Legislative Update: May 2014

Legislative Update: May 2014

Is June The "Sweet Spot" For Immigration Reform?
By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Assistant

Last June, lawmakers in the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform package that totaled 1,200 pages and laid out a path to citizenship for more than eleven million illegal immigrants currently residing in the country. In the House, immigration reform has stood on the back burner for more than a year, and most believe that its chances of passing by this year's end are slim. However, some are saying that this summer could provide the perfect opportunity for lawmakers to give reform another look.

During an election year, timing is everything. Primary elections dominate the spring months, and general election campaigns dominate the fall months. But according to Congressman Greg Walden (OR-2), who serves as the National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman, June could be the sweet spot for immigration reform. Early this year, he predicted, "My hunch is that it doesn't come up tomorrow. It's probably months out … By the time you get to June, most of [the primaries] are behind you."

So what would House-passed immigration reform look like? It would likely mirror the principles that Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-8) released back in January. The principles represent a piece-meal approach to immigration reform, beginning with border security. They also stress the need for an entry-exit visa tracking system, an electronic employment verification system, and a more effective system for allocating visas and green cards. Finally, they lay out some options for those currently living in the country illegally. To gain legal residency, immigrants must pass rigorous background checks, pay fines and back taxes, and be able to support themselves without public benefits.

What the principles do not specify is whether immigrants would be able to collect Social Security benefits based on work that was done illegally, using fraudulent or invalid Social Security numbers. This is a foremost concern for The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), since failing to close this loophole could have implications for the financing of the program. As the law currently stands, immigrants only need to have permission to work in the country in order to file a claim for Social Security benefits based on their entire work history – citizenship is not required. If immigration reform passes this summer, millions would gain the permission needed, adding billions of dollars in long-term expenses to a program that is already nearing insolvency.

To prevent a potential strain on the Social Security Trust Fund, TSCL is hopeful that any immigration reform efforts include loophole - closing legislation that would prevent Social Security benefits from being earned by a history of illegal work. TSCL was instrumental in getting such a provision into the Senate's immigration reform bill, and now we are hopeful that we can help garner support for similar legislation in the House. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) introduced the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745) last summer, and it is slowly gaining traction with nearly thirty co-sponsors.

TSCL will continue to advocate for H.R. 2745 on Capitol Hill in the coming months. However, we need the help of our members and supporters as well. We urge you to contact your Representative to request their support for H.R. 2745, the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act.