DENVER - Congress performs in the public (for the most part), but has a very private way to quietly assist those in the country illegally. You've heard the news that Colorado's two best known people living in the country illegally, are getting to stay longer.
Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez were granted nearly two-year stays because of a little-known process that begins with a "private bill" in Congress.
In March, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced a private bill "for the relief of…" Vizguerra, and then in April another private bill "for the relief of…" Hernandez.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., has introduced private bills for Vizguerra in 2014, 2015 and earlier this year. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., has introduced private bills for Hernandez twice.
A private bill is normally reserved for citizenship purposes to provide legal status for an individual or a group of people. Essentially, it protects those here illegally from deportation.
The process of private bills just changed last week, meaning Vizguerra and Hernandez may be the last who get to stay for nearly two years.
On May 5, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan notified Congress of changes to "the policy regarding the granting of stays of removal in connection with private immigration bills."
Up to that date, a Senator could introduce a private bill and have the chair of the Judiciary subcommittee send a notice to ICE asking for an investigative report on the person or persons referenced in the private bill. That would trigger a stay until Congress acted on the bill or until Congress adjourned without taking action, plus a grace period.
In the House, after a private bill was introduced, the lawmaker would have to write a letter to the Judiciary committee asking the subcommittee on immigration to ask ICE for a report. The subcommittee would have to vote to ask ICE for the report, thus triggering the stay.
As of May 5, introducing a private bill in the Senate will not automatically mean a stay for the individuals named in the bill.
Now, under the new rules released by the acting ICE chair, the chair of the committee or subcommittee must make a written request that ICE stay the removal of the person here illegally regardless of an investigative report being initiated. The length of the stay will now be six months, with a one-time 90-day extension, if requested by the chair.
Since Vizguerra's and Hernandez's private bills were introduced before this policy change, they were allowed to be considered under the previous policy.
This year alone, seven Senators and 13 Representatives from 10 different states have introduced private bills on behalf of more than 45 individuals living here illegally.
The majority of bill sponsors are Democrats, but three of them are House Republicans.
Thanks to the Congressional Reservice Service for helping us figure out that since 2007, 455 private bills have been introduced. That means 455 people living in the country illegally since 2007 have received automatic stays. It turns out three of those bills were actually enacted, granting those people legal status.
Here's something else you may not know. There is still one other woman in Colorado taking sanctuary in a church. Ingrid Encalada LaTorre lives at Mountain View Friends, a Quaker church in southeast Denver.
There is no private bill on her behalf because she is still going through her legal options. Private bills are meant as a last resort when all other options are exhausted.
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