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PBDA Toolkit

PBDA Toolkit

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Published by: MaverickLal on Jun 09, 2011
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A private bill is drafted on behalf of the individual seeking relief and
introduced by a Member of Congress. Typically, the attorney representing the
individual will play a large role in the drafting although the Congressperson or a
member of his or her staff may draft the bill. Hardship is the principle factor in
private immigration bills.21 The case must be extraordinary to justify an exception
to the general law.22 On the subject of private immigration bills, Peter Rodino, who
would later become chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary from 1973 to

1989, said: “A private immigration bill is an extraordinary remedy available to

assist aliens with unusual problems resulting in unusual hardship. The private
immigration bill is, in essence, an exception to the general law and should be viewed

as such and not as a method to circumvent the general law.”23

In addition to the hardship criteria, Congressional precedents act as key
player in the passage of a private bill.24 When confronted with a particular case,
Congress often looks to past decisions and actions to determine whether a bill
should be enacted into law.25 Executive Branch opposition, veto by the President, or
failure of passage in either the Senate or the House of Representatives of similar

19 Arguably the most famous and devastating abuse of private bills was the Abscam scandal of the
1970s and 1980s. The scandal involved FBI agents posing as rich Middle Eastern sheiks who offered
Members of Congress money in exchange for introducing private bills that would allow the wealthy
Middle Easterners to immigrate. The sting operation ultimately led to the conviction of one Senator,
five members of the House of Representatives, and an INS inspector, among others.
20 An Act for the Relief of Shigeru Yamada, Private Law No: 111-1 (2010); An Act for the Relief of
Hotaru Nakama Ferschke, Private Law No: 111-2 (2010).
21Bernadette Maguire, Immigration: Public Legislation and Private Bills 4 (University Press of
America, 1997).
22Id. at 5.
23 117 Cong. Rec. 10143 (1971).
24Bernadette Maguire, Immigration: Public Legislation and Private Bills 8 (University Press of
America, 1997).
25Id. at 18.


bills could suggest the potential failure of a pending private bill.26 On the other
hand, if a private bill contains facts that are similar to a past case where a private bill
had a positive outcome, success is more likely. For example, a large number of
precedent cases suggest that applicants who can show strong relationships to
United States citizen relatives may be able to achieve a favorable disposition.
Under the rules of both the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border
Security and Citizenship and the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border
Security and Claims, no private bill shall be considered or acted upon by these
Subcommittees until all avenues for administrative and judicial relief have been
exhausted.27 In most situations, this exhaustion requirement is not too difficult to
overcome, as there is often no law that applies to, or provides a remedy for, a
private bill-seeker’s extraordinary circumstances.
Once drafted, a private bill is moved through congressional procedure in the
same way as a public bill, including introduction and referral to a committee.28 Any
Member of Congress may introduce a bill at any time that Congress is in session.
The “sponsor” is the congressperson introducing the bill. Once the bill is printed in
the Congressional Record, it is assigned a legislative number. Copies of the bill are
then sent to the respective judiciary committees of each house, which have
jurisdiction over private bills.29
The House of Representatives and the Senate each have their own rules that
guide consideration of all legislation in Congress.30 The judiciary committees in
each house have jurisdiction over private bills, including those involving
immigration matters.31 However, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration,
Refugees and Border Security (hereinafter Senate Subcommittee), and the House
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and

27 Senate Subcomm. Rules, no. 3; House Subcomm. Rules, no. 3.
28 See Appendix C for flow chart on how a public bill is introduced and referred.
29Anna Gallagher, AILA’s Focus on Private Bills & Pardons in Immigration 14 (American Immigration
Lawyers Association) (2008).
30Bernadette Maguire, Immigration: Public Legislation and Private Bills 9 (University Press of
America, 1997).
31 Id.


International Law (hereinafter House Subcommittee) within their respective
judiciary committees actually initiate any action on the bill through hearings and the
preparation of background reports. The “Rules of Procedure” are adopted by the
subcommittees on immigration and then affirmed by the judiciary committees.32
From here, the rules of each house of Congress differ.

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