Sunday, Senator-Elect and current Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), sharply criticized last month’s executive action. “The president just lost an election, in no small measure because wages for working families are declining and unemployment is still too high in too many places, and the first big action he took after the election was to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get jobs, not for working families to get jobs,” he told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. In earlier interviews, he threatened to defund such action and suggested the possibility of blocking judicial nominees to retaliate for what he termed “President Obama’s lawless actions.”
But a little-noticed bill filed by Cotton in June would grant similar protections to a trio of non-citizens, “Notwithstanding subsections (a) and (b) of section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” His bill would have allowed Meriam Yahya Ibrahim (a Sudanese woman later granted asylum after being sentenced to death for apostasy after converting to Christianity) and her children eligibility “for issuance of an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence upon filing an application for issuance of an immigrant visa.” While the House never acted on Cotton’s bill, it was not necessary.
Here’s why: any individual U.S. senator or representative can file a “private bill,” proposing relief for a person who has not been granted asylum or citizenship, but still wants to live in the United States. The bill gets assigned to a committee, but almost never comes up for a vote. While in committee, the administration is asked to weigh in on the merits of the person in question. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) almost always allows the individual to stay in the country under “deferred action,” as long as the bill is technically pending in Congress. The end result is that sponsor is unilaterally able to do much the same thing as the “deferred action” granted by President Obama and his predecessors in both parties. At the start of the next Congress, the bill’s sponsor simply re-files the bill, restarting the process.