Budget Votes Expected to Highlight Immigration Debate

Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:08pm

Advocates of an immigration overhaul warned both parties Friday that votes during the budget vote-a-rama in favor of what they consider to be anti-immigration amendments will be remembered come Election Day.

“We’re going to get the word out” about who votes for these amendments, said Leticia Miranda, a senior policy adviser at the National Council of La Raza. “I just think it damages the brand for any party that is reaching out to our community.”

Miranda made clear that advocates aren’t just putting Republicans on notice.

“Right now there are also a lot of moderate Democrats who might be voting for these amendments,” Miranda said. “None of these amendments can pass without bipartisan support. So if any of them pass that damages the brand for both parties as far as how they are viewed by Hispanic voters.”

While the amendments would not have the force of law, as the budget is just a spending blueprint, there is a concern that approval of such amendments would hurt ongoing efforts to draft and pass comprehensive changes to immigration policy.

“Members of Congress have already begun a serious debate about how to fix our nation’s broken immigration system,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a release. “A number of anti-immigrant amendments that could potentially be voted on in the Senate today pose a serious threat to these bipartisan efforts. These amendments taint the debate over commonsense immigration reform. ”

The possibility of the Senate taking up these amendments comes as the Republican National Committee hopes to show a more welcoming face to immigrants and their children, voters who helped re-elect President Barack Obama after being turned off by what some argued was intolerant rhetoric during the GOP presidential primary. For example, the RNC has urged Republicans to embrace and champion an immigration overhaul.

There are six amendments that advocates find menacing that could be offered by Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

Sessions has filed at least three immigration amendments — including one that would prevent illegal immigrants, or illegal immigrants granted legal status, from qualifying for refundable tax credits, including tax credits designed to help low income families — although it’s not clear whether he will seek votes on them.

The Alabama Republican, who has been critical of behind-closed-doors negotiations on the issue, believes the Senate’s focus should be on creating jobs, which will help everyone.

“We need to be protecting American citizens who are here, out of work, hurting today,” Sessions said in a floor speech Friday. “Minorities, blacks and whites, and all colors and race that are hurting today with high unemployment and we seem to be more focused on how we can ram through this Senate a bill that would legalize millions and create an even more robust guest worker program.”

But immigration advocates are concerned by the amendment.

“That would include the earned income tax credit, child and the American opportunity tax credit, as well as many others,” Miranda said. “So we are extremely concerned about that especially the child tax credit, it’s so important.”

Miranda said it sends a mixed signal that immigrants are encouraged to pay their taxes yet the amendment would single them out in the tax code.

Miranda said the “extreme” amendment “would change the tax code just for them so that they are ever excluded from the benefit … and would have bad effects on child poverty.”

In the past, some lawmakers have sought to limit individual benefits to illegal immigrants, but the blanket approach covering all tax credits is new.

Vitter has an amendment that would limit eligibility of the child tax credit to citizens. It’s is unclear which, if any, of his amendments he will offer.

The Louisiana Republican argues that his amendments are needed, given the lack of progress made on securing the border and the ever-growing budget deficit.

“There is no guarantee that the current administration or any in the future will achieve operational control of our borders absent serious pro-enforcement legislation in Congress,” Vitter said in a release Thursday. “This administration has yet to even produce a budget this year, but I have some common sense reforms that would make sense both fiscally and to enforcement immigration laws. Congress continues to drag its feet on serious immigration reform, so I’ve introduced targeted amendments that can help solve our illegal immigration problem and avoid amnesty by putting enforcement first.”

Sessions also may offer an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from partnering with foreign embassies.

Currently, the USDA works with foreign consulates to help provide information about eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to Jennifer Ng’andu deputy director, health policy project for National Council of La Raza.

“What they are, sort of, claiming is that it’s being directed to people who are ineligible for the benefit, and of course that’s not true,” Ng’andu said.

Sessions has also filed an amendment that would prevent illegal immigrants, or illegal immigrants granted legal status, access to federally subsidized health care.

Vitter has an amendment that would prevent any change in status for illegal immigrants until the Department of Homeland Security entry-exit biometric visa system is fully implemented at every land, sea and air port.

He also has an amendment that would require a fee on remittances for customers who wire money to another country but cannot prove that they are in the United States legally. The fee would be used to enhance border security.