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60 days left and many immigration bills to pass
by Andres C. Benach of the law offices of Cyrus D. Mehta

There are approximately 60 days left in the 106th Congress. The 107th Congress will open in January 2001 with dozens of new members, perhaps a change in control, and a new president. Given all of these unknowns, it is now essential that advocates of immigration make their voices heard in this Congress, supporting the many efforts for a more sensible and human immigration policy. Here are some of the bills that we are watching:

1. H-1B Visas.

As you know, there are a number of competing proposals to raise the cap on H-1B visas for this and the coming years. By raising the cap on H-1B, Congress can keep America growing. The cap is an unnatural cap on America’s growth stifling U.S. employers’ ability to overcome the shortage of highly educated professional workers. H-1B workers are part of the solution to this shortage.

The Senate is ready to vote on S. 2045, a bill to increase the cap that provides a short-term, balanced solution to the shortage while funding the education and training of U.S. workers. We strongly support this bill. S. 2045 has been placed on the Senate’s calendar and should be considered by the Senate before it recesses again at Memorial Day. Please contact your Senators at (202) 224-3121. Although S. 2045 has 19 cosponsors, the Senators from New York and New Jersey (NY- Pat Moynihan, Chuck Schumer; NJ- Bob Torricelli, Frank Lautenberg) have yet to sign on. Please contact your Senators and urge them to keep America growing!

The House is a more complicated matter. There are two competing bills. One bill has the bipartisan support of sixty members, the other has the support of three influential Republicans. H.R. 3983 introduced by Reps. Dreier and Lofgren, and endorsed by a bipartisan coalition of 58 other members of Congress has languished in the Immigration Subcommittee headed by immigration foe Rep. Lamar Smith, who is also Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee in the House. The Dreier/Lofgren bill is more balanced and also provides relief to those who are nearing the end of their H-1B visa and have not yet obtained the green card.

Meanwhile, Rep. Smith’s bill, H.R. 4227, has been rammed through the Immigration Subcommittee despite the paucity of support for the bill. It is essential that the House get the opportunity to vote on H.R. 3983. By refusing to call it for a vote, Smith is ignoring the will of his constituents, colleagues, the business community, and those who benefit from a robust economy. Although Smith’s bill eliminates the cap altogether, it imposes new restrictions on the H-1B program. For instance, only employers who have hired US workers in the past year would be able to use the program. This is a Catch–22 as there is an acknowledged shortage of US workers presently. The bill also does away with work experience equivalencies altogether to establish a bachelor’s degree (see previous article, Smith’s Mirage).

Please contact your Representative and encourage him or her to become a co-sponsor of H.R. 3983. Also, contact the House leadership offices of Speaker Hastert (R-IL); Majority Leader Armey (R-TX); Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts (R-OK); or Republican National Committee Chair Tom Davis (R-VA) and urge them to move H.R. 3983. Again the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121.

2. Section 245(i)

The “sunset” of Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1996 has had devastating effects on family unity and economic planning. Restoration of 245(i) is pro-family, pro-business, fiscally sensible and good policy. H.R. 1841 has been introduced in the House to restore 245(i). By restoring this provision, Congress would help families stay together allowing individuals who apply for permanent residence in the U.S without going abroad. Without 245(i), people have had to go abroad to process their green card and have fallen subject to the unduly harsh three or ten year bars on re-entry, separating them from family, work, and friends. By bringing back 245(i), Congress would help employers keep qualified and valued employees on the job, rather than risk losing them when the person goes abroad. Finally, by reestablishing 245(i), the INS would receive desperately needed funding to pick up the pace on adjudications, investigations, and reducing the interminable backlogs. H.R. 1841 gives no special benefits to anybody, but simply allows people otherwise eligible for permanent residence to process their applications in the U.S. keeping families together and employees on the job. Please call your Representative and ask him/ her to support H.R. 1841. Like H-1B visas, this sensible and bipartisan bill is languishing in Chairman Smith’s subcommittee. Despite 70 cosponsors, the Chairman has refused to move it forward and the House leadership has not done anything to make him change his mind. Please contact the House leadership and ask them to move on H.R. 1841.

3. IIRAIRA Reform

Even the most zealous proponents of the draconian provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) of 1996 have conceded that it went too far. Recently, Rep. Bill McCollum, one of the principal architects of IIRAIRA, introduced H.R. 2999 to modify some of the law’s harshest provisions. Although Rep. McCollum’s bill does not solve all of the problems created by IIRAIRA, his shift in opinion is evidence that the climate for changes in the immigration laws is better than it has ever been and immigration advocates have an rare opportunity to change the laws for the better. Now is the time to FIX ’96. There are several bills that make important changes to the draconian provisions of IIRIRA. Here are a few to support.

In the House, H.R. 3272 was introduced by Rep. Filner (D-CA). This bill would return the definitions of terms like “aggravated felony” to be reasonable e pre-1996 definitions. It would restore much of the Immigration Judge’s discretion in deportation cases, discretion denied by IIRIRA and make more immigration decisions reviewable. H.R. 1485, introduced by Rep. Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Frost (D-TX) would restore certain forms of relief from deportation and waivers of inadmissibility for long-term residents who meet the requirements.

In the Senate, S. 1940, introduced by Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Leahy (D-VT), Brownback (R-KS), and Feingold (D-WI), would, among other things, limit INS’ use of expedited removal procedures to carefully-defined emergency situations and ensure that immigrants receive due process in deportation proceedings. S. 173, introduced by New York’s Pat Moynihan, would restore relief and waivers for certain long-term legal residents subject to deportation.

These are not the only immigration-related bills out there this year. There are many more worth and plenty that should be opposed. On the House side, many of the most important immigration reforms are being stalled in Chairman Smith’s subcommittee. It is essential that pressure be brought to bear on Chairman Smith so that he gives the issues a fair hearing in the House. Ask your representatives to co-sponsor H.R. 3983, H.R. 1841, H.R. 3272, and H.R. 1485. Contact the House leaders: Speaker Hastert (R-IL); Majority Leader Armey (R-TX); Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts (R-OK); or Republican National Committee Chair Tom Davis (R-VA) and urge them to move these bills. Again the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121.

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City.He is the trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award.He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-686-1581 or

The above article has been written by Andres C. Benach, a graduate of the George Washington Law School, and an associate attorney in the Law Offices of Cyrus Mehta. He previously worked on immigration issues in the Offices of the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice