Immigration Reform in the House & Its Effects

Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration bill in the House of Representatives at the beginning of this month.  The bill, H.R. 15, is similar in many ways to S.744, the bill passed by the Senate in June.  For example, the House bill includes important changes for HRI’s client base, asylum-seekers and other immigrants who have been victims of violence or abuse.  For instance, the proposed bill eliminates the current requirement that applicants file for asylum within one year of their arrival into the United States.  The bill also eliminates barriers to family reunification and authorizes asylum officers to conduct asylum interviews for applicants who have passed credible-fear interviews rather than referring them to immigration court.

The House bill also provides additional protection for other types of immigrants as well. Immigrants who have suffered spousal abuse will be eligible to receive work authorization and certain public housing while their Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petitions are pending.  Further, the bill will add at least 225 immigration judges over the next three years to clear some of the backlog on the immigration court docket.  The bill will also require a lawyer to be appointed for particularly vulnerable individuals, such as unaccompanied minors and immigrants with serious mental disabilities. In addition, the bill would increase the number of available U Visas for victims of serious crimes who cooperate with law enforcement, and the list of “qualifying crimes” would expand to include stalking and workplace abuse.

The proposed House bill does not currently have any Republican supporters, and it is uncertain where it will go from here.  A bipartisan group of eight House members had reached a framework for a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, but could not agree on details. The group dissolved this September. One major difference between the Senate and House bills is border security.  The Senate bill included provisions calling for 30 billion dollars in mandatory additional security spending and mandatory deployment of over 19,000 additional Border Patrol agents. The House removed these provisions, and replaced them with provisions calling for regular reports by the Department of Homeland Security on border security as well as submission of a plan to implement biometric entry-exit systems at ports of entry.  Whether the House will be able to reach a compromise on the immigration reform bill remains to be seen.

To review the text of the bill, please click here.

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