Washington – Former Democratic Rep. Bruce Morrison, who once represented a New Haven-based district in Congress, has jumped smack into the center of a massive lobbying effort aimed at persuading President Obama to make wide changes in immigration law.
Frustrated by Congress’ inability to pass an immigration bill, Obama said he’ll soon use his executive authority to prioritize deportations of undocumented immigrants, which immigrant advocates hope will lead to legalizing the status of millions.
The president’s intentions prompted Morrison, who represented the 3rd District in Congress before he made a failed run for governor in 1990, to ask Obama to also cut waiting lines for those applying for legal immigration status.
“The idea is that part of his plan should be to fix what’s wrong with legal immigration,” Morrison said.
An immigration lawyer who once headed the House Judiciary Committee’s panel on immigration, Morrison asked Obama to not count the dependents of an applicant for U.S. residency, commonly know as a green card, against a country-by-county cap of those allowed to emigrate legally to the United States this year.
Under current law, the United States accepts 366,000 immigrants a year from all other nations. Some 226,000 green cards are reserved for family reunification and 140,000 for employment in specialized fields.
Morrison says taking dependents –who would still win legal status — out of the count would double the allocations.
Doing so, he said, would make the three-year backlog for nuclear families of legal permanent residents quickly disappear. And employers who are trying to hire foreign workers would no longer have to wait years to do that. The delay for skilled immigrants from India, for example, is 11 years.
In this effort, Morrison is leading a diverse coalition of groups that includes the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the Semiconductor Industry Association. Morrison’s letter to Obama said “we are writing to support your commitment to reform America’s broken immigration policy.”
“We understand and share your frustration that Congress has not acted,” the letter said. “We applaud your promise to do your job to fix as much as you can administratively, because they have not acted.”
The signers of the letter say U.S. legal statutes governing the green card limits are ambiguous about whether siblings, spouses and children must be counted.
According to the State Department, more than 4 million people are waiting for green cards.
White House lawyers are expected to argue that Congress has left the administration with too few resources to enforce every law and deport all of the roughly 11.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. That means the federal government must set priorities on which immigrants to remove from the country, the lawyers will say.
At a press conference earlier this month, Obama said “we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources.”
But details of what Obama will propose are not known.
“I don’t think the president has actually decided yet,” Morrison said.
But Republican immigration hard liners are pushing back, and have even threatened another government shut down if the president uses his authority to change immigration policy.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the Des Moines Register that “all bets are off” on a budget bill that would keep the government running after Sept. 30 if Obama acts on immigration-related measures.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear,” King said.
King and other Republicans are likely to insist the budget bill include a provision that would cut off funds to any White House immigration initiative, forcing a standoff. But GOP leaders, mindful a shutdown just before the Nov. 4 elections will hurt the GOP politically, are trying to convince the immigration hardliners to address the issue in a separate bill.
Some Democrats running in red states are asking the president to hold off, but much more politely.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., one of about eight vulnerable Senate Democrats running for re-election this year, said she’s disappointed the GOP-controlled House has failed to act on a broad immigration bill approved by the Senate. But she also said “this is an issue, I believe that should be addressed legislatively, not through executive order.”