Border Roundup: Congress considers immigration reform bills
Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto visits the United States; Republicans reconsider immigration policies; the unintended side effects of immigration legislation
Politics and policy
Franco Ordoñez wrote that while the public is focused on the the issue of amnesty and citizenship, immigration reform also faces the challenge of how to deal with guest workers who are considered a necessity by farmers and industry (including plant managers in North Carolina and South Carolina who've turned to prisons for manpower as immigration slowed, but a threat by labor unions who say that guest worker programs can be abused and can threaten U.S. workers. Lee Wicker, deputy director of the North Carolina Growers Association, said guest workers must be streamlined because U.S. workers don't want these jobs and that this year, “We had 270 U.S. applicants apply for 7,500 openings.”
Arizona senator and former GOP presidential candidate John McCain continued to call for Republicans to reconsider their stances on immigration reform, and possibly also leave abortion "alone" in a efforts to "make a bigger tent." McCain and retiring Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) have written a bill that, like the DREAM Act, addresses young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Unlike the DREAM Act it would grant them legal residency, not a path to citizenship, if they enlist in the military or pursue college degrees.
Other prominent Republicans advocating a more moderate stance include Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. who says that the party's policies have "built a wall" between them and Hispanic voters and former President George W. Bush's commerce secretary and chair of Mitt Romney's Latino outreach campaign group Juntos con Romney Carlos Gutierrez who's helped found a new Super PAC called Republicans for Immigration Reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, says that Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who previously proposed legislation addressing deportation stays for high achieving students that some considered an alternative to the DREAM Act, will be "critical" and "key" to immigration reform.
The House approved Republican sponsored legislation known as the STEM Jobs Act Bill for science, technology engineering and mathematics in a vote that fell primarily along party lines and will now proceed to the Senate.
Legislative side effects
On Thursday civil rights groups filed suit to overturn Gov. Jan Brewer's order denying Arizona driver's licences to those qualifying for deportation stays under the new federal program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The DACA program includes issuing work permits to approved applicants to work but Brewer states that "a 1996 Arizona law specifically requires proof the person’s presence in the United States “is authorized under federal law.”" The suit contends that Brewer's order is at odds with federal policy and is "counterproductive." The groups involved in the lawsuit include the American Civil Liberties Union, which has also filed several lawsuits over Arizona's SB 1070 including one by Asian-American Jim Shee. They state that Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's similar policy on driver's licenses may also generate a similar lawsuit.
Georgia physicians say state legislation requiring physicians and other health workers to prove their citizenship is leading to expired licenses because the medical board cannot keep up with the deluge of paperwork. House Bill 87, one of the provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, went into effect in January and requires health workers to prove their citizenship or legal residency when renewing their licenses - but administrative offices can't keep up. Physician renewals that used to take minutes online now typically take around 10 days but in some cases can take more than 30 days and board data showed that the percentage of licenses expiring while in the renewal process jumped to 13.5% from 2.8% the year before. Nursing renewals are taking longer at about 17 days while new nursing licenses can take up to three months.
Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto has been touring Canada and the U.S. in advance of his Saturday inauguration. Pena Nieto told President Obama, whom he invited him on a state visit to Mexico early next year, that when it comes to immigration reform, “we want to contribute toward the accomplishment." However, Pena Nieto also wants to "reboot" Mexico's relationship with the U.S. and refocus on economic and trade relationships. Mexico's economy has been showing signs of strength and recovery despite the brutal drug violence of the last six years. When it comes to dealing with the cartels, Pena Nieto is expected to echo President Felipe Calderon's approach of leading with federal police but may controversially reorganize them into a single agency. Pena Nieto has also said he will shift his focus from kingpins and capos to focusing on stopping "the murders, the extortion, the associated violence with the drug trade instead of an all-out military offensive."