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Government Affairs: Immigration reform at a standstill

October 6, 2014 -  By

immigration-scrollFor some months now, the Obama administration has been threatening to use presidential executive powers to fix the broken immigration system in the face of congressional inaction.

In frustration over the lack of action by the House on immigration reform issues, in early May President Barack Obama ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review steps that the administration could take without congressional approval to ease deportations of undocumented workers and other reform measures.

The administration already had used executive authority to halt deportations of so-called “Dreamers,” children who were brought into the country by their undocumented parents.

Predictably, Republican reaction to the president’s announcement to use executive power to slow deportations was swift and negative.

Sensing that an opportunity for congressional action on reform, though ever so slight, might be slipping away from them, pro-immigration reform groups asked the president to back off plans for administrative action. Obama agreed and ordered Johnson to suspend work on the review in June to give Congress room to come up with its own solution.

But the hoped-for congressional action on a reform bill never materialized and congress left Washington at the end of July.

A frustrated Obama began immediately to meet with his cabinet, White House staff and immigration reform advocates to outline a program of executive actions he could take to implement some aspects of comprehensive immigration reform.

Insiders reported that the White House used the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013 as a framework for their discussions.

The White House is focusing on the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants now in the country. The president could order that enforcement action and deportations for some portion of these immigrants be deferred.

Several approaches, or some combination of these, are being discussed:

  • Deferring action on the approximately 9 million undocumented who would have been eligible for citizenship under the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the senate last June;
  • Allowing parents with children who are citizens to remain in the country, estimated to number 3.9 million; and/or
  • Issuing green cards to several hundred thousand of those who would be eligible for green cards if they didn’t have to leave the country for three or 10 years before reapplying. The federal government may waive these requirements under current law if an applicant demonstrates they would impose extreme hardship.

Unfortunately, it appears those administrative changes will not affect guest worker programs that support nurseries (H2-A) and landscape contractors (H2-B).

Nonetheless, simply reducing the raw number of undocumented immigrants here in the country could reduce the legal jeopardy in which employers find themselves when hiring. Employers now must determine the legal status of job applicants in the face of fake ID’s that are indistinguishable from the real thing. Having a larger pool of legal workers would be helpful.

The Obama administration first said it would outline its proposal at the end of August. It then pushed that date back until after Labor Day. In mid-September the White House postponed release of its proposal until after the mid-term elections.

The great unknown is the impact that the mid-term elections may have on both congressional and administrative efforts to enact immigration reform. The House most certainly will remain in the hands of Republicans, but the Senate is a toss-up at this point. Most likely we will be well into 2015 before any of this becomes clear.

And so we wait…

Photo: Icars/flickr.com

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About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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