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Why comprehensive immigration reform: 12 million private immigration bills won't work

By Erin Pangilinan

Private bills are used as exceptions to the public law and private immigration bills give exceptions to immigration law. Private immigration bills have been used since 1934, and are a way to halt a deportation. But if we don't pass comprehensive immigration reform, then every undocumented and mixed-status immigrant family would want a private immigration bill and be 'the one exception rule.' What makes one person or family much more deserving than another to stay in the U.S.?

Now don't get me wrong, immigrant youth nationally have rallied around lobbying for a private immigration bill that would give posthumous citizenship to the late DREAM Activist and Vietnamese American refugee, Tam Tran, who was unable to have U.S., Vietnamese, and German citizenship. She is very deserving of a private immigration bill.

But there's a chance for private immigration bills to be overused.

Before private immigration bills actually move in Congress, they are judged by a few criteria. First, the petitioner must have all legal approaches exhausted. So a broken immigration legal system can arguably be a hint to how many people fit that first criteria. Then, they are measured by main factors: the need to alleviate hardship or correct injustice and precedent (whatever was used as a framework to pass private immigration bills in the past). People argued that their family separation is an extreme hardship, but that's pretty much, almost everybody. Those who haven't proven the hardship standard, like the Filipino American family, the Cuevas, still last resort to a private bill and find themselves furious at Congressional members Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for not sponsoring their bill. Feinstein and Boxer had sponsored private immigration bills for other families in the past.

A large number of similar private bills signal a vital need for changes in obsolete public policy. Decades ago, the House Judiciary Committee and Subcommittee on Immigration was overwhelmed with an unmanageable number of cases.  According to a former committee clerk, the House Immigration Committee Chair, Congressman Samuel Dickstein said “What do the restrictionists on this committee want? I am trying to reach an agreement with them. They want me to introduce 2,600 individual bills—one for every immigrant.”

In 1967-1968 one Subcommittee was referred 6,000 private immigration bills. Out of all the private laws introduced into Congress, private immigration bills are the largest.

While many private bills are introduced, very few become law. With 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of which come from different ethnic/racial communities, and different sets of circumstances-- it would be impossible to have 12 million separate bills to address all these cases. This dilemma screams the urgency for passing comprehensive immigration reform, which could deal with one comprehensive bill, not 12 million separate bills. Whether it's before or after the DREAM Act, with a package of provisions ranging from family unity, border security, or employment verification-- comprehensive legislation of some sort needs to happen to help immigrant families adjust their status.

 

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