Michael Doyle, Sacramento Bee, May 9, 2011
Nayely Arreola was a high school junior when a U.S. senator first protected her from deportation. The year: 2003.
Nayely is now 25, newly married and a graduate of Fresno Pacific University. She and her family still remain protected, thanks to special bills that need not pass to exert influence.
As she has regularly since 2003, [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein in March re-introduced a so-called private bill on behalf of the Arreola family. It effectively blocks deportation, even without final approval from Congress.
Private bills, controversial in some circles, have become a part of Feinstein’s arsenal.
Feinstein this year has introduced 13 private bills to block deportations, more than any other member of Congress. Her private bills account for one-fifth of the 64 introduced in the entire House and Senate, records show.
Each bill would grant specific individuals legal U.S. residency. To balance the immigration books, each bill correspondingly reduces the number of visas available to others. All told, Feinstein’s 13 bills would grant 28 illegal immigrants U.S. residency.
Once introduced, the bills essentially freeze immigration enforcement actions. Consequently, the private bills reintroduced every Congress amount to permanent ad hoc solutions.
Even under the private bill shield, though, Nayely acknowledged anxiety. Every year, her family is reinvestigated. The future brings uncertainty.
“Not knowing what happens if Senator Feinstein is no longer in office,” Nayely said, describing her big looming concern.
Critics call the private bills a bad habit. In the past, some private bills in particular have given lawmakers a black eye.
Last year, reflecting in part the congressional discomfort, only two private bills were signed into law. One was Feinstein’s. In 2009, no private bill became law.
Private immigration bills were once common, with hundreds passing annually. The Congressional Research Service noted private bills began to decline after the 1970s following “a series of corruption scandals . . . involving payoffs for the sponsorship of private immigration laws.”
When she introduces them, Feinstein casts the private bills as justice for families filled with high achievers and hard workers.