Nevada Newsmakers

Commentary - October 1, 2023 - by Ray Hagar

Why can't Congress pass any type of immigration reform?

It's complicated, Nevada's 3rd U.S. House District Rep. Susie Lee, said on Nevada Newsmakers.

Lee, a Democrat first elected in 2019, currently is seeking a comprehensive solution to the many aspects of immigration reform.

Critics may say, 'That's too complicated.'

Yet she counters that if lawmakers try to go with single-issue immigration legislation -- say like taking care of the DACA Dreamers -- that, too, gets very sticky, very quickly.

"We did have an agreement to move a farm workers bill for temporary workers," she told host Sam Shad, citing a real need of an immigrant labor force for Nevada's farming and ranching industries.

"But what ends up happening is you start down a road of one piece of the pie. Let's say temporary workers. Then you deal with people who overstay their visa and the enforcement of that," Lee said, citing other immigration concerns of some lawmakers.

"Then you deal with, 'Well, if we're going to deal with that, when are we going to deal with the quota issue we have?'" she said.

Lee then noted she is a co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Dignity Act, which was introduced Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) and Veronica Escobar (D-Tex), then continued:

"It's complicated ... whether you're on the right or the left," she said. "The left gets upset if they we only do border security. Then we have yet to address DACA and Dreamers, which is just an issue to me that is so heartbreaking for the thousands of Nevadans who are left in limbo and don't know (their future immigration status)."

So the single-issue immigration bill get bogged down with other issues and doesn't move far in the process, she said.

"And so I believe that we need to do it in a comprehensive manner," Lee said. "And you should take a look at the Dignity Act. It's a it's a strong piece of legislation."

According to Rep. Salazar's news release, the Dignity Bill is designed to (1) stop illegal immigration; (2) provide a dignified solution for undocumented immigrants living in America; (3) strengthen the U.S. workforce; and (4) ensure the U.S. remains prosperous and competitive in the future.

Yet any comprehensive immigration reform, besides fixing security on the southern border with a wall, must also include ports of entry, where most of the illegal drugs are moved into the U.S., Lee said.

"The majority of fentanyl that comes into the country comes through ports of entry," Lee said. "And we know that border security is not just about building a wall. It's about the technology, cameras that can penetrate trucks, drones. There's many other things you can do to increase the security of our border."

Then there is the issue of undocumented immigrants who remain in the U.S. after overstaying their visas. By sheer numbers, it overwhelms the numbers of illegal crossings at the southern border.

Nearly 854,000 visitors violated the terms of their visas and overstayed in the United States during the fiscal year 2022, according to a June 2023 report to Congress by the Department Homeland Security.

In a 10-year span from 2009 to 2019, visa overstays in the U.S.  outnumbered border crossings by a ratio of about 2 to 1, immigration studies have shown.

Since 2019, the rate for overstays has increased from 1.21 percent in FY19 to 3.67 percent in FY22, according to the DHS report to Congress.

The immigration mess is also an issue in the American court system, which is responsible to deciding immigration claims. Those courts face a current backlog of about 1.3 million cases, according to The Hill news website.

"As you know, we have a hard time with processing people quickly enough," Lee said, in an admitted understatement.

"So it is it's a big issue," she said. "But as you know, I'm in the Problem Solvers Caucus. We have an immigration working group and again, (I'm) proud to work with my colleagues on a bipartisan manner."

Despite the work of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Lee holds little hope U.S. House will pass an immigration bill this year.

"I really don't have a lot of confidence in the leadership of the House right now since they literally just did not pass a rule on the defense spending bill," Lee said in an interview in late September, almost two weeks before the shutdown crisis was averted this past weekend.

DANGERS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: In August, Lee was named vice chair of the New Democrat Coalition's Artificial Intelligence Working Group. It marks the formation of the first congressional working group focused on A.I.

Recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress that the government needs to intervene to avert the potential pitfalls of the evolving A.I. technology, according to the Washington Post.

Regulating A.I. has been a hot topic in Washington D.C. lately, according to the New York Times. The U.S. at the beginning of what could be "a long and difficult path" toward A.I. rules and policy, the Times reported.

Lee sees dangers in A.I. now and said it will change the employment landscape in the future.

Currently, the U.S. faces dangers of "privacy, security and protection against fraud," with A.I., Lee said.

However, "there's so much more potential for it to be used in dangerous ways," she said. "And so I think that that's important. For instance, one way is for someone to imitate someone's voice, to call up and get personal information from someone.

"You know, you're thinking it's a trusted friend or whatever, and you're giving away personal information. That, then, is used to steal from you," she said.

It also poses a threat in politics, she said.

"There's many different ways that it could be used, even in political advertising, where you can use A.I. to create a video that no one knows whether or not it's real or fake," she said.

Part of protections for videos and political ads could include watermarking, which protects images and visual files with a superimposed logo or other marks to help prevent them from being used without the owner's permission.

"That's one of the issues," she said. "We don't have legislation yet, but that's certainly one of the areas that we're looking at."

A.I. and the future of employment is a major concern, Lee said.

"The other issue is the jobs of tomorrow, what A.I. is going to do," she said. "It's going to make us more productive because you can basically use a computer and quantum computing to generate output that would take a human hours and hours to do.

"What's that going to do to our workforce?" she asked. "But more importantly, how are we going to prepare our workforce and the education of our workforce?

A.I. may force the nation's employment system to reconsider the 40-hour work week and the five-days-a-week work schedule.

"We're going to see a change in the way work is done," Lee said. "You're going to lose some jobs, but you're going to create some jobs, too.

"And what are the skills that people are going to need for these new types of jobs?" Lee asked. "And then, what does it mean for our work, our workplace, if you can do in 50 hours, would normally took you 80 hours to do?"

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: One of Lee's key concerns as a Nevada congresswoman is violence against women.

Last month, she secured $2 million grant for the Nevada Attorney General's office to combat the issue.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Nevada ranks No. 4 in the nation in violence against women, with 44 percent of Nevada women saying they've endured physical, intimate-partner violence.

"This money will go to help law enforcement, our prosecutors and non-profit organizations who help to deal with these victims of intimate partner violence," Lee said about the $2 million grant.

"As you may know, this is an issue that isn't just like a normal crime," Lee continued. " I mean, many of these victims have to go report. They have to then pursue prosecution. There's a lot of emotional trauma involved with it and manipulation by the perpetrator."