House to Consider Two Amnesty Bills This Week in the Midst of Border 'Challenge'

Like watering petunias in a hurricane

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 15, 2021

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, are set to take up two amnesty bills this week, even as what DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has described as a "challenge" (read: crisis, emergency, or disaster) is occurring at the Southwest border. Texas Republican Rep. August Pfluger derided the effort, declaring: "It is one of the most disrespectful and tone-deaf things that I've heard of." He's right — it's like watering petunias in a hurricane.

The House Committee on Rules, which sets the table for bills that will be brought to the floor, has announced that it will hold a hearing on H.R. 6 - American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, on March 16.

That bill would allow aliens to obtain conditional green cards if they are illegally present in the United States, have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), or are the children of certain nonimmigrants, provided that they entered the United States under the age of 18 on or before January 1, 2021.

There are also special rules in H.R. 6 for aliens who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to obtain permanent residence.

It would also permit aliens who are eligible for TPS or DED to obtain green cards. There are certain waivers, exclusions, exceptions, and reviews for each of these groups. A similar bill passed the House in the last Congress, only to die in the then-Republican controlled Senate.

The Rules Committee will also take up H.R. 1603, the Farm Modernization Workforce Act on Tuesday. That 229-page bill would grant Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status to aliens who have spent 180 days working in agriculture over the past two years, which is renewable provided that they work in agriculture for at least 100 days a year.

In addition, farm workers could get a green card if they have spent 10 years working in agriculture by paying a $1,000 "fine" and working in the business for an additional four years. Those with less than a decade in farm work can get their amnesty by paying that fine and working for an additional eight years in agriculture.

Finally, that bill would amend the current standards for nonimmigrant H-2A farm worker visas.

Again, a similar version of that bill passed the House in the last congress, only to be stalled in the Senate.

Neither of these bills has gone through "regular order", that is, markup by the committees of jurisdiction in the House. Regular order would give Republicans — who are just nine seats short of a majority in the body (in reality, five seats, as the current Democratic/Republican party scheme is a "zero sum" game) — the opportunity to offer amendments in committee.

The Rules Committee, on the other hand, can block relevant amendments offered by the minority from being brought to the floor of the House during debate (it is not referred to as "The Speaker's Committee" for nothing). Modestly, its website states: "In essence, so long as a majority of the House is willing to vote for a special rule, there is little that the Rules Committee cannot do."

There is no summary for H.R. 6 on the official "" website, and H.R. 1603 does not even appear thereon. To say that this is a somewhat rushed process for each bill would be an understatement.

And it is an unusual time for the House to be undertaking such broad amnesty bills. As I reported on March 11, last month "Border Patrol Apprehensions Reach[ed a] 14-Year High for the Month of February".

Most of those migrants apprehended at the Southwest border in February were single adults (68,732), but 19.5 percent (18,945) were adult migrants and children (family units or FMUs), and almost 9.6 percent (9,297) were unaccompanied alien children (UACs).

Those FMUs take Border Patrol about 10 times longer to process than single adults (as I have explained in the past), and on March 4, the Biden administration announced that it would start releasing FMUs within 72 hours.

In its April 2019 "Final Emergency Interim Report", the Homeland Security Advisory Council's bipartisan CBP Families and Children Care Panel stated that a similar release policy was the "the major 'pull factor'" driving an increase in illegal entries by FMUs that year. There is no reason to believe that the policy is going to have any different effect this year.

That panel stated that this situation was exacerbated by a 2016 Ninth Circuit decision (the panel erroneously stated that it was issued in 2017) interpreting the 1997 Flores settlement agreement. The court held that Flores (which originally applied to the terms of INS's detention and release of UACs) applied to accompanied children (traveling with adults), too, and mandated their release within 20 days.

To avoid family separation, the parents are usually released, as well. That bipartisan panel called on Congress to "fix" Flores to make clear that it only applies to UACs, but Congress did nothing in response.

There is no Flores "fix" in either H.R. 6 or in H.R. 1603, and the Biden administration has not even admitted that the circuit court's decision is a significant factor driving the surge.

It blames corruption, poverty, crime, the weather, and coffee rust, among other reasons. While each is likely a factor in individual cases, those FMUs risk their lives and the lives of their children to enter illegally because they know, thanks to that 2016 decision, that if they make it to the United States they will almost definitely be released, and likely never be removed.

As for the UACs, things have gotten so bad that DHS announced on March 13 that it is deploying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the border to help deal with them. A friend worked at FEMA, and he said that the standard line when anyone asked how it was going there was to respond, "It's a disaster."

In that vein, if DHS is sending FEMA to deal with kids at the border, by definition, it's a disaster, too.

In February, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimated that so-called "Dreamer" and TPS provisions in the president's grand amnesty plan, which is similar to H.R. 6, would lead to green cards for 1.85 million people. The farmworker provision in the Biden plan (similar to H.R. 1603) would legalize an additional 1.1 million.

With spring around the corner, gardeners are preparing to plant flowers, and "the pretty, perky petunia" is one of the most popular. As Parade magazine notes: "Petunias like to be kept moist but not soggy during the growing season."

Immigration policy is like the perky petunia — we need a regular flow of immigrants, but too many, or the system gets swamped. We currently see this scenario playing out along the border. Rather than acting to stem the flow of new illegal migrants, Congress is moving amnesty bills to legalize those here illegally (among others).

It's like they are watering the petunias in a hurricane.