|December 23, 2001
Chamber End of Session Immigration Update
To: Members of the Immigration Subcommittee
From: Theresa C. Brown, Manager, Labor and Immigration Policy.
Well, late last evening Congress finally wrapped up its work to leave
town. But in the usual last-minute flurry, several immigration bills did
manage to pass. Here's a summary of the issues we've been following and
Spousal Work Authorization:
Two weeks ago, in a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary took up the two
spousal work authorization bills passed by the House in the summer, H.R.
2277 (for Es) and H.R. 2278 (for Ls). The Chamber and other members of the
MEWS coalition presumed that the measures would be put off to next session
following the September 11 attacks and the shift in Congressional focus.
But the Senate committee passed the bills on voice vote, and late last evening
the full body passed the bills by unanimous consent, paving the way for
the President to sign them into law. (Because of delays in actually transmitting
the bill to the White House, we expect the President will sign them after
the New Year.)
These victories come after a five-year effort by the Chamber and the
MEWS coalition. We thank everyone who worked so hard on them.
Employment Verification Pilot Program:
Several Chamber members have been concerned about the pending expiration
this year of the Employment Verification Pilot Programs run by the INS.
Last month the House Judiciary passed a two-year extension of the program,
and the full House passed the bill shortly thereafter. The Senate approved
the House action last evening, and this bill is also on its way to the President.
The Verification Programs allow enrolled employers with the required software
to verify immigration documents presented by employees for the I-9 process
with the INS.
We previously reported to you on negotiations among Senate sponsors of
competing border security bills to produce a single compromise measure.
Senators Kennedy, Brownback, Feinstein and Kyl jointly introduced S. 1749
at the end of November. However, following introduction and concerns raised
about some of the provisions by the Chamber and members of the Americans
for Better Borders coalition, which the Chamber chairs, the Senators agreed
to additional changes in the bill. Final agreement was reached early this
week between the key sponsors, Senate leadership of both parties and House
Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner. However, a last minute hold by Senator
Byrd of West Virginia kept the Senate from moving first. Therefore, Chairman
Sensenbrenner introduced a House version, H.R. 3525, on Wednesday and the
bill passed the House by voice vote the same day. The Senate attempted to
bring up the legislation by unanimous consent last night, but Senator Byrd
renewed his objection, ensuring that the bill would not be taken up before
adjournment. The Chamber generally supports this legislation, but does note
the ambitious deadlines in the bill and that it requires significant appropriations.
Congress must be willing to adjust the deadlines if it appears they will
not be met to ensure the continued flow of legitimate commerce and travel
across our borders. We will work with the Senate next year to ensure passage,
and with the appropriators in both Houses to fully fund these projects.
What Didn't Happen:
After September 11, many bills were introduced that would have severely
curtailed or restricted visa issuance and immigration in many areas. Bills
to decrease the H-1B cap, place a moratorium on student and exchange visas,
or all visas, eliminate or restrict the visa waiver program and other measures
did not gain the support their sponsors had hoped for. Many Representatives
and Senators, and the Bush Administration, have consistently recognized
the need for continued international travel and personnel as an important
part of our economy, our global commercial leadership and our nation's heritage.
As the course of the national debate on immigration shifted after September
11, several of the Chamber's important initiatives were put on hold, most
particularly the essential worker issue. However, President Bush has renewed
the high-level migration talks with Mexico, and they continue now at the
staff level, with both sides confident of reaching agreement on a new system
of immigration and regularization of Mexican workers in the new year. The
Chamber, and the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, will renew our
calls for essential worker immigration reform next year, recognizing that
our ongoing need for labor, our demographic problems of an aging workforce
and job growth, will make the issue return when our economy rebounds.
Of course, as always, INS restructuring will be an important issue next
year, as the Administration moves forward with its own plan, and Members
of Congress look to provide their input and direction. The Chamber will
continue to provide input into this process to ensure that the primary function
of timely, efficient and consistent processing of business cases remains
a priority and proceeds.
We thank you for your help and input this past year, and we on the Chamber
staff look forward to a productive collaboration in 2002.
To you and yours, from all of us ... Happy Holidays, Best Wishes in the
New Year, and Peace.
Theresa Cardinal Brown
Manager, Labor and Immigration Policy
U.S. Chamber of Commerce