Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Inaugural blog message about recent happenings in DC

AFSC Project Voice staff decided that things are moving so quickly in Washington these days on immigration reform, that maybe a daily blog would help folks keep up to date. So here goes...


In keeping with his threats to the Judiciary Committee about meeting his self-imposed March 27 deadline, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced his own enforcement-only bill two weeks ago but has not withdrawn it as he promised (something to do with Republican support for the Judiciary Committee's bill). The proposals in his bill mirror many of the enforcement measures in the version from the House of Representatives (HR 4437).

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee met the March 27 deadline imposed by Senator Frist and delivered a bill to the Senate for consideration. As you probably have heard, the bill contained components from the McCain-Kennedy guest worker program as well as the DREAM Act, a plan that would help many undocumented students gain immigration status. Senator Durbin added an ammendment that struck all the sections that would have criminalized undocumented people and individuals who offer them humanitarian aid.

BUT, most of the detention and enforcement provisions of Title II still remain in the bill including:

The addition of 10,000 detention beds
The use of closed military bases as detention centers
Expanded expedited removal both for undocumented immigrants and immigrants with certain criminal convictions
Expansion of the definition of “aggravated felony”
Expansion of mandatory detention
Indefinite detention
Expansion of border militarization
Authorization of local law enforcement to enforce immigration law

They did not, however, decide, what to do about the 'judicial review' provisions and decided to wait and discuss that today April 2.

Some analysts are suggesting that this is all a power play between Presidential candidates: Frist is trying to appeal to the conservative base of voters to strenghten his run for the White House and John McCain is wooing more moderate Republicans with his guest worker proposal.


Today the Senate Judiciary discussed the 'judicial review' proposals that were not included in their final mark-up. You can watch the hearing yourself at www.c-span.org . It's mid-way down the page under Video/Audio. You'll need Realplayer to see it.

Only two senators were at the hearing (Specter and Sessions) and they listened to two panels of experts talk about the proposals to change the legal process for immigration cases. Basically the proposals under consideration would move all apeals to the Federal District Court in Washington, DC, a court that has not experience in immigration matters and usually only deals with issues like patents and tax law. They also are considering allowing the Attorney General to decide if an immigrant can receive 'certification' or permission to appeal his case.

Today a number of circuit court judges, a professor and a Department of Justice deputy discussed this propsal. The judge in charge of the DC court pointed out that this proposed plan would triple their work load and require them to build a second building to just do the job. He further broke it down to the figure that each judge would have one hour and a half to consider each case, not nearly enough time to consider the ins and outs of each case. His stats were staggering. Several circuit judges also chimed in and agreed that this was a bad plan. They admitted that there has been a flood of new cases in the circuit courts but everyone tip-toed around the fact that the current situation is the result of the 'streamlining' that former Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed. When asked by Senator Specter what the judges thought would be a better system, they suggested more resources for the BIA and a return to panels of judges to consider each case (Ashcroft slashed their budget and let only one judge consider each case). A deputy from the Department of Justice repeatedly suggested that the flood of cases are mainly frivolous and are simply delay tactics so the immigrant can stay in the country longer (I kept thinking, and what about those waiting it out in detention? like they want to prolong that?).

Arlen Specter made a comment that this was all very complex and that this 'speed track' and not simply fast track legislation was imposed on him and he didn't like it.


We've heard that the Judiciary Committee's bill could be folded into the Frist bill. or they could both go to the floor for a vote. Bill Frist says he wants to vote this week. He's moving for 'cloture' which would limit debate on the bill and the number of ammendments that could be added. Many Senators are proposing ammendments that would either toughen or ameliorate many of the provisions of the bill.