Congress Proposes Relief from Mean-Spirited Immigration Laws

In 1996, some of the harshest provisions in the history of the U.S. immigration law were placed into effect by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA). After the passage of IIRAIRA, things looked bleak on the immigration law front. However, there appears to be hope. In the last several months, the Congress of the United States has been busy proposing many new measures in an effort to restructure the harsh immigration laws.

A bill introduced by Re. Sheila Jackson Lee is called the Immigration Restructuring and Accountability Act of 1999 (IRAA). This bill would create a National Immigration Bureau (NIB) within the Justice Department. The National Immigration Bureau would replace what is currently the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The NIB would be divided into separate offices handling adjudications, enforcement and detention. This bill would also fully restore § 245(i), the provision of law that permits certain individuals to remain in the United States to adjust their status instead of having to return to their native country. The fees generated by § 245(i) would be used to directly benefit the adjudications division of the NIB.

In another bill introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham, the INS would be restructured by creating two separate bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration Services and Adjudications and the Bureau of Immigration Enforcement and Border Affairs. Additional provisions to this bill would expedite processing of applications, eliminate the need for lawful permanent residents transferred abroad by a U.S. employer to obtain a re-entry permit, and eliminate all per-country limitations.

On July 27, 1999, Sen. Gramm introduced S. 1440, the “New Workers for Economic Growth Act” of 1999. This bill would raise the H-1B cap to 200,000 for fiscal years 2000, 2001, and 2002. The cap would return to 65,000 in fiscal year 2003. the bill would also exempt professionals with masters degrees or higher receiving compensation of sixty thousand dollars or more, and those with bachelor’s degrees or above who are employed in an institution of higher learning from the H-1B cap. Those with masters degrees or higher who worked at universities would also be exempted from certain attestation requirements.

In August 1999, Rep. Zoe Lefgren introduced a bill that would create a new non-immigration Visa, the T visa. The T visa would be for foreign nationals completing a post-secondary degree for mathematics, science, engineering or computer science that would allow them to remain in the United States for a five-year period to work in one of those fields.

Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Connie Morella have introduced H.R. 1841, which calls for complete restoration of § 245(i). Presently, this bill has 24 co-sponsors. What this potentially means is that H.R. 1841 has received substantial support. Based on this very strong support, it is likely that § 245(i) may soon once again become the law.

It is clear from the amount of current pending legislation surrounding the immigration laws of the United States that Congress has recognized the severity of the 1996 IIRAIRA immigration law changes. In response to these mean-spirited laws, both members of the House are rapidly introducing new reform bills. It is important that the immigrant community keep abreast of the current legislation in order to monitor how it may affect them and their loved ones. I shall promise to keep my readers updated on these bills as they progress through Congress.