In a recent blog, I commented on the number of good, substantive immigration reform bills that got log-jammed in Congress the past several years without going anywhere. And expressed the hope that this would change, come the swearing-in of the new president.
These bills never got to this president's desk. And even if they had, I'm pretty sure they would have been vetoed because when I say "good, substantive" reform bills, I'm not talking about amnesty or other such things, I'm talking about bills that would restore integrity to our immigration system by obliging enforcement and compliance with the law, and that would also address many of the weak points that have been revealed in existing statute and practice over the past eight years.
But I continue to be troubled by the possibility that, absent changes to the Senate's existing procedural rules (particularly those involving filibuster and invoking cloture), we could continue to see that chamber become a giant bottleneck even when bills pass by simple majority.
This brings me to a bill being introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) that would tighten up the outrageously abused Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provisions embedded in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Abuse of TPS is a subject we at the Center have written about long and often; staff and fellows of the Center have also testified in Congress about it several times.
Rep. Brooks' bill would ensure that "temporary" means temporary, rather than being used as an amnesty substitute for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens from various countries who have spent years and years — even decades — enjoying the protections afforded by the program, even when the circumstances that predicated the original grant (hurricanes, disease, earthquakes, etc.) have long since disappeared. TPS has been misused by several administrations, but its abuse has become particularly notable during the Obama White House, as with so many immigration programs distorted to serve political and "transformational" purposes.
Rep. Brooks' bill takes TPS designation and extension authority out of the hands of the executive branch and instead requires enactment of a bill before TPS is granted to nationals of any foreign state. It lays out particular statutory tests that must be met to grant the designation; it establishes clear time limitations on the initial and subsequent grants of TPS; and it provides that Congress can terminate TPS for any particular country even before expiration of its allotted timeframe, should the underlying reason for which TPS was granted cease to be relevant.
Reform of TPS is long overdue. If and when this bill passes through the relevant committee(s) and is approved by the House, it will be interesting to see whether the Senate can rouse itself from its own self-defeating rules to act on it in any meaningful way, even if only to pass a companion measure that requires joint conferencing before sending a final product on to the new president for signature.
Rep. Brooks' measure may become a bellwether for the future of immigration reform bills in the Senate under incoming President Trump. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the news is good.