AILA’s August 2002 Congressional Recess Update and Alert

Your Senators and Representatives have left Washington D.C. for the summer recess, with many back home in their districts and states meeting with constituents. Since Congress will not reconvene until early September, August is an excellent time for you to raise the following issues:  Immigration and homeland security, due process reform that would keep families together, and the DREAM Act that would give students a chance. For each of these issues, we urge you to write, call, or visit your Representatives and Senators. We also urge you to contact your Members’ state and district offices to find out where they are holding town meetings and attend these meetings to make sure your elected officials hear from you. 

Information about your Senators and Representatives, how to contact them, and model letters on the issues in this alert can be found under “Contact Congress” on AILA’s InfoNet.  To locate “Contact Congress”: enter the InfoNet, click on “Advocacy Center,” click on “Take Action,” and click on “Contact Congress and the Media.”

IMMMIGRATION AND HOMELAND SECURITY: The House and Senate each addressed Homeland Security legislation prior to recess, with the House passing a bill and the Senate expected to vote on a bill directly after recess.

How our immigration function is reorganized will impact every aspect of immigration.  For this reason, it is important that you make your Senators and Representatives aware of your views. AILA strongly supports reorganizing our immigration functions (as restructured in the bipartisan Senate bill S. 2444) and maintaining these functions as an entity outside of the proposed Homeland Security Department. Such a reorganization and placement best meets our security, family reunification, and business needs and best fulfills our international obligations with regard to refugees and asylees. If Congress and the Administration opt to include our nation’s immigration functions within the proposed new homeland security department, we believe that our immigration functions should be kept together in their own division and that S. 2444 should be used to guide how immigration is organized within the new department.

Background:  The House passed H.R. 5005 on July 26, by a 295-132 vote.  H.R. 5005 splits up the INS, with services remaining in Justice and enforcement and inspections going into the Homeland Security Department. H.R. 5005 also moves the care and custody of children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and creates a civil rights office as well as an Inspector General (IG).  This bill also allows the EOIR to be moved into Homeland Security, and moves visa processing policy into Homeland Security, with State issuing the visas.  Finally, the bill explicitly rejects national, uniform standards for driver’s licenses, thereby putting the brakes on plans to turn state driver’s licenses into a de facto national ID card.  

AILA opposes separating services from enforcement and inspections. While at first blush such a restructuring appears to make sense, in actuality, services will be ill-served by this arrangement. Policy guidance and legal opinions will come from Homeland Security, and the lack of coordination between services, and enforcement will harm both functions. While AILA supports keeping all of immigration out of Homeland Security, if immigration is not kept out of this new agency, then all of immigration should be included in the new department to ensure coordination and a single leader in charge. AILA also strongly opposes moving EOIR into Homeland Security, and instead supports the creation of an independent agency so that our immigration courts are impartial. Such a separation would allow for meaningful checks and balances.  AILA also opposes including visa processing within the authority of the new department.  This function is best left at the State Department.  Dividing policy and process will result in chaos and dysfunction.  AILA does support the provisions in the bill that move the care and custody of children to ORR, the creation of a civil rights office, and the rejection of a de facto national ID card.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee marked-up S. 2452 on July 26. A floor vote is expected in early September. AILA supports S. 2452, as passed by the Committee. The bill maintains immigration functions together in a fifth division and incorporates S. 2444, the bipartisan Senate bill to reorganize the immigration system, as the way to structure immigration functions. The bill also moves the care and custody of children out of the INS and into the ORR, creates a civil rights office and an Inspector General, and also creates within the Department of Justice the Agency for Immigration Hearings and Appeals that would include the Board of Immigration Appeals.  However, we are concerned with the provision in the bill that would move visa processing policy into Homeland Security, with State issuing the visas. Two amendments probably will be proposed when the Senate debates this issue:  One would move all immigration functions back within a large division, the Border and Transportation Security division, as originally proposed by the Bush Administration. (Along with immigration, this division also would include Customs, the Coast Guard, Federal Protective Services, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Animal, Plant, and Health Inspection Service.) The other amendment would bring the EOIR into the Homeland Security Department. AILA strongly opposes these proposed amendments.

Take Action—Talking Points on Immigration and Homeland Security:  Urge your Representatives to: support modifying the House-passed measure to keep our immigration functions together, using S. 2444 as the model for reorganization because it has one strong person in charge and coordinates, but separates, our immigration functions.  Also urge your Representative to keep the EOIR and visa processing and policy out of the new Homeland Security Department. 

When you contact your Senators, urge them to support S. 2452, as amended and passed by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and to oppose any amendments that would bury our immigration functions within a large directorate (that would not have the focus, time, nor resources to properly deal with immigration, and within which coordination between adjudications and enforcement would be problematic) or would seek to bring EOIR within the Homeland Security Department.

DUE PROCESS REFORM TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER:  In an effort to keep American families together, the House Judiciary Committee last week passed an amended version of the bipartisan Family Reunification Act, H.R. 1452.  The Act would restore a limited measure of fairness to a harsh 1996 law that has torn apart thousands of American families and stripped long-term legal immigrants of their basic rights.  This measure offers an important down payment on the need to reestablish the right to a day in court and restores some measure of fairness to our immigration laws.

The Family Reunification Act would provide a limited opportunity for certain long-term legal permanent residents to ask a judge to consider the facts of their case before deciding whether to deport them from the United States.  The Committee-approved bill includes an amendment by Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA) that would provide the Attorney General or his Deputy with the sole discretion to grant cancellation of removal based upon the expanded grounds of eligibility contained in the bill.  The amendment also includes a sunset provision that would expire in 2005, or three years after the promulgation of final regulations, whichever is later.  Although AILA had pressed for passage of the legislation without the amendment, final approval could only be reached by including the language. 

Take Action—Talking Points on Due Process Reforms that Will Keep Families Together:  Let your Representatives and Senators know that it is time to begin restoring fairness to the judicial process. The 1996 laws change the rules mid-game, deny people their day in court and a second chance, and tear families apart.  H.R. 1452 is a very modest proposal that will allow only individuals with special hardship cases the opportunity to request relief.  The first category of hardship cases involves permanent residents who were brought legally to the U.S. as young children and who now face deportation to countries to which they no longer have any ties.  The second category involves permanent residents who committed minor crimes well before such crimes were reclassified as “aggravated felonies” by the enactment of the IIRIRA in 1996.  Most of these aliens have fully reformed, raised families and become productive members of their communities in the ensuing years.  The third category involves aliens who have committed relatively minor crimes.  Since an aggravated felony is now defined as any crime of theft or violence for which an alien is sentenced to one year or more of prison (even if the judge suspends the sentence), or any drug trafficking offense (regardless of whether any jail sentence is imposed), crimes such as shoplifting and drunk driving can, in certain instances, carry with them mandatory deportation for permanent residents.  H.R. 1452 would not confer automatic relief or a benefit on any individual.  The legislation merely allows long-term legal permanent residents to explain the facts of their case and any mitigating factors, giving them hearings that they could win or lose depending on the merits.

Urge your Representatives to support H.R. 1452 and quickly move it to the House floor for a vote. H.R. 1452 is a down payment on needed reform.  Urge your Senators to immediately take up this issue.

THE DREAM ACT THAT WOULD GIVE STUDENTS A CHANCE: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1291, the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act” in late June.  This legislation addresses the plight of children who were brought to the United States at a young age and denied the opportunity to succeed. The bill would eliminate the federal provision that prohibits states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented students who have grown up in local communities and attended local schools. The DREAM Act also creates a path for selected students to obtain legal permanent residency.  Eligibility for this adjustment is based on the children’s ages, length of U.S. residence, high school graduation, and demonstration of “good moral character.”  The Act establishes a new cancellation of removal procedure for which students who are already in the United States and who meet these criteria can affirmatively apply.

Take Action—Talking Points on the DREAM Act that Would Give Children a Chance:
Let your Representatives and Senators know you support legislation that will give children the chance to realize their educational dreams.  The children who will benefit from this legislation have grown up in America, consider themselves Americans, and want to contribute to our society.  These children also have proven a sustained commitment to learn English and succeed in our educational system.  This legislation will reverse a cynical, shortsighted policy that punishes earnest, hardworking children for the mistakes of their parents.

Urge your Senators to move to the Senate floor and pass S. 1291. Urge your Representatives to support the House companion bill, H.R. 1918.  


28gr2024  8/9/02

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 02080945.