On the same day that the co-chairmen of the U.S. Congressional Border Caucus introduced a bill to help keep federal immigration reform efforts alive, two Texas congressmen left a bipartisan group of House members that had been working on its own legislation.
U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., on Friday filed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2013. The sweeping measure creates a six-year visa that allows qualified holders to work and travel, and it grants them a reprieve from deportation proceedings. After six years, visa holders would be permitted to apply for permanent-residency status and eventual citizenship. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled House.
In addition to the six-year visa, the Vela-Grijalva bill also increases creates a phased-in employment verification system for new hires, removes state and local law enforcement from immigration-enforcement efforts, and makes changes to current visa caps.
To qualify under the bill, undocumented immigrants would have to pay a $500 fine and application fee, not have a felony conviction or three misdemeanor convictions, and attest to “to having made contributions to the U.S. through employment, education, military service, or other volunteer/community service.” DREAM Act-eligible youths would have an accelerated path to legal status and citizenship.
Status adjustment is not contingent upon the Department of Homeland Security meeting certain border security requirements. Unlike the Senate bill, S.744, which passed that chamber in June, the Vela-Grijalva measure also lacks mandates for thousands of additional U.S. Border Patrol agents and additional fencing along the U.S. border.
Instead the measure proposes adding at least 5,000 Customs and Border Protection agents to facilitate trade, and it appropriates $1 million annually for border infrastructure improvements. It directs DHS to deliver to Congress a comprehensive strategy for border security that should be “consistent with the progress already made.”
The language appears to reiterate that border Democrats believe the border is secure and additional agents and fencing is a waste of resources. In July Vela abruptly resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus because he perceived the group to be on board with the Senate bill’s Corker-Hoeven amendment, which called for 700 miles of fencing on the border and an additional 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Sam Johnson, R-Plano, left the so-called Gang of Seven, which had been working on legislation to overhaul immigration. The two Texas congressmen cited their mistrust of President Obama, citing issues like health care, gun control, energy and federal spending.
“If past actions are the best indicators of future behavior; we know that any measure depending on the president’s enforcement will not be faithfully executed,” the congressmen said in a joint statement. “It would be gravely irresponsible to further empower this administration by granting them additional authority or discretion with a new immigration system. The bottom line is – the American people do not trust the President to enforce laws, and we don’t either.”
Gang of Seven member Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he expected the resignations, but urged proponents of reform to sustain their momentum.
“The bipartisan group just wasn’t getting support from Republican House leadership. … It’s just not gonna happen now,” he said in a statement. “I am optimistic, but Republicans need to decide if they want to play politics to energize their base or solve problems to help their country.” Gutierrez praised Carter and Johnson for the “blood, sweat and tears” they contributed and said the duo would continue to play a critical role in the effort.