Senate Judiciary Committee Reaches Agreement on Immigration Reform Bill

shutterstock_110630771After three weeks and hours of debate over five days, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” on a bipartisan 13-5 vote, with GOP Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Orrin Hatch (UT), and Jeff Flake (AZ) voting with the Democrats. Advocates in the hearing room burst into applause and cheers of “Si se puede” after the bill’s passage. During debate of the immigration reform measure, the committee considered many of the 300 amendments that were filed.

The last day’s discussions covered amendments to the legalization program in the bill, as well as changes to the H-1B visa after Hatch and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached a compromise on how to fix the high-skilled immigration program. And the senators debated amendments to include same-sex couples in the legislation and carve out more visas for family immigration—both of which were deal breakers to the Gang of Eight’s agreement on the bill.  In the end, the committee voted against Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-HI) family amendment while Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) withdrew his amendments about same-sex couples.

In total, the Senate committee heard 30 amendments on the last day and passed 15 of them, while three were withdrawn. Senators approved 92 amendments in all. Here are the ones that passed on Tuesday:

  • Hirono 20 with second degree: To require the Homeland Security secretary to collect certain information, which shall be kept confidential, from applicants for RPI status to better understand immigration trends
  • Feinstein 13 with second degree: To expand the scope of the grant program authorized under the immigration bill to include assistance for applicants for blue card status
  • Cornyn 4 with second degree: To protect the rights of crime victims
  • Flake 4: To require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct regular audits to ensure that registered provisional immigrants are not receiving Federal means-tested public benefits
  • Flake 3 with second degree: To require registered provisional immigrants to undergo national security and law enforcement background checks before such status is renewed
  • Hatch 10 with second degree: To modify the method for calculating annual H-1B visa limits
  • Whitehouse 4: To facilitate admission and naturalization of aliens who are current or potential employees of certain Federal national security facilities
  • Franken 9: To permit battered immigrants to be eligible to receive certain public and assisted housing.
  • Coons 3: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for special immigrant status for certain spouses and children of employees of the United States Government abroad killed in the line of duty
  • Cornyn 8 with second degree: To ensure that our immigration system encourages investment in communities which have made sacrifices for our men and women in uniform
  • Hirono 1: To exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas
  • Coons 9 with second degree: To modify the requirements for cancellation of removal of an alien
  • Grassley 19: To provide for programs to ensure benefits integrity
  • Hirono 11: To require the Comptroller General to conduct a study of the merit-based immigration system established under section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by section 2301 of the bill

Now that the immigration bill has cleared committee, it is important to remember that it is only the first step of a long process. Next, it heads to the Senate floor, where it is expected to come up some time after next week’s recess. While Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) did not vote for the bill in committee because he said it did not meet his standards, he added that he will support a motion to proceed on the floor.  Senator Grassley also indicated that he would continue to try to bring the bill up to his standards by proposing more amendments on the floor.  While this doesn’t guarantee that they will change their position, the spirit of bipartisanship was still alive after five intense days, and that is a promising start.

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