Immigration Issue Threatens To Boil Over

07:40PM Nov 14, 2014
( Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today )

Tension builds as President Obama plans to make changes to the nation’s immigration system through a series of Executive Orders that would bypass Congress. 

By Bob Gray, Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperative

It did not take Congress long to become embroiled in a major controversy over immigration reform after returning from a seven-week recess that preceded the midterm elections.

Since Congress failed to act on immigration reform during the last two years, President Obama has stated he plans to make changes to the nation’s immigration system through a series of Executive Orders that would bypass Congress.

Although the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in the spring of 2013, the House did not bring any immigration bills to the floor for consideration. Four separate immigration bills were passed by the House Judiciary Committee but went no further. The House’s position is that it needs to be done piecemeal as opposed to one large comprehensive bill as passed by the Senate.

The Republican caucus in the House has been strongly divided on the issue with at least one-third of its members opposed to any kind of legalization for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Another third is interested in doing something; however, they wanted to wait until after the midterm elections. The other third of the caucus is anxious to move immigration legislation. Therefore it has been difficult for House Speaker Boehner to move forward on the issue.

It is estimated that there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. A number of them work in agricultural jobs, including dairy.

The President says he has run out of patience with the lack of action by the House and is going to move forward on his own in absence of any Congressional action. It is not clear on the timing of the Executive Orders, but the word is it will be done before the end of the year and perhaps as early as next week.

The thrust of what the White House is going to do has not been made public. The New York Times had an article this week that laid out some of the Administration’s thinking on the issue. The main theme of the White House action, according to the Times, is that as many as 5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. will be protected from deportation and issued work permits. This effort to provide “safe harbor” to millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. would be aimed at those who have deep ties in this country, including family members who are citizens.

The Executive Order would also make visas available to high-tech workers and redirect immigration enforcement from the interior of the U.S. to the border, according to the Times article.

There is no mention of any agricultural provisions that would be part of the executive actions. Although there is an H-2A program for temporary and seasonal agricultural workers, there is no program for dairy and other portions of the agricultural sector that utilize immigrant workers year-round.

The GOP Congressional leadership has reacted angrily to the President’s proposed plans and has threatened to block it through the legislative process. The proposed Omnibus Budget Bill, which wraps all 12 FY2015 appropriations bills into one package and will likely be taken up by Congress in mid-December, is a potential legislative vehicle for attaching language to stop the President’s actions. Such a confrontation could disrupt the Omnibus Bill and other legislative initiatives, such as extending certain tax provisions, one of which (Section 179) is crucial to farmers.

It remains to be seen what is going to happen. The current Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, wants the President to wait until after the budget bill is passed before he moves forward on changing current immigration policy.

It is going to be a very interesting lame-duck session, to say the least.