The rules of the House of Representatives normally require that legislation receive a committee hearing, markup, and vote before receiving a vote on the House floor. However, the rules adopted by the House in January waive this requirement until April 1 for bills that previously passed the House. This expedited process could encourage the House to act quickly on legislation it passed last Congress. The last votes scheduled on the House calendar before April 1 are on March 12—meaning that if the House uses this procedure, it would have just over a month to make it happen.
There are a couple of important differences between this Congress and last Congress that could make it more difficult to pass these ten bills. First, Democrats have a slimmer majority (220 now v. 235 last year with 218 being the majority of the House). This means that the Democrats have less margin for error within their party. Second, the attack on the Capitol by some Republican voters, the attempt by 139 House Republicans to overturn the election, and the impeachment and trial of Donald Trump has created unusual obstacles to even small-scale bipartisan cooperation.
The ten immigration bills that passed last Congress cover a wide range of topics, including legalization of certain Dreamers and farm workers, green card reforms for high skilled workers, standards and oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), restrictions on presidential authority, and greater legal protections for people detained by DHS agencies. Overall, the bills fall far short of comprehensive reform, but they would nonetheless constitute significant and generally positive changes to the system.
House-Passed Immigration Bills from the 116th Congress
- H.R. 6 – American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (passed 237 – 187 on June 4, 2019)
Every Democrat and seven Republicans (Fred Upton – MI, Chris Smith – NJ, Dan Newhouse – WA, Brian Fitzpatrick – PA, Mario Diaz-Balart – FL, Don Bacon – NE, and Will Hurd – TX) voted for this bill last Congress. Of the seven Republicans, only Hurd is gone, and a couple more Republicans who defeated Democrats in November may vote for this bill. The unanimous support from Democrats with some Republicans virtually guarantees that this bill will receive a vote by March 12.
The bill provides the opportunity to receive legal permanent residence (green cards) to certain illegal immigrants who entered the United States at least four years ago as children before the age of 18 as well as those in the Temporary Protected Status program as of January 1, 2017—about 2.6 million people, according the Migration Policy Institute’s Julia Gelatt.
- H.R.1044 – Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (passed 365 – 65 on July 10, 2019)
All but eight Democrats and 57 Republicans supported this bill. The lopsided vote is the second time that the House of Representatives has passed this bill with majorities of both parties voting in favor since 2011. This would seem to make it a lock to get fast-tracked this Congress, but unlike the other bills on this list, the Senate actually amended and passed this bill as well. Normally, this would be a positive development, but because the House disagreed with its changes, it may complicate its decision to bring the bill to the floor quickly. But the complication doesn’t rule out early action. The House may want to just kick it back to the Senate quickly to get the process going.
The bill phases out the country limits for employment-based green cards over three years and raises the country caps from 15 percent for family-sponsored immigrants. Currently, no more than 7 percent of green cards in the employment- and family-based categories may go to immigrants from any single birthplace (unless they would otherwise be wasted), leading to exceptionally long waits for Indian immigrants. There are 1.2 million employment-based immigrants who would be affected by the bill. The Senate added several complex provisions, but the dealbreaker for the House appears to have been a limit on the number of H-1B workers who can receive green cards and a ban on adjusting to legal permanent residence any Chinese national who was ever “affiliated” with the Chinese Communist Party.
- H.R.3239 – Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (passed 233 – 195 on July 24, 2019)
All Democrats joined by one Republican (Don Young – AK) voted for this bill. The unanimous support from Democrats and the high visibility of the issue makes this bill a plausible one for action early this year. On the other hand, circumstances have changed dramatically at the border since July 2019. Crossings are still down, and the new administration has promised to create its own standards. It is possible that House Democrats may want to allow that process to play out before imposing its own rules.
The bill requires health screenings of detained immigrants at the border and sets timelines for those screenings. It requires the provision of interpreters, chaperones, and mental health treatment when necessary. It also mandates certain baseline standards for care of detainees.
- H.R.549 – Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 (passed 272 – 158 on July 25, 2019)
Every Democrat and 39 Republicans voted for this bill. The strong bipartisan vote makes this legislation a strong contender for the fast-track treatment in 2021. However, the fact that President Biden could unilaterally make the bill’s changes could mean that the administration may pre-empt House action.
The bill would designate Venezuela as a country whose nationals are eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a status provided in situations where it would be inhumane to force a person in temporary or illegal status back to their home country, such as during the socialist country’s economic and political crisis. The bill would designate Venezuela for an initial period of 18 months.
- H.R.2203 – Homeland Security Improvement Act (passed 230 – 194 on September 25, 2019)
All but one Democrat voted for this bill with all Republicans opposing it. The lack of Republican support would make a vote this Congress tighter, but the near-unanimous Democratic support could allow this bill to see the floor this month.
The bill would establish an independent, neutral, and standardized process to assist individuals in resolving complaints related to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a Border Oversight Panel, which shall make recommendations related to border enforcement policies, and a Border Community Liaison in each Border Patrol sector on the northern and southern borders, which shall consult with and receive feedback from border communities on ICE and CBP policies and activities.
- H.R.565 – AMIGOS Act (passed by voice vote on December 3, 2019)
The bill passed by voice vote, meaning that no one in either party objected to its passage and requested a recorded vote. This means that leadership of both parties agreed to it, and none of the anti-immigrant members of the House cared enough to object (perhaps because it would pass so overwhelmingly).
The bill would add Portugal to the list of countries whose nationals may participate in the E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrant visa programs for treaty traders and investors. The E-1 program allows a nonimmigrant to enter “solely to engage in international trade on his or her own behalf” along with certain of their employees, and their spouses and minor children. The E-2 program is for entrepreneurs who invest significantly in their businesses, certain of their employees, and their spouses and minor children.
- H.R.5038 – Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (passed 260 – 165 on December 12, 2019)
All but four Democrats (Jared Golden – ME, Ben McAdams – UT, Bobby Scott – VA, Rashida Tlaib – MI) voted for this bill, and they were joined by 34 Republicans—nearly all of whom will return. Again, with bipartisan support and near unanimity among Democrats, this bill is a strong candidate to receive the fast-track treatment this coming month.
The legislation would provide the opportunity for illegal immigrant farm workers and their families to receive legal permanent residence (green cards). It would also improve the H-2A guest worker program’s minimum wage requirement and allow some year-round farmers to access the program. It also creates a pilot program whereby employers can hire H-2A workers who switch from one employer to the other on the same basis as any other U.S. worker with only the requirement to pay the H-2A minimum wage. The bipartisan compromise that led to nearly three dozen Republicans to back it was a mandate for farmers to use the flawed E-Verify employment verification program.
- H.R.2877 – To add Ireland to the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program (passed by voice vote on March 9, 2020)
The bill passed by voice vote, meaning that no one in either party objected to its passage and requested a recorded vote. This means that leadership of both parties agreed to it, and none of the anti-immigrant members of the House cared enough to object (perhaps because it would pass so overwhelmingly). The bill previously passed the House on a voice vote in 2018 under GOP House leadership.
The legislation adds Ireland to the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program, which is effectively an H-1B program solely for Australia with a cap of 10,500. The Irish would receive the same number of visas as Australians used in the prior year. Any company that hired the Irish E-3s would be required to enroll in the flawed E-Verify employment verification program.
All Democrats and two Republicans (Will Hurd – TX and Brian Fitzpatrick – PA) voted to pass the NO BAN Act last Congress. The unanimous support may spur action again this Congress, but the unanimity was achieved when Donald Trump was president, President Biden has already used the power to ban immigrants very early in his term. On the other hand, Biden included the bill explicitly by name in his legislative proposal to Congress, so he almost certainly cannot publicly oppose any House action on it.
The NO BAN Act restricts the authority of the president to ban immigrants or nonimmigrants by outlawing bans based on religion, race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence. It also requires that any ban by the president narrowly tailors the suspension using the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest. It also creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of granting family-based and humanitarian waivers to the ban, and it explicitly authorizes anyone in the United States harmed by a ban standing to challenge to sue.
All Democrats voted for this bill, and all Republicans voted against it. The lack of Republican support would make a vote this Congress tighter, but the unanimous Democratic support could allow this bill to see the floor this month.
The bill explicitly requires the Department of Homeland Security to allow access to immigration counsel for anyone subject to secondary or deferred inspection at U.S. ports of entry. No one can give up their legal permanent resident status without waiving in writing their right to confer with an attorney.
Commentary by David J. Bier. Originally published at Cato At Liberty. https://www.cato.org/blog/house-could-vote-these-10-immigration-bills-march