Immigration Bill Heads to the Full Senate, 200 Amendments Later
Protections for same-sex couples are gone, but new benefits have been added to the plan hammered out by the bipartisan Gang of Eight.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a sweeping immigration reform bill on Tuesday, but only after sifting through more than 200 amendments. The bill would give the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants a 13-year pathway to citizenship, which would be the biggest change to the immigration system in years.
So, is it the same compromise that its authors, the so-called "Gang of Eight," originally hammered out? The committee made a total of 141 revisions to the bill; here's a quick look at a few of the most notable:
- No protections for same-sex couples: Democrats reluctantly let this widely discussed measure die in order to keep Republicans on board. It would have allowed a foreign-born member of a same-sex couple petition for legal residency, just as straight couples may do. Because it was withdrawn by its sponsor, committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), it's not technically a revision. "With a heavy heart, and as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added, I will withhold calling for a vote on it," Leahy said. "But I will continue to fight for equality."
- Protections to keep families together: An amendment introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) would require officials to ask immigrants in detention centers whether they are the parents or guardians of children so that the impact of their potential deportation on their families can be assessed.
- Additional benefits for DREAMers: An amendment introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) would allow immigrants who arrived before the age of 16 to join the military and subsequently apply for citizenship as an alternative to deportation. Another amendment, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would give high school grads access to financial aid (with the exception of Pell Grants).
- Limiting the use of solitary confinement: Currently, immigrants being processed through detention facilities are sometimes held in solitary confinement for weeks on end: The New York Times recently reported 35 cases of immigrants held there for more than 10 weeks. Another Blumenthal amendment would largely prohibit involuntary confinement exceeding 15 days.
- Visa allowances: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) won approval for an amendment backed by the tech industry that would allow companies to hire foreign workers with H-1B visas before first offering the jobs to qualified citizens, as it is now required, unless more than 15 percent of the current employees in a specific field within that company are already on H-1B visas.
- Safer deportations: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) authored an amendment to cut down on risky deportations. Mexican immigrants might still be dropped off in a border towns rife with kidnappings and gang violence, but Coons' revision to the immigration bill would stop the practice of nighttime deportations.
- Airport tracking system: Another amendment introduced by Hatch would set up fingerprint tracking systems in 10 major airports. Officials currently keep tabs on immigrants flying into the United States; this amendment would require immigrants to be fingerprinted upon both departure to a foreign country and arrival back in the US.
Overall, the immigration reform bill cleared the Judiciary Committee without any fundamental changes. But, in order to not upend the precarious bipartisan balance struck by the Gang of Eight, the committee rejected some more partisan amendments such as the LGBT protection measure and a border security measure from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Now it's off to the full Senate, where senators will have the chance to offer even more amendments on the floor in June before voting on the final bill.