28
Jun

Congressional Round Up

Congress is considering a number of legislative initiatives that may be of interest to the Iranian American community.  The PAAIA Public Policy Center is pleased to provide a round-up on the status of the legislation. In general, PAAIA focuses on bills and congressional actions concerning three areas: civil liberties, foreign policy towards Iran, and immigration.  PAAIA recognizes that it is important that Iranian Americans be informed about legislative initiatives in these areas and the positions that their members of Congress take concerning them.

 

Bills & Resolutions

 

Immigration

S. 169:  I-Squared Act of 2013/Immigration Innovation Act of 2013

On January 29, 2013, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced S.169, also known as the I-Squared Act of 2013 or the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013. The legislation has gained a total of 27 co-sponsors, the most recent of whom is Senator Mark Begich (R-AK), and has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

S.169 would permit an increase or decrease of H-1B visa quotas based on the economy (the quota is between 65,000 and 115,000 visas), and dependent H-1B spouses could apply for work authorization. The bill would allow nonimmigrant workers with E, H, L, O, and P visas to renew the visas as long as the workers remained eligible for them, and give students a means to pursue permanent residence in the U.S. Previously approved but unused immigrant visas from previous years could be used in the current year.  Visa quotas for employment-based immigrant visas would be lifted for dependents of employment-based immigrant visa holders, certain researchers and professors, persons of ability and talent, and U.S. STEM advanced degree holders. Visa quotas based on per-country limits for employment-based visa petitions would be lifted.  Additionally, funds which are raised from H-1 visas and employment-based immigrant visas would be used to support science, engineering, technology, and math education, and to retrain workers in the U.S.

S.744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

On April 16, 2013, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), introduced S.744.  The legislation was passed with an amendment on June 27, by a margin of 68 to 32.

S.744 takes measures to strengthen U.S. border security.  The bill creates paths to allow undocumented immigrants to show they are eligible to become legal and to eventually obtain U.S. citizenship.  The undocumented can apply for Register Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. A version of the DREAM Act has been incorporated into the RPI program, and DREAMers are placed on an accelerated path to permanent legal status and citizenship.  Additionally, a new merit-based point system is created that allows foreign nationals to obtain lawful permanent residence in the U.S. by accumulating points.  The points are awarded based on skills, work experience, and education.  This system exists alongside currently existing family-based and employment-based immigration programs, which let American citizens and companies, as well as legal permanent residents, file petitions for family members and employees.

S.744 expands the use of E-Verify, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States by comparing information from an employee’s Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 with U.S. government data.  S.744 makes E-Verify mandatory for all employers over a five-year period. Currently, immigrants in removal proceedings do not have the right to appointed counsel if they cannot afford to hire a lawyer. S.744 changes this for unaccompanied minor children, immigrants with serious mental disabilities, and other particularly vulnerable individuals, requiring that a lawyer be appointed to represent them. The bill also requires that immigrants in proceedings have access to evidence in the government’s files and adds additional immigration judges, additional court staff, and additional training programs for judges and staff. Additionally, S.744 reforms existing nonimmigrant visa programs and creates new programs for less skilled workers, visitors, and investors.  The visa cap on the H-1B skilled-worker program is raised, and worker protections increased. A new W nonimmigrant visa is created for less-skilled workers, creating a new process for hiring foreign labor. New nonimmigrant and immigrant investor visas are also created.

H.R. 140: Birthright Citizenship Act of 2013

On January 3, 2013, Representative Stephen King (R-IA/4th) introduced H.R.140, also known as the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2013.  The legislation has gained a total of 28 cosponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Steven Palazzo (R-MS/4th), Kevin Brady (R-TX/8th), John Campbell (R-CA/45th), and Jeff Duncan (R-SC/3rd), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

H.R.140 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to consider a person born in the United States “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States for citizenship at birth purposes if the person is born in the United States of parents, one of whom is: (1) a U.S. citizen or national, (2) a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States, or (3) an alien performing active service in the U.S. armed forces. S. 301 is the Senate version of H.R.140.

H.R.717: Reuniting Families Act

On February 14, 2013, Representative Michael Honda (D-CA/17th) introduced H.R.717, also known as the Reuniting Families Act.  The legislation has a total of 68 cosponsors, the most recent of whom are Delegate Eleanor Norton (D-DC/AL), Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA/2nd), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

H.R.717 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to help ensure that visas are allocated efficiently, and would reduce the wait times that often keep legal immigrants, and their loved ones overseas, separated for years. The bill would also eliminate discrimination in immigration law against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and their foreign-born partners.

 

Foreign Policy

S.559: Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013

On March 13, 2013, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced S.559, also known as the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013.  The legislation has gained a total of 7 cosponsors, the most recent of who are Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Christopher Coons (D-DE), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

S.559 would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a fund that would be used to pay claims of persons who were held hostage for 444 days in Iran (Tehran) when the U.S. embassy was seized there.  Those held hostage (or their family members) could receive $10,000.

S.653: Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2013

On March 22, 2013, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced S.653, also known as the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2013.  The legislation has gained a total of 9 co-sponsors, the most recent of who are Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Daniel Coats (R-IN), and Mike Johanns (R-NE), and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

S. 653 provides for the establishment of a Special Envoy to promote religious freedom for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The duties of the envoy would include monitoring and combating acts of incitement and intolerance directed against religious minorities, working to ensure that the economic and security needs of such minorities are met, and working with foreign governments in the Near East and South Central Asia to address laws that are religiously discriminatory. The Special Envoy would be subject to the direction of the President and the Secretary of State.  

A similar bill, H.R.301, has been introduced in the House.

S.892: Iran Sanctions Loophole Elimination Act of 2013

On May 8, 2013, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced S.892, also known as the Iran Sanctions Loophole Elimination Act of 2013. The legislation has gained a total of 29 co-sponsors, the most recent being Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Pat Toomey (R-PA), and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

S.892 would amend the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 to impose sanctions regarding foreign currencies.  The bill would deny the Iranian government access to its foreign exchange reserves parked in the banks of other countries, estimated to be worth as much as $100 billion, mostly in euros.  The bill would also impose severe penalties on any foreign financial institution that conducts foreign exchange transactions on behalf of Iran’s central bank or other Iranian entity that is already blacklisted by) other sanctions. S.892 would be retroactive to May 9, 2013, regardless of the passage date.

S.1001: Iran Export Embargo Act

On May 21, 2013, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced S.1001, also known as the Iran Export Embargo Act.  The legislation has gained a total of 20 co-sponsors, the most recent being Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Rob Portman (R-OH), and has been referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

S.1001 would prohibit the purchase or transfer of goods and services from any entity owned or controlled by the government of Iran, and ban all transactions on behalf of such entities for the purpose of exports from Iran. The bill would block all assets of entities deemed to be part of the Iranian government, and also prohibit any insurance or reinsurance for such entities.

S.RES.65: Resolution expressing concern about the Iranian nuclear program 

On February 28, 2013, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced S.RES.65, also known as the Graham-Menendez resolution.  Menendez is the name of a cosponsor of the legislation, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).  The legislation was passed by the Senate on May 22, 2013 by a vote of 99 to 0.

S.RES.65 states that U.S. policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, supports the implementation and enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions against Iran to achieve that goal, states that the United States is committed to the existence, survival, and security of Israel, and affirms U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense. 

S.RES.75: Condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights

On March 12, 2013, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced S.RES.75.  The legislation has gained a total of 24 co-sponsors, the most recent of who are Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

S.RES.75 calls on Iran to release all prisoners being held solely on account of their religion.  It calls on the U.S. president and secretary of state, in cooperation with responsible nations, to condemn Iran’s continued human rights violations and demand that prisoners held for their religious beliefs be released.  S.RES.75 also urges the president and secretary to impose sanctions on Iranian government officials and other individuals directly responsible to serious human rights abuses, including abuses against Iran’s Baha’i community. 

S.RES.75 has been introduced in the House of Representatives as H.RES.109.

S.RES. 154: Supports Reform in Iran

On May 23, 2013, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced S.RES.154.  An amended version of the legislation was passed by the Senate on June 13.

S.RES. 154 notes that the Supreme Leader of Iran, who outranks the president, is not elected by the Iranian people.  The resolution states that Iran’s government has a long history of human rights abuses and holding elections that are not free or fair, condemns these practices, and calls on the regime to end them.  S.RES.154 reaffirms U.S. commitment to democracy, human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law, and asked Iran’s leadership to allow international election monitors to be present for the June 14, 2013 presidential election.

H.R. 301: Provides for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia

On January 15, 2013, Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-10th/VA) introduced H.R.301. The legislation has gained a total of 49 co-sponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Phil Roe (R-TN/1st), Sean Duffy (R-WI/7th), J.Randy Forbes (R-VA/4th), and Adam Smith (D-WA/9th), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

H.R. 301 provides for the establishment of a Special Envoy to promote religious freedom for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The duties of the envoy would include monitoring and combating acts of incitement and intolerance directed against religious minorities, working to ensure that the economic and security needs of such minorities are met, and working with foreign governments in the Near East and South Central Asia to address laws that are religiously discriminatory. The Special Envoy would be subject to the direction of the President and the Secretary of State.  

A similar bill, S.653, has been introduced in the Senate.

H.R. 850Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013

On February 27, 2013, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA/39th) introduced H.R. 850, also known as the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013.  The legislation has a total of 366 cosponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Pete Gallego (D-TX/23rd), Richard M. Nolan (D-MN/8th), and Ann M. Kuster (D-NH/2nd).  An amended version of H.R.850 was marked up by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 22, by unanimous consent.

H.R.850 would limit business transactions with Iran, increase the list of Iranian companies and individuals affected by existing sanctions, and potentially block Iran from having access to its foreign bank assets which are held in euros.  The bill would also designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, and impose sanctions on certain individuals in Iran responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses, engaging in censorship, or engaging in the diversion of goods intended for the Iranian people.

The amended markup version of H.R.850 would additionally require the president to impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions that, ninety days or more after the enactment of the bill, knowingly facilitate a significant financial transaction on behalf of any person determined by the president to be directly owned or controlled by an Iranian person included on the list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury (with specified exceptions).

H.RES.89: Condemns the attack on Iranian dissidents living at Camp Hurriya

On February 28, 2013, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX/2nd), introduced H.RES.89.  The legislation has a total of 94 co-sponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Ami Bera (D-CA/7th), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY/12th), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL/16th), and Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ/1st), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

H.RES.89 condemns the attack against the residents of Camp Hurriya in Iraq, calls on the President to work with Iraq to ensure that the December 25, 2011, Memorandum of Understanding on the temporary relocation and eventual resettlement of the residents of Camp Ashraf is fully implemented and that humanitarian protections for such residents are upheld.  The bill also urges the President to work with Iraq and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to return the residents of Camp Hurriya to Camp Ashraf where they will have more protection from any future terrorist attacks.

H.RES.109: Condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights

On March 12, 2013, Representative Michael G. Grimm (R-NY/11th) introduced H.RES. 109.  The legislation has gained a total of 33 co-sponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Timothy Walz (D-MN/1st), Bruce Braley (D-IA/1st), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA/19th), and Joseph Pitts (R-PA/16th), and has been referred to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

H.RES.109 calls on Iran to release all prisoners being held solely on account of their religion.  It calls on the U.S. president and secretary of state, in cooperation with responsible nations, to condemn Iran’s continued human rights violations and demand that prisoners held for their religious beliefs be released.  H.RES.109 also urges the president and secretary to impose sanctions on Iranian government officials and other individuals directly responsible to serious human rights abuses, including abuses against Iran’s Baha’i communityH.RES.109 has been introduced in the Senate as S.RES.75.

H.RES.183: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Broadcasting Board of Governors should broadcast and direct Azeri language content into Iran and Balochi language content into Iran and Pakistan

On April 25, 2013, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA/48th) introduced H.RES.183.  The legislation currently has two co-sponsors, Representatives Rohrabacher and Michael T. McCaul (R-TX/10th), and has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

H.R. 183 stated that the Azeri and Baloch peoples have a right to self-determination, and calls for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to broadcast Azeri language material into Iran and Balochi language material into Iran and Pakistan.

 

Special Category:

H.CONG.RES.27: Supporting the formation of a bipartisan Presidential Commission to study the establishment of a National Museum of the American People

On March 19, 2013, Representative James P. Moran (D-VA/8th) introduced H.CONG.RES.27.  The legislation has gained a total of 26 co-sponsors, the most recent of whom are Representatives Thomas E. Petri (R-WI/6th), Steve Cohen (D-TN/9th), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA/13th), and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH/9th), and has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

H.CONG.RES.27 would create a presidential commission to study the establishment of a National Museum of the American People. The museum would tell the story of all the peoples who came to the United States and contributed to its success and prosperity.  The museum would also serve as a resource to assist state, local, and ethnic museums in presenting exhibits that celebrate the heritage of the people of the United States.

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