eligibility verification systems (E-Verify) among other things.

On the Burner

Currently, three of these Bills are moving forward to the House Floor for debate, namely;

  1. H.R. 5060, 5-year P Visa for athletes
  2. H.R. 5569, extending EB-5 regional center pilot program for 5 years
  3. H.R. 4080, establishing a separate nonimmigrant classification for fashion models (currently under H-1B).

Signed and Sealed

A few of the Bills have already been passed, signed and sealed. Among them is the Mississippi Employment Protection Act (S.B. 2988), which comes into effect from July 1, 2008. This Bill will make registration and participation in the E-Verify program mandatory for employers, contractors, and subcontractors in the State effective the following dates:

  • July 1, 2008:  All Mississippi agencies and political subdivisions, all public contractors and private employers with 250 or more employees
  • July 1, 2009:  Private employers with 100 or more employees
  • July 1, 2010:  Private employers with 30 or more employees
  • July 1, 2011:  All employers

In addition, any employer violating the law will be subject to hard hitting sanctions like the cancellation or debarment up to three years of state or public contracts or even the loss of its business license for up to one year.  Also, effective July 1st, it will be considered a discriminatory practice if a Mississippi employer fires a US citizen or legal permanent resident employee while knowingly retaining an illegal alien working in a similar position. The only exemption in such a case will be for employers who used E-Verify program to check up on the employee.

The other state Bill to get the vote is Utah’s comprehensive immigration bill SB 81, which will come into effect on July 1, 2009. The bills mandates among other things that Utah Sheriffs report to DHS if they charge an illegal alien with a felony or if such a persons status cannot be verified either; no liquor licenses be issued to illegal immigrants, limits on issuance of identification documents to government agencies, citizens, nationals, or green card holders only, with few exception made for those in nonimmigrant status. Some of these provisions have come under heavy criticism even while the bill was being signed.

However, very similar to the Mississippi Bill, this bill too mandates registration to E-Verify for all Government agencies and Government contractors; also it will be considered a discriminatory practice if a Utah employer fires a US citizen or legal permanent resident employee while knowingly retaining an illegal alien working in a similar position, exemption only for employers using E-Verify.

Focus On Retaining US Degree Holders

With every effort at increasing the H-1B visa cap for foreign workers being shot down with heavy opposition, legislators have changed their focus to the foreigners with U.S. advanced degrees, as retaining these foreign talents makes a stronger case. There are two Bills pending, the House bill H.R. 6039 and the Senate bill is S. 3084, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) respectively. Both Bills propose to exempt U.S. advanced degree holders from the H1-B cap. Both these bills have received positive response as neither proposes any adjustment to the quota directly. In addition, similar Bills have been introduced by other, notable among them the Bill introduced by Sen. Gregg to convert current Diversity Visa Program to the employment-based immigration program.

One Step at a Time

It is clear from the nature of these Bills that legislators are concentrating on attacking the immigration issue piece by piece rather then as a whole, thereby having lesser impact as well. In the meantime, the pro-immigration lobby is gearing up for protests and marches on September, hoping for a comprehensive reform in immigration. For many legislators though, time is of essence, as the issue of immigration is likely to sway voters in the elections in November 2008.