Yesterday, by a vote of 13-5, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 744, the immigration reform bill. Three Republicans (Lindsey Graham (SC), Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT)) joined all ten Democrats to vote the legislation out of committee.
The five opponents were the five Republicans who had spent the several mark-ups attempting to torpedo the legislation with odious and unworkable amendments, most of which were defeated. Yet, Senators Jeff Sessions (AL), Ted Cruz (TX), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Chuck Grassley (IA), have vowed to renew their efforts on the Senate floor, where the bill goes next.
The bill emerged after several mark-up sessions, largely intact. The bill still offers a provisional status and a path to citizenship, expedited residence and citizenship for undocumented youth, improvements in due process, increased use of E-Verify, tighter border controls, a new temporary worker visa, improved opportunities for employment-based immigration, enhanced H-1B provisions, and more liberal policy for asylum seekers.
The bill was improved by the passage of the following amendments:
- Coons 2- limits ICE’s authority to perform nighttime removals.
- Coons 5- provides immigrants with statutory right to see their “A-file” in removal proceedings
- Hirono 21- allows undocumented youth to obtain federal financial aid
- Blumenthal 2- prohibits solitary confinement of individuals in ICE detention
- Blumenthal 8- restricts ICE enforcement at schools and hospitals.
- Blumenthal 12- provides for expedited naturalization for undocumented youth in military
The bill was made worse by the following amendments:
- Grassley 44- made conviction of a third DUI an aggravated felony.
- Graham 1- allows DHS to terminate asylum of an individual who returns to country of nationality
The Committee fought off several “poison pill” amendments designed to gut the entire process or to make the immigration system more inhumane than it is today:
- Cruz 3- would have barred anyone who was ever out of status from obtaining citizenship
- Grassley 1- would have retained the one year filing deadline for asylum
- Cornyn 3- would have made people convicted of minor offenses ineligible for provisional status
- Grassley 18- would have required applicants for provisional status to disclose all previous social security numbers
- Sessions 1- would have imposed a $5000 minimum bond for release from custody
- Grassley 67- would have subjected businesses hiring H or L workers to increased audits and bureaucratic oversight
- Lee 15- would have required affirmative intent in employment discrimination based upon national origin
- Grassley 34- would have imposed 20 year sentence for document fraud convictions
- Grassley 45- would have expanded criminal penalties for illegal entry and re-entry
The strength of the bill was enhanced by the support of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. Senator Hatch has long been a champion of the H-1B program. The Committee adopted Senator Hatch’s amendments to increase the availability of H-1B visas and earned the Senator’s support in the Committee. Senator Hatch has not committed to his vote on the floor, but his support in committee, made the bill more strongly bipartisan and showed that the “Gang of 8” can pull reasonable Republicans into the bipartisan consensus that our immigration system requires serious overhaul. This compromise required some serious accommodation by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee and it is a welcome sign for our democracy that this issue did not cause the wholesale breakdown that we have come to expect. This suggests that immigration reform has become a categorical imperative for both parties.
Unfortunately, the bill that came out of committee is as defined by what it does not include by what it does include. Under pressure from the White House, Senator Leahy pulled his amendment to ensure that LGBT individuals and couples are treated equally and fairly under the immigration bill. Republicans, including members of the Gang of 8, had balked at LGBT inclusion and, as a result, the Committee gave into homophobia. We are extremely disappointed that LGBT families were thrown aside in the passage of this bill. We remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will make this a non-issue soon enough.
The bill will now head to the senate floor, where there will be more debates and amendments. Immigration reform will likely dominate the Senate for the month of June. In some good news, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has said that he has no plans to block consideration of the bill. While any single Senator can filibuster a bill, that Senator needs the support of 40 of his/her colleagues to sustain the filibuster and it is hard to imagine that succeeding without the support of the Senate leadership.
We hope for a strong show of support from the United States Senate. A bill that gathers 65+ votes will storm out of the Senate and place a lot of pressure on the House to support common sense immigration reform.