Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending January 16, 2015

President Announces Expansion of Paid Leave for Federal Workers, Urges Congress to Pass Paid Sick Days Legislation

GOP Leadership Puts Homeland Security Funding at Risk

Last fall, Congress passed legislation that funded all federal agencies except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the rest of the current fiscal year (October 1, 2015).  Despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate came to an agreement on DHS funding levels several months ago, it was singled out for short-term funding – only until February 27 – because the GOP leadership in the House and Senate wanted the opportunity to fight President Obama’s November 19 executive actions on immigration by holding DHS funding hostage.  In a time of heightened terrorist threats, it is disconcerting that funding for homeland security activities would be put at risk.

This week, GOP House leadership allowed floor votes on five amendments to the DHS funding bill, all of which passed.  An amendment sponsored by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) would prohibit the use of any funds or fees for the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, one of President Obama’s executive actions that protects undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from deportation and gives them work authorization. No Democrats voted for this amendment, and seven GOP House members opposed it.  The amendment sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) would eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  This would put DREAMers – undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – at risk for deportation and eliminate their ability to work legally.  No Democrats voted in favor of this amendment and, significantly, 26 Republicans opposed it.  The other three amendments would also overturn various aspects of President Obama’s executive actions.  With all five amendments included, the DHS funding bill passed the House by a vote of 236 to 191, with 10 GOP members voting against it and two Democrats voting in favor (Reps. Brad Ashford (NE) and Collin Peterson (MN)).

The DHS funding bill now moves to the Senate.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the Senate will take up the DHS funding bill in February.  It is unlikely, however, that the House-passed bill will garner the 60 votes needed to move it to a floor vote.  The White House has already promised that President Obama would veto the DHS bill if ideological provisions were in it.  AFSCME is continuing to advocate for a “clean” DHS funding bill, without poison-pill amendments, to be sent to President Obama to sign as soon as possible. 

In the lead-up to the House vote, Democratic leadership held press events to declare its opposition to anti-immigrant policies attached to DHS funding.  Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), an AFSCME Council 36 member, former 911 dispatcher, and freshman House member, was among the speakers who expressed opposition to the GOP tactic of putting our national security at risk while attempting to reverse President Obama’s executive actions that will protect almost five million immigrants from living in fear in the shadows of our communities. 

Court Hearing Held on 25 States’ Challenge to President Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions

On January 15, Judge Andrew Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal district court in Brownsville, TX who has been critical of President Obama’s immigration policies, held a hearing on a 25-state lawsuit challenging the immigration executive actions announced by President Obama last November.  These states allege that expansion of the DACA program and creation of the DAPA program will burden states.  After the hearing, the judge will decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which would block these initiatives from being implemented.  Several possible outcomes are possible, including the court denying the preliminary injunction request on substantive or procedural grounds, granting the preliminary injunction nationwide, or granting the preliminary injunction for only the 25 states involved in the lawsuit.  If the judge issues an injunction (which most court-watchers predict), the Department of Justice would likely submit a request for a temporary stay (not allow the injunction to go into effect) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Subsequent appeals on the merits of the case could take four to eight months.

Judge Hanen will almost certainly rule on the preliminary injunction request before February 20, the target date for the Obama administration to begin accepting applications for the expanded DACA program.  If he issues a nationwide injunction, it would delay implementation of both the DACA expansion and the new DAPA program, which would undermine confidence among immigrants that they should participate.  If an injunction is issued just for the 25 states involved in the lawsuit, it will create widespread confusion within the immigrant community, also threatening the success of these important initiatives.  Whatever the outcome, the labor movement and immigrant advocates will work hard to ensure that DACA and DAPA roll out successfully. 

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Harmful Guest Worker Bill

This week, six senators introduced the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2015 (S. 153), which would essentially uncap the number of  high-skilled guest workers that employers and contractors can bring into the United States on H-1B visas each year.  The co-sponsors are Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  Instead of reforming the deeply flawed H-1B program, I-Squared expands it so that up to 195,000 people with undergraduate degrees and an unlimited number with graduate degrees can be brought to the U.S. to perform work that, in most instances, American workers can perform.  Currently, the limit is 65,000 per year, with an additional 20,000 with advanced degrees.  The H-1B program ties foreign workers to a single employer;  pays salaries that are only a fraction of the prevailing wage in the occupation; fails to require employers to recruit U.S. workers before allowing them to import temporary workers over whom they have inordinate control; and does not limit the percentage of H-1B workers in any one workforce. It undermines STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) occupations, which are key to expanding the middle class in this country.  Often, U.S. STEM graduates cannot find jobs in their fields while facing huge student loan debt.  In fact, several years ago, hundreds of DC 37 members who worked in information technology were laid off after New York City outsourced their work to a contractor who brought in H-IB guest workers.

AFSCME, the AFL-CIO and many unions strongly oppose this piecemeal “immigration reform” legislation.  While giving the high tech industry what it most wants, S. 153 fails to include any of the labor protections that were contained in comprehensive reform and does not provide any roadmap to citizenship either for immigrants currently in the U.S. or for those brought into our country essentially as indentured servants in the H-1B and other guest worker programs. 

House Passes Regulatory Accountability Act to Cripple Federal Agency Actions

On Tuesday, The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 185).  This bill would cripple the ability of federal agencies to issue regulations by adding dozens of analytical and procedural hurdles.  The bill would slow down and weaken regulations, no matter how vital they are to safeguarding the public’s health, reining in the excesses of Wall Street, protecting our food supply, air and water and keeping workplaces safe.  The bill would give greater leverage to business interests to shape regulations, while making it nearly impossible for agencies to respond quickly to urgent threats.  For example, had the bill been law, it would have prevented the federal government from moving quickly to address the outbreak of Ebola, putting health care workers and the general public at greater risk.

The bill was approved by a vote of 250 to 175.  All but eight Democrats opposed the bill and all Republicans voted for it.  We do not know when the Senate may take up the legislation.  The White House indicated that President Obama will veto the bill if it gets to his desk. 

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