FACT CHECK: Have House Republicans Done ‘Nothing’ On Immigration Reform?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley claimed Tuesday on MSNBC that House Republicans have not passed a single immigration bill during his tenure in Congress.

Verdict: False

House Republicans have introduced and passed several immigration bills in recent years, although they have not passed a major one-shot, comprehensive immigration package.

Fact Check:

President Donald Trump revoked the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September. The program protected around 800,000 “Dreamers,” or illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation.

Trump expressed sympathy for DACA recipients but called on Congress to legislate a replacement for the program before its protections started expiring. The White House later put forward a framework proposing a pathway to citizenship for all Dreamers as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Democrats like Crowley have opposed the White House proposal. Pressed about why Democrats will not compromise more with the party in control of Congress and the presidency, Crowley claimed that his Republican peers in the House have never before been serious about immigration reform.

“They have never put an immigration bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. They may have done some magic in the Senate on occasion. They – in fact, they passed a bill a number of years ago. Chuck Schumer led that effort with John McCain. That bill was never taken up in the House of Representatives. I’ve been here for years and they have never taken up, not even a small bill, to address the issues of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said on “Meet The Press Daily.” “Nothing has been done here in the House.”

The bill that Crowley mentions was a major immigration reform package that was spearheaded in 2013 by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators comprised of four Republicans and four Democrats.

The bill would have provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants (with an expedited process for Dreamers) and cleared up the backlog of millions on waiting lists for family-sponsored visas. These measures would have been combined with broader immigration reforms like limits to chain migration, a “points” system to prioritize admitting high-skill immigrants, new guest worker visa programs and the elimination of the Diversity Visa.

The Republican-led House, as Crowley correctly notes, did not vote on the Gang of Eight bill. GOP House leadership at the time said they preferred a “step-by-step, common-sense approach” to immigration that first prioritized border security and immigration law enforcement.

But House Republicans have not completely ignored immigration reform. GOP House members have sponsored and passed numerous immigration bills since Crowley entered Congress in 1999. And many of these bills proposed reforms that were later incorporated into the Gang of Eight bill and the current White House proposal.

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011 and STEM Jobs Act of 2012 – both introduced by Republican congressmen and passed by Republican House majorities – for instance, had pushed a top Gang of Eight and White House priority: attracting high-skilled immigrants.

The Senate ultimately did not pass either bill, but the STEM Jobs Act would have eliminated the Diversity Visa program – another key element of the Gang of Eight bill and White House framework – and instead allocate those visas to immigrants who earned advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. schools.

Republican congressmen have also introduced legislation to create more temporary guest worker programs as the Gang of Eight bill had proposed, although the House did not vote on most of these bills.

House Republicans have been more concerned with addressing the border security and enforcement aspects of immigration reform, and Republican-sponsored bills like the REAL ID Act of 2005 and Secure Fence Act of 2006 have even been signed into law.

But House Republicans have not passed any major, comprehensive immigration reform package of their own in the recent past. “They’ve really just pushed a compilation of bills,” Kevin Appleby of the pro-migrant Center for Migration Studies (CMS) told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Andrew Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which advocates for lower levels of immigration, says that the GOP in the House has been averse to big immigration bills after a perceived letdown in the 1980s. “In the House, the mood is really for incremental immigration reform,” Arthur told TheDCNF. “A handful of members were there and remember the 1986 act in which they were promised enforcement for amnesty, and they never got the enforcement.”

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that Arthur references involved amnesty in addition to increased border security and stricter immigration law enforcement. “Future generations of Americans will be thankful,” President Ronald Reagan said before signing the bill into law, “for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.”

But the bill’s enforcement mechanisms were weak and its border control measures were not adequately funded until the 1990s. As a result, while about 2.7 million illegal immigrants received amnesty under the bill, illegal immigration did not stop as the bill’s proponents had suggested it would.

Although Congress has addressed some of these shortcomings to varying extents, immigration hawks did not get the permanent fix to illegal immigration that they felt had been promised. “Many feel burned by the ’86 act,” Arthur said.

While House Republicans have pushed some piecemeal immigration reforms that agree with the policy focuses of the Gang of Eight bill and White House proposal, other bills have been out of step with current efforts. House Republicans passed a bill in 2014, for instance, that attempted to end DACA by freezing its funding; some GOP members are not on board the White House’s comprehensive reform framework because of its Dreamer provisions.

But not all Republicans have avoided broad reform or opposed amnesty. Thirty-five Republican congressmen, for instance, pushed their own DACA replacement bill with a pathway to citizenship back in March 2017. Many of those congressmen then signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan in December urging action on a DACA fix.

But Appleby stressed that such efforts are usually heralded by a minority of the GOP caucus. “It’s usually the Florida contingent and California folks – high immigrant areas – that push that,” he said. “But they just don’t have the numbers.”

Crowley’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter