House Immigration Bill; More Resources, but Still No Reform

The House passed a border security bill, today, that could be seen as a rare moment of bipartisan compromise in a highly charged election season, but few lawmakers seemed to look at it that way. The measure passed on a voice vote with no debate, but Republicans didn't like being called back from their summer break, mainly for a vote on a different bill to avoid teacher layoffs. Kentucky Congressman Harold Rogers(R) said, "this bill won't take effect until next year. Why are we here?" Some Republican lawmakers felt the border security bill was added to give Democrats political cover. California Congressman Jerry Lewis (R) said "this bill is only on the floor to allow Democrats to claim they care about border security."

Democrats disagreed. Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar (D) said "the threat is real and we need to take action today." Fellow Texan Sheila Jackson Lee (D) said, "It is relevant to do this today. But I wish my friends as well would stop blocking us from looking holistically at real comprehensive immigration reform."

The bill was also criticized by people who felt it didn't go far enough. Texas Congressman Ciro Rodriguez(D), whose 23rd district has the longest U.S. border with Mexico (785 miles), wanted something larger than the $600 million measure. And Mary Moreno, of the Center for Community Change, feels Democrats may have given away a bargaining chip in the false hope of getting Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. "They said that if this obstacle was removed that they would actually come to the table and talk about immigration reform," Moreno said, adding "well now we're going to see if it actually happens."The $600 million measure provides money for 1,500 more agents on the Mexican border and new facilities for them. It also contains funding to beef up the forces of U.S. marshals, and FBI, DEA and ATF agents on the border. There is money for two unmanned surveillance planes and for better communications equipment.

The bill is paid for by a tax on some companies that bring highly skilled workers to this country, using H-1B visas. It would affect those companies that import more than half of their staff. Supporters say it will encourage hiring Americans for some of those positions but India says the higher fees will discriminate against its workers.

The House measure mirrors a Senate passed bill, leading Republican Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to accuse House Democrats of trying to steal the credit. Actually, the H-1B tax provision fell under a House rule requiring revenue raising measure to originate in the House. The Senate has to pass it again, however, and because of their rules, may be able to do so, by unanimous consent and without more than a couple senators actually returning to Washington.