240-Day Visa—On Life Support (Part Two)

President Obama’s vow to bypass Congress and use executive authority to enact his version of immigration reform before the end of this year could derail the hopes of Canadian snowbirds for passage of the so-called 240-day visa any time soon.

The drubbing Democrats took in the recent midterm elections (losing control of the Senate and dropping further behind in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives) will change the balance of power in the 114th Congress convening January 3, 2015. Though both the Senate and House claimed to have bipartisan support for their own versions of comprehensive immigration reform, including language allowing Canadian retirees to spend more time in the US, they remained far apart on other, more fundamental issues of immigration—such as border control, paths to citizenship (amnesty) for the 11 million undocumented aliens living in the US, freeing up green cards, drivers’ licenses, health care, scholarships, and securing the southern border.

Related: As Border Controls Tighten Up, Know the Limits

To become law, the Senate and House must agree on a bill and then send it to the president for his signature. Unfortunately, the House declared the Senate immigration bill dead on arrival because it purportedly did not deal with tougher border security to keep undocumented immigrants out, and the Senate leadership told the House not to bother sending over a version that was substantially different from the Senate’s. The president also said he would welcome a House bill that he could like. The result was gridlock.

What has this to do with the 240-day visas for Canadian snowbirds? See my last article here.

Ironically, advocates for expanding visa allowances were encouraged when the Senate attached the JOLT Act of 2013 (Jobs Originated through Launching Travel) to its comprehensive Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. That was like playing in the big leagues and was seen as the surest route to enactment.

But now, as President Obama has vowed to go it alone on the narrower issue of amnesty and paths to citizenship, the Jolt Act provisions, including the 240-day visa, may no longer have a home. Certainly they may be picked up and cobbled into other legislative packages in the new Congress, but that’s hardly a step forward.

Republican leaders have warned President Obama that if he unilaterally moves ahead with executive action, he will have “poisoned the well” for any further Congressional action to develop a comprehensive immigration bill that not only deals with amnesty for those aliens already in the country, but secures the porous southern border, and makes the US more welcoming for visitors and people with skills the economy needs.

Related: How Long Can Canadians Stay Out of the Country?

The Wall Street Journal notes that: “On the merits, Mr. Obama’s executive order can’t come close to fixing America’s broken immigration laws. The most he can do is to legalize the immigration status of several million people. This would let them remain in the U.S., but it wouldn’t offer a green card or path to citizenship. That requires Congress.

“An executive order also can’t increase the number of visas, which means it can’t reduce the future flow of illegal immigrants by providing more legal pathways to enter the U.S. So no new science-graduate visas for tech workers, no visas for farm workers to end the labor shortage in agriculture, and no guest-worker program to create a flexible labor market for other jobs in a growing U.S. economy. Mr. Obama is offering amnesty without addressing the root cause of border-crossing economic migration.”

In the 112th Congress (the 113th still has a few weeks to go), out of 6,854 bills introduced, only 561 have been signed into law. That’s a shade over 8 per cent. So next time you hear of some particularly good legislation being introduced, don’t spend your money on champagne just yet.

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