Great news to report today about private Bills. A private bill is one providing benefits to specified individuals (including corporate bodies). Individuals sometimes request relief through private law when administrative or legal remedies are exhausted, but Congress seems more often to view private legislation as appropriate in cases for which no other remedy is available, and when its enactment would, in a broad sense, afford equity.
From 1817 through 1971, most Congresses enacted hundreds of private laws, but since then the number has declined sharply, as Congress has expanded agency discretion to deal with many of the situations that tended to give rise to private bills. Private provisions also are occasionally included in public legislation.
The private immigration bills passed by the House on today — they had already been passed by the Senate — are the first to be approved in more than five years. The measures now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.
One bill would clear the way for the granting of legal status to the widow of a Tennessee Marine who gave birth to their son after he was killed in Iraq in 2008. Another would provide relief to a Japanese man living in California whose mother was killed in a car crash when he was a teenager and who was never legally adopted.
Congress can vote to let individual immigrants in exceptional cases live in the country legally but hasn’t done so since the 108th Congress, in 2003-04. Immigrant advocates see such bills as a last resort when other efforts to obtain a green card have failed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds off on deporting immigrants who have private bills pending in the Senate, or those whose cases have been vetted by the House immigration subcommittee and for whom an investigative report has been requested from ICE.
Shigeru Yamada came to the United States on a visa with his mother from Japan when he was 10 years old. She was killed in a car crash three years later, in 1995, and he went to live with his aunt in Chula Vista, Calif., but was never formally adopted.
He finished high school and attended community college. But Yamada, known to his friends as “Shiggy,” was arrested by U.S. immigration agents in 2004 while riding a bus to downtown San Diego.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Bob Filner introduced bills on behalf of Yamada, which prevented his deportation. On Wednesday, he planned to celebrate with friends after getting off work as a coordinator at a Lasik center, but noted that the president still must sign the bill into law.