Immigration Reform in the House of Representatives

A Piecemeal Approach

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Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) advocates for the inclusion of five key principles for comprehensive immigration reform in the 113th Congress (2013-2014). On June 27, 2013, the Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, a bill largely consistent with each of LIRS’s principles for reform. In-depth analysis of S. 744 and LIRS’s positions on the bill are available at www.lirs.org/cir.

As of July 2013, the House of Representatives has not introduced comprehensive reform legislation. Instead, five individual bills dealing with pieces of our broken immigration laws are advancing separately. While LIRS details below our concerns about these bills, we are equally concerned this piecemeal approach will perpetuate the shortcomings of our current immigration system. Reforming only select areas of our complex system will not lead to immigration laws that reflect the needs of the country and the God-given dignity of migrants and refugees seeking safety, family reunification, or the opportunity to work in the United States.

Below is a description of how these bills align with LIRS’s principles for immigration reform.

Provide an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

None of the bills introduced in the House of Representatives include a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

Ensure the humane and just enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, specifically by reducing the use of immigration detention and expanding the use of community support programs for immigrants who do not need to be detained.

None of the bills ensure enforcement is humane and just.

The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act[i] is flawed legislation that would decrease access to justice, protections, and immigration relief for certain migrants. Among other troubling provisions, the SAFE Act would:

    • Make it a crime to provide services, transport, or shelter to undocumented immigrants
    • Make it a crime to be unlawfully present in the United States
    • Allow expansion of the 287(g) program
    • Authorize all states and localities to create their own immigration enforcement laws
    • Subject certain migrants who cannot be returned to their countries of origin, including stateless persons, to indefinite detention
    • Expand the categories of migrants who are mandatorily detained

The Border Security Results Act[ii] requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a national strategy to secure the southwest border and to increase apprehensions of unlawful border crossers. The bill’s enforcement-only approach does not take into account the unprecedented levels of personnel and technology already deployed on the U.S.—Mexico border.

Protect families from separation and ensure an adequate supply of visas for families seeking to reunite.

None of the bills include positive improvements to the family immigration system.

The SKILLS Visa Act[iii] makes changes to our family- and employment-based immigration channels. Unfortunately, the bill’s improvements for employment-based immigration come at the expense of the family-based immigration system. The SKILLS Visa Act would:

  • Reduce the total annual number of visas available in the family-based immigration system
  • Revoke the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for visas for their siblings. This change would take effect 10 years after the bill becomes law.
  • At the same 10 year point, any siblings who have already been approved for entry to the United States but are still waiting in line for a visa to become available would see their application deleted

Provide adequate resources and protections to ensure the successful integration of refugees, asylees, survivors of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and other vulnerable migrants.

None of the bills include positive improvements to the refugee resettlement and asylum processes.

Along with harmful changes to immigration enforcement, the SAFE Act would negatively impact individuals fleeing persecution, including refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people. In 2001, Congress enacted legislation that significantly broadened the definition of “terrorist activity.” Refugees forced to provide services to terrorists and those who supported freedom fighters rising up against repressive regimes are mislabeled as “terrorists” and are thus ineligible for admission to the United States. The SAFE Act would expand these harmful laws again, making family reunification or adjustment of status even more difficult.

Ensure the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers.

None of the bills include meaningful protections for workers.

The Legal Workforce Act[iv] mandates creation of a national employment verification system, known as E-Verify. While the nation needs a functional system to ensure U.S. employers hire legal workers, if the status of the 11 million undocumented people currently living and working in the country is not addressed the bill would drive undocumented workers further into the shadows and increase their risk of exploitation. The bill would:

  • Require all U.S. businesses to use E-Verify within two years of enactment
  • Offer no appeal process for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who lose employment due to E-Verify error

The Agricultural Guestworker (Ag) Act[v] replaces the current H-2A agricultural guestworker program with a new H-2C program. While the H-2C program does allow for some worker mobility, the program would eliminate many protections for workers, including wage protections, access to legal assistance, and family reunification.


[i] The SAFE Act (H.R. 2278) was introduced by Rep. Gowdy (R-SC) and passed the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 20-15 on June 18, 2013

[ii]The Border Security Results Act (H.R. 1417) was introduced by Rep. McCaul (R-TX) and passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously on May 15, 2013

[iii]The SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131) was introduced by Rep. Issa (R-CA) and passed the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 20-14 on June 27, 2013

[iv] The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) was introduced by Rep. Smith (R-TX) and passed the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 22-9 on June 26, 2013

[v]The Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 1773) was introduced by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) and passed the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 20-16 on June 19, 2013