Immigrant Relief Dies in Congress (Again)

Sep 15, 2022
4:25 PM

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to the media about the U.S. southern border, Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

WASHINGTON — While dozens of immigrant relief bills, amendments, and proposals have been introduced during the current Congress, none are likely to pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by President Joe Biden, sources on Capitol Hill tell Latino Rebels.

The latest failed attempt at immigrant relief came Wednesday morning during a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, in which the topic was bipartisan healthcare workforce legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

Only Cornyn didn’t want to discuss his own bill. Instead, the senior senator from Texas did what he has been regularly doing as of late: using questions about immigrant relief to attack President Joe Biden and the Democrats by spewing falsehoods about the border.

Asked by Latino Rebels after the hearing about the chances of trading immigrant relief for border enforcement, Cornyn didn’t waffle. “None,” he said.

Sen. Roger Marshall, Cornyn’s Republican colleague from Kansas, told Latino Rebels that legal immigration would be part of the solution to his state’s workforce shortages.

But Cornyn disagrees.

“That doesn’t deal with the asylum problem,” Cornyn told Latino Rebels. “The problem is you have people showing up at the border and turning themselves in and claiming asylum. They overwhelm the system, including a huge immigration court backlog.”

Then came the falsehoods. “Most of them don’t show up for their court hearings,” he said, before expressing other anti-immigrant beliefs which have been proven to be greatly exaggerated or patently untrue.

GOP campaign rhetoric casts immigrants as law-and-order pariahs to be feared and distrusted. For Cornyn and other immigration hawks in the GOP caucus, the border is one of the few policy areas where polling suggests voters actually trust their party. A sophisticated network of xenophobes feeds lawmakers talking points that score points with a base terrified of the changing demographics in the United States.

Missing from Cornyn’s talking points was any mention of his own healthcare workforce bill, which would utilize unused green cards for desperately needed doctors and nurses.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), who chairs the subcommittee on immigration, called on the Senate to pass a series of immigrant relief bills, including the bipartisan effort to create “system-wide reforms to incentivize and welcome immigrants into our workforce.” Then he turned the hearing over to Cornyn, who immediately pivoted to talking points about “the border on fire.”

Durbin called out Cornyn for failing to focus on the issue at hand: the chronic shortages of doctors and nurses, jobs the national economy needs immigrants to fill by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has led the immigrant relief charge for Democrats this year, introducing bills and holding markups on a flurry of relief legislation. Everything from the most ambitious immigrant relief bills to the more specific go through Lofgren, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) righthand woman, who does not seem confident that any can pass the House during the current Congress

“I don’t know whether it’s possible to advance additional things through the House,” said Lofgren.

“I think it’s worth noting, in the last two decades, nothing has happened before or after the election,” said Lofgren when asked about the possibilities of immigrant relief during the lame duck session following the midterm elections in November.

With few days remaining on the legislative calendar, a midterm election looming, and immigrant relief bills stalled in the House and Senate, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a massive “must-pass” spending bill — may be the final hope for immigrant relief in this Congress. The amendment would prevent 200,000 “documented dreamers” from aging out of their immigration status.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threw cold water on that hope Wednesday when Latino Rebels followed up with the senator about whether he supports the documented dreamer amendment to NDAA.

“I’ve been able to check with Republicans down dais, and there seems to be a lot of opposition on my side for it,” said Grassley “And there’s even some opposition in the House Judiciary Committee, at least on the Republican side. I don’t think there’s a chance of getting it in there.”

“And I want to make clear that I did say to people in Iowa during my town meetings in August, because I had this question come up from a lot of young people, and I said that I’d go back and check on it and give it real thought. We don’t have to have 100 percent agreement on the Republican side, but you got to have a substantial amount of agreement if we put something in another bill,” Grassley said.

One person who hasn’t given up hope on immigrant relief this year is Dip Patel, founder of Improve The Dream, a documented dreamer advocacy network with deep connections on Capitol Hill.

“I believe we have the broad support that is needed to pass the ‘age out’ protection provisions in the NDAA,” Patel said. “Most senators recognize this narrow issue is unrelated to the border and helps our national security. We appreciate the strong support this issue has received all over the country, but especially in Iowa, with support from Reps. (Mariannette) Miller-Meeks and (Ashley) Hinson, and Sen. (Joni) Ernst.”

Some Democratic aides on the Hill who work closely on immigration policy issues haven’t given up hope, either.

“I’m weirdly optimistic about something in the lame-duck,” a senior aide told Latino Rebels.

Beyond the healthcare workforce bill and the documented dreamer amendment, other immigrant relief measures with bipartisan support — like the Eagle Act to end per-country caps on green cards, and the American Families United Act to bring together mixed-status spouses — remain in play.

But with the legislative calendar growing shorter, it’s exceedingly unlikely that such immigrant relief bills become law during the 117th Congress.


Pablo Manríquez is the Capitol Hill correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports