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Lawmakers (Re)Introduce Immigration Reform
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Lawmakers (Re)Introduce Immigration Reform

“Dignity” bill offers migrants legal pathways—if it passes.

Happy Wednesday! Microsoft has announced its latest artificial intelligence product, a desktop chatbot called “Windows Copilot.”

Don’t bother, Microsoft. No matter how advanced AI gets, it can never replace him.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to announce his long-anticipated presidential bid today in an event with Twitter owner Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces, a live, audio-only format on the platform, NBC News reported. DeSantis will reportedly also appear on Fox News for an interview with former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy. DeSantis is polling at about 20 percent, behind already-declared candidate Donald Trump’s 56 percent.
  • The South Carolina Senate on Tuesday passed a ban on abortions after six weeks, overcoming a filibuster by five female state senators, including three Republicans. The bill—which requires a woman seeking an abortion to have two in-person doctor’s visits and two ultrasounds before her sixth week of pregnancy and offers exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, and risks to the life of the mother—now goes before GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he will sign it.
  • A Russian court on Tuesday extended Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention until August 30. Gershkovich has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison since his March* 29 arrest in Yekaterinburg, Russia on espionage charges which he, the State Department, and the Journal deny. Russia has presented no evidence to support the charges. The State Department said Tuesday it was “deeply concerned by today’s Russian court decision,” though denying bail and extending detention are typical in such cases in Russia. Gershkovich’s parents were at the courthouse Tuesday, the first time they’ve seen their son since before his arrest. 
  • The new Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Xie Feng, arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday. Xie’s selection for the post—the veteran diplomat won out over Hua Chunying, a sharp-tongued Foreign Ministry spokesperson—could signal an attempt on Beijing’s part to improve communication with Washington. “We hope that the United States will work together with China to increase dialogue, to manage differences and also to expand our cooperation so that our relationship will be back on the right track,” Xie said—in English—upon landing in New York City.
  • A nearly 700-page report from the Illinois attorney general’s office revealed Tuesday that 451 Catholic clergy sexually abused almost 2,000 children in the state between 1950 and 2015—more than quadruple the number of perpetrators the Catholic Church named before the investigation began in 2018. Prosecutions are unlikely in the majority of the cases because of statutes of limitation on the alleged crimes and the deaths of many of the alleged abusers.
  • Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a public advisory Tuesday warning against social media use among children and young adults, citing a “profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” Murthy called on tech companies to enforce the minimum age limit for social media sites and urged lawmakers to take “immediate action” to protect young people. Such advisories from the surgeon general are rare, “reserved for significant public health challenges that require the nation’s immediate awareness and action.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Tuesday suggesting new HIV infections in the United States dropped from 36,500 in 2017 to 32,100 in 2021, a 12 percent decrease. The progress was most significant among young people aged 13 to 25, while improvement was uneven across racial groups in that cohort—infections among young gay and bisexual white men saw a 45 percent drop compared to only a 27 percent drop among gay and bisexual black men. The disparity, the report concluded, was due mostly to unequal access to the prophylactic medication PrEP, which blocks transmission of the virus. 
  • The Department of Energy Monday canceled a pending $200 million grant to Texas-based battery company Microvast—which has a subsidiary in China and had been the target of GOP criticism for its alleged ties to Beijing. The grant would have funded a battery plant in Clarksville, Tennessee. The Energy Department said Monday it’s typical for some companies to lose the conditional award after vetting. 
  • The Commerce Department reported Tuesday sales of new-build single-family homes rose 4.1 percent month-over-month from 656,000 in March to 683,000 in April—the highest rate in over a year as builders respond to a significant inventory shortage. The numbers suggest the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes and resulting tightening of credit conditions have not yet significantly affected the housing market. 
  • Mexican authorities raised the alert level in Central Mexico Sunday to just short of an evacuation order as the Popocatépetl volcano—45 miles southeast of Mexico City—spewed increasing amounts of ash and smoke, heightening fears a full eruption could be imminent. Local officials have closed some schools and parks to limit exposure to falling ash, and Mexico City’s two main airports were temporarily shut down over the weekend with dozens of flights delayed even after the airports reopened.

Unveiling an Overhaul

Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) speaks on immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) speaks on immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A baby born in 1986—when Congress passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill giving legal status to millions of migrant workers in the United States—would now be old enough to serve in Congress and try to help pass the next one. 

This isn’t hypothetical: Several such babies are doing just that. “I was born in 1986,” said Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, highlighting Congress’ inaction on immigration at a Tuesday press conference announcing a comprehensive reform bill. “It’s unconscionable.”

Co-written by two lawmakers whose states see large numbers of immigrants—Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida and Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas—the nearly 500-page “Dignity Act of 2023” is a comprehensive attempt to marry the often competing priorities of border security, visa and asylum process improvements, and labor market needs. Like any major immigration bill, it will likely struggle to reach the president’s desk—but immigration reform advocates hope it will at least spark substantive negotiations as the recent end of Title 42 returns the southern border to a messy status quo.

Salazar has been focused on immigration reform since her freshman year, and this act is an updated version of one she introduced in 2022. The old version called for border wall construction to resume and granted the Department of Homeland Security the power to deploy National Guard troops to the border. With input from Escobar, her progressive Democratic co-writer—the last act had only Republican framers—the new bill has dropped both those measures.

But the new version still allocates billions of dollars to beef up border security technology—such as license plate readers and biometric data systems—and infrastructure, including “enhanced physical barriers” as necessary. Other security measures include: Hiring thousands of new border patrol agents and officers, raising penalties for human trafficking, and allowing DHS to use DNA testing to check family relationships.

The bill also tackles our languorous asylum process, which often sees migrants released into the U.S. for years as they await court dates. The act calls for establishing at least five “Humanitarian Campuses” to house asylum seekers until their cases are decided—which the bill says must happen within 60 days, with the help of additional staff and pre-screening centers established in Latin America. Meanwhile, the bill expands several visa categories—including agricultural visas, a longtime pinch point for that industry—and takes aim at current processing backlogs by declaring that anyone who’s been waiting more than 10 years for a family or employment-based visa will automatically receive it.

For immigrants already in the U.S., the bill would open pathways to legal status through “Dignity” and “Redemption” programs. In the first stage, applicants who pass criminal background checks, pay any outstanding taxes, check in regularly with DHS, and pay $5,000 over seven years would be protected from deportation and allowed to work, though they wouldn’t have access to federal benefits. After the first stage, they can renew their five-year “Dignity Status” with its accompanying work authorization indefinitely, or they can enter the five-year “Redemption Program” path to citizenship. This five-year program would require learning English and U.S. civics, and performing community service or paying another $5,000. 

After completing this program, migrants would be eligible for legal permanent residency and join the lines for existing paths to citizenship. But the bill stipulates no one can gain permanent legal status under its pathways until the Government Accountability Office certifies that border officials have, for a full year, detected and caught 90 percent of people trying to cross the border illegally.

The bill sponsors say these measures would allow as many as 11 million migrants already in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status—and that the fees would not only pay for the extra security measures and border staff stipulated in the bill, but also an American Worker Fund to provide several types of job training for unemployed American citizens. In addition, the bill would require all U.S. businesses to start using E-Verify—a system for ensuring employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.

Proponents of tightly restricted immigration criticized Salazar’s previous bill as “amnesty now, reforms later,” a charge which she hastened to refute this time. “Amnesty is what the undocumented have right now and have had for 30 years—free roads, free schools, and free hospitals,” she said. “In the Dignity law, everyone pays for their ride… No one can say that the undocumented are stealing anything away from you.”

Proponents of immigration reform don’t necessarily love every detail of the bill—but they’ve hailed its introduction nonetheless. “What this bill does well is it balances how a lot of these pieces interact together,” said Kristie De Peña, vice president for policy and director of immigration at the Niskanen Center. She questioned whether asylum seekers would be able to pull together the necessary documentation for their cases within 60 days, but argued lawmakers can refine that and other points: “This opens up the door to those negotiations.”

Escobar and Salazar are hardly the first lawmakers to attempt comprehensive reform—the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators attempted an overhaul in 2013 which passed the Senate but didn’t get a vote in the House. Narrower reform efforts have also come and gone, including negotiations during the Trump administration to fund his border wall in exchange for offering a legal pathway to the approximately 1.8 million “Dreamers” illegally brought to the U.S. as children. That effort failed—and this time around, offering Dreamers a legal pathway is just one measure among many in a far more ambitious bill.

The act’s possible path through Congress is, consequently, quite murky. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware has endorsed the bill and promised to help introduce it in the Senate. But in the House, Republican lawmakers have sworn they won’t pass immigration reform until they have new border security measures signed into law—the chamber recently passed a bill restricting asylum access which is all but guaranteed to fail in the Senate. Getting this new bill to a vote without House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s support would require 218 lawmakers to sign a discharge petition.

The bill’s authors know the odds—they’ve already compared the idea of their package passing to a literal act of God. “We understand that we are trying to open the Red Sea,” Salazar told the Washington Post in a joint interview with Escobar, referring to a miracle recounted in Exodus. “But someone has to try it. Moses did it. Maybe we can do it a second time.”

Even if the sea doesn’t split, reform advocates hope lawmakers can paddle a dinghy across it. “Maybe the whole thing doesn’t move, but maybe smaller parts of it can move,” De Peña said. “That’s progress.”

Worth Your Time

  • Yesterday, on the anniversary of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, families looked back at a year of grief. “Kimberly Garcia could not bring herself to watch the videos that made her remember, like the one in which her daughter surprised her with packets of ranch dressing, Kimberly’s favorite condiment, one day after school,” Jaeah Lee writes in the New York Times. “She avoided certain places, like the sea foam green house where they lived when she heard the gunshots. She avoided talking about her grief with other people, who sometimes said well-meaning things that hurt. Kimberly also understood that in Uvalde, Texas, in the aftermath, avoiding was a game that did not last long before someone, something, forced her to remember. Increasingly, when the inevitable happened, she reached for her phone and began typing. On Twitter, at least, she could let it out. She could remember on her own terms… Later, she would regret not slowing down and being more present, not crying more, not lingering a little longer with Amerie before the pallbearers lifted her away. But in the moment, she feared what would happen if she didn’t weigh in as much as she could: that someone else would do it for her, or worse, leave Amerie’s story behind.”
  • People with dementia often become disoriented and wander off during the course of their disease, presenting a harrowing and frustrating dilemma for caregivers, writes Corinne Purtill in the New Yorker. “A person with Alzheimer’s can’t simply be locked in at home,” she writes. “It’s possible, therefore, to approach the problem of wandering not just by trying to prevent it but by preparing for its occurrence. Prisca Mendez Asaro, a former caregiver, described taking her mother for a walk around the neighborhood; Mendez Asaro knocked at each door, introduced her mother and explained that she had dementia, and passed along her own phone number and address so that neighbors could contact her if they saw her mother alone and in distress. Not long after their outing, Mendez Asaro found her mother trying to pry an anti-wandering safety alarm from the wall with a butter knife. There are several technologies for locating people before they come to harm. In addition to tracking apps tied to phones and smartwatches, companies sell G.P.S.-enabled devices or radio-frequency transmitters that can be worn as wristbands, pendants, or adhesive patches. A maddening paradox of dementia is that it can strip a person of the ability to remember the purpose of a safety measure, while preserving his ability to defeat it.”

Presented Without Comment

Politico: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won a fundraising auction for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s used cherry chapstick with a bid of $100,000

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Haley checks on the debt ceiling negotiations, Sarah debunks (🔒) the “Biden can use the 14th Amendment to avoid a default” theory, and Nick pans (🔒) cable news as more irrelevant than ever. 
  • On the podcasts: Drucker joins Chris—covering for Jonah on today’s Remnant—to break down the latest in the 2024 presidential race. 
  • On the site: As the default date looms without a deal to raise the debt ceiling, Price breaks down the different scenarios that could play out. Plus, Jonah wonders: Does the Republican Party even deserve Tim Scott?

Let Us Know

What do you think are the best and worst ideas in this immigration proposal?

Correction, 05/24/23: Evan Gershkovich was arrested in March

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.