Press Releases

Conyers Challenges House Majority to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation Following Senate Judiciary Passage

Washington, DC, May 22, 2013

This afternoon, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “S. 744 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Lessons Learned or Mistakes Repeated?”  This hearing comes a day after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to report to the Senate Floor S. 744, comprehensive immigration reform legislation entitled the, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” At the opening of the House hearing, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:

“With each passing day, I become more hopeful that Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and create an immigration system that works for American businesses and families and enhances our security.  A key part of such a bill is the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and get on a tough but fair path to earned permanent legal status.

“Today we are examining a bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted just last night to report to the Senate floor.  The 13-5 vote included the votes of all of the committee’s Democratic members and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Passage of the bipartisan bill yesterday shows that our fight is gaining momentum.

“The most important way that the Senate bill differs from the 1986 law, however, is that it sets out to actually fix our broken immigration system.  The bill aims to prevent future illegal immigration by facilitating legal immigration and being smart about enforcement.

“Let me be clear that the bipartisan Senate bill does not repeat the mistakes from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Some people say the biggest mistake of the 1986 law was its legalization provision.  They say the bill granted undocumented immigrants ‘amnesty.’ In the law signed by President Reagan, most undocumented immigrants who qualified for legalization received a temporary status.  These temporary residents were allowed to apply for a green card after just one year.  And agricultural workers were allowed to apply for a green card immediately, without any period of temporary status.  The 1986 law imposed neither a penalty, nor a fine.

“I think these critics of the 1986 law would be hard-pressed to say that the Senate bill provides ‘amnesty.’ Under the Senate bill, undocumented immigrants who register must pay a $1,000 fine and are placed into a provisional status for a full 10 years.  Throughout this 10-year period, they must remain employed, satisfy tax liabilities, and remain eligible for provisional status.

“Another criticism of the 1986 law is that while the legalization program went forward, the promised enforcement never followed.  Even if enforcement didn’t increase much in the years immediately following IRCA, it has certainly picked up now. According to an analysis by the Immigration Policy Center, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.6 billion on immigration enforcement since IRCA.  Each year we detain and remove record numbers of people and spend more money on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement efforts combined—$18 billion annually.

“Still, the Senate bill responds to that criticism by preventing undocumented immigrants from registering for provisional status until DHS has begun to implement two new strategies to enhance border security.  And provisional immigrants cannot get a green card unless and until: the border strategies are substantially operational or completed; E-Verify is mandatory for all employers; and DHS has an electronic exit system at air and sea ports to identify visa overstays.

“In many ways, the biggest failure of the 1986 law was that it didn’t leave us with an immigration system capable of meeting the future immigration needs of the country.  As a result, those future needs were met outside of the legal system.  We need an immigration system that works for American businesses and American families and I believe we can do it.”