Capitol Update: Congress’s Upcoming August Recess: Your Chance to Discuss Immigration Reform

Apartment Industry Colleagues,

The August Congressional recess is coming, which means it’s time for everyone to make their annual call to their members of Congress to schedule some time to talk about issues impacting the apartment industry. Each year we do these meetings on the home turf of our Representatives and Senators to impress upon them that what they do in Washington impacts apartment owners and operators, which impacts their communities and their constituents. We do this to ensure that when it comes time to make the big decisions, they remember us and act accordingly.

This August the issue under discussion is immigration reform. While seemingly a 100,000-foot-level project, it will have very specific impacts on apartment owners, operators and developers of all sizes and shapes. Action on immigration reform has already taken place in the Senate while the House of Representatives is still working on its version of reform legislation. While the House may not complete its work before the August recess, we will at least have a good sense of the direction in which they are headed. Your federal legislative team in Washington has been working throughout the legislative process to educate members of Congress on our priorities for immigration reform. In August, as it is in every year, the focus shifts to you to communicate the concerns and desired outcomes of the apartment industry for immigration reform to the Congress in constituent terms.
 
On a strong vote of 68 to 32, the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” legislation passed the Senate at the end of June. The bill doubles that the number of border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border to almost 40,000 and commits nearly $50 billion to a host of new border security measures, including surveillance towers, cameras, drones, helicopters and other technologies to track individuals entering and exiting the country. Further, the legislation reforms the legal immigration system and creates path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S. Finally, the bill implements mandatory use of the “e-verify” system for employers with a four-year phase-in period, requiring photo-matching be done for non-citizens.

The Senate compromise bill cleared the upper House of Congress without any poison pill amendments that could further endanger negotiations with the House Republicans on a final bill. I say “further endanger” because the two Houses start from a place of significant difference on the goals and strategies for reform of the nation’s immigration system. The depth and breadth of those differences will become clearer in the next 30 days as the House legislation takes shape.

From the apartment industry’s perspective, border security is very important as is establishing a clear path to citizenship. Additionally, limitations on the number of workers in the construction trades that are allowed into the country are of great concern to us. According to research from the University of Utah, more than half of all new households in the next decade will be renter households. That means we will need to build a lot of new apartment units; estimated at 300,000 per year, minimum. If there are not enough workers available to meet this demand, we will be hampered in meeting this demand and the nation will not have the number of apartment units it requires.

Having a reliable system for verifying the immigrant status of prospective employees is also a significant concern for apartment industry members. The “e-verify” program established at the federal level to perform this function has not always been reliable. Any proposals that mandate or otherwise require the use of e-verify must also include assurances that this system will function as advertised and that employers will not bear the fault for inaccurate responses.

Information on setting up and executing your meetings plus background and talking points on immigration reform is available at the NAA Government Affairs website. There is a narrow but open window for Congress to get something done this year. The only thing standing in the way is the Congress itself and the unyielding positions of some on both sides of the debate. That window of opportunity could remain open for compromises on other critical issues – tax reform, the debt limit, GSE reform – depending on how the immigration reform negotiating process plays out.

As always, please keep us apprised of any meetings you set up for the August recess. You can email details on any meetings to Katelin McCrory. Also, please take a photo of your group with the Representative or Senator so we can share and promote your meetings with all NAA members.

That’s all for now. Talk to you next month.

Greg