Before Title 42, Congress Failed Repeatedly to Overhaul Immigration Policy

Before Title 42, Congress Failed Repeatedly to Overhaul Immigration Policy

For nearly a quarter century, as successive waves of migrants attempted to enter and work in the United States, Presidents have appealed to Congress to patch loopholes in an immigration system almost everyone agrees is broken.

But year after year, efforts by Congress to secure a far-reaching bipartisan agreement — one that would strengthen border security measures while expanding opportunities for the orderly and lawful immigration of people to the United States — faltered under pressure from political forces.

Immigration has proven to be a powerful political communication tool, particularly for Republicans, who have mobilized their constituents in campaigns to close the border with Mexico — and have condemned anything less than strict security proposals as amnesty. And Democrats have long resisted no-action border security initiatives to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and expand future immigration.

While many lawmakers have attempted to fill this gap, not once in the 21st century has Congress succeeded in submitting a comprehensive immigration law to the President.

The legacy of this inaction is evident in factories and farms, where undocumented migrants perform grueling jobs for low wages; in the skyrocketing backlog of asylum cases yet to be brought before an immigration judge; in enriching cartels that smuggle migrants and drugs to the US-Mexico border; and in the uncertainty at the border following the phasing out of pandemic-era entry restrictions this week.

As lawmakers try again to get a grip on immigration, here’s a look at how and why previous efforts in Congress failed.

On May 25, 2006, the Republican-led Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 by a vote of 62 to 36. Twenty-three Republicans—including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader—supported the bill, all but four Democrats and one Independent . The Republican-led House of Representatives never took it up.

What was suggested: The bill was based on a compromise between Senators John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Its framework combined border security measures that Republicans were demanding — such as fences, radar and air surveillance equipment, and an influx of personnel — with provisions supported by Democrats that provide a way for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States to obtain citizenship acquire and acquire a new citizenship through a guest worker program.

Why it failed: Despite opposition from some senior Republicans, the bill garnered enough support to pass the Senate after an aggressive push by President George W. Bush, who advocated an overhaul of the immigration system and delivered a prime-time speech at the Oval this week Office dedicated to the promotion of the bill before the vote. It was also backed by major business groups and some powerful unions.

But the more conservative House of Representatives, which passed a bill in late 2005 that severely restricted immigration and criminalized illegal entry – sparking widespread protests across the country – never passed it and virtually nullified it. Instead, Republicans put forward a measure dealing only with border security, the Secure Fence Act, which passed with veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. Mr. Bush signed the law into law two weeks before the 2006 midterm elections.

After Congressional Republicans suffered heavy defeats in the 2006 midterm elections, new Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives tried again to tackle immigration. In June 2007, however, the new bill was unable to clear a number of procedural hurdles in the Senate and did not find a final vote in either chamber.

What was suggested: The 2007 bill took the approach of the previous year’s proposal, but with a “trigger” that would make the legal status of undocumented immigrants conditional on first meeting a set of border security criteria. The bill also proposed granting legal status based on a points system that assesses immigrants based on job skills, educational level, family ties and English language proficiency.

Why it failed: The coalition of senators that drafted the legislation, later known as the “Gang of 12,” represented the broadest bipartisan coalition yet to join forces on an immigration compromise. But the bill met with stubborn opposition from both parties and ultimately failed.

Senator Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who served as President Donald J. Trump’s attorney general with a zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings, led a conservative revolt against the bill and condemned it as an amnesty. At the same time, pro-worker Democrats protested the expanded programs for temporary migrant workers, while others in the party criticized the point system to prioritize job skills over family ties.

In December 2010, Democratic congressional leaders, on the verge of losing control of the House of Representatives, voted on the DREAM Act: a bill aimed at illegal migrants brought into the country as children, often referred to as “dreamers.” become, give the opportunity to become legal status. The House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 216 to 198, with eight Republicans in favor and 38 Democrats against. Ten days later, the Democrat-led Senate was five votes short of breaking a filibuster that prevented it from voting.

What was suggested: The legislation aimed to allow Dreamers to become legal residents and potential US citizens provided they meet certain conditions. Eligible migrants must have been enrolled in college or have served in the military for at least two years, pass a criminal background check and be under 30 years of age. First introduced in 2001, the legislation was part of the comprehensive immigration laws of 2006 and 2007.

Why it failed: Conservative Republicans in the Senate campaigned against the amnesty bill, convincing all but three of their peers to oppose it. But even the Democrats could not support their party’s legislation. Five moderate Democrats refused to support the bill because it didn’t include a broader immigration plan — the five votes they needed to clear the Senate’s 60-vote procedural hurdle and move it forward.

A compromise draft emerged after the 2012 presidential election and a Republican autopsy that concluded the party needed to change its hardline stance on immigration. On June 27, 2013, the Senate passed a compromise bill on immigration, addressing both border security and expanded immigration routes, by a vote of 68 to 32, in which 14 Republicans participated. But the Republican-led House of Representatives never responded.

What was suggested: A “Gang of Eight” group of senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — revived the idea of ​​combining border security measures with expanded immigration opportunities, subject to compliance with border security thresholds. The bill called for the generalization of the employment entitlement system known as E-Verify to make hiring undocumented workers more difficult and give most undocumented immigrants in the country a 13-year path to citizenship. It would have issued visas based on a points system, with about 50 percent based on job skills, and included programs for temporary migrant workers.

Why it failed: The bill passed the Senate with ease, but was effectively dead by the time it got through to the increasingly right-leaning House of Representatives. Ohio Republican Speaker John Boehner repeatedly refused to vote on it, saying he would not bring up an immigration bill that did not have the support of a majority of Republicans.

After Mr. Trump ended an Obama-era program that gave deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, pressure mounted on Congress to codify new protections for them.

But Mr Trump said such a bill must include an end to decades of family-based migration policies, building a border wall and cracking down on other undocumented immigrants. Republicans in the House of Representatives were attempting to pass immigration reform, which they presented as a compromise between their own moderates and conservatives. But all House Democrats and about half of House Republicans opposed it, and the measure failed on June 27, 2018, by a vote of 121 to 301.

What was suggested: At its core, the Republican bill would allow increased border security measures like Mr. Trump’s wall, in addition to measures that give the Dreamers a path to citizenship. But the legislation also included conservative measures to limit the options for asylum seekers and criminalize fraudulent applications, as well as to facilitate the detention of migrant children and the return of unaccompanied minors to their countries of origin.

Why it failed: Faced with a revolt by moderate Republicans who had joined forces with Democrats to force a vote on a dreamer-protection bill, Speaker Paul D. Ryan sought to push through reform that would appeal to both the conservatives in his ranks and his mainstream -Followers might like members. But the measure met with strong opposition from the start.

Democrats vocally opposed the bill, which California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then the minority leader, called “a cruel codification of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.” Republicans were still divided. And legislation lost momentum crucially after last-minute ramblings by Mr. Trump, who tweeted less than a week before the vote that Republican leaders should “stop wasting their time on immigration” until the party gets more seats in the could win the Senate.

On the morning of the vote, Mr Trump lobbied back in favor of the law, but it was too late to persuade his fragmented conference to back it.

Karoun Demirjian