CHN: The Senate Debates Immigration

On June 4, The Senate will return from the Memorial Day recess and continue debate on an immigration reform proposal that was crafted by a bipartisan group of Senators and the White House.  The proposal, which includes a route to legal status, a guest worker program, enforcement provisions, changes that undermine the family preference immigration system and a goal to reduce the backlog, was adopted as a substitute amendment to S.1348, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.  The details of the proposal are outlined in the immigration Human Needs Report article published on May 18.
Amendments Already Considered

The Senate began debate the week of May 21 and voted on just over a dozen amendments.  Some of these amendments proposed significant changes to two major components of the deal – the legalization and temporary worker program.  Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced two separate amendments affecting the temporary worker program, one that would have deleted the program from the bill and another that would have terminated the program after five years.  The first amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 31 to 65.  The second was defeated by a slim one-vote margin.

One significant change to the temporary worker program that was adopted relates to the yearly cap on the number of workers allowed to enter the United States.  Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the amendment, which lowers the number of workers who would be admitted through the program from 400,000 to 200,000.  This amendment passed by a vote of 74 to 24.

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the amendment to strike the legalization program.  This amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 29 to 66, demonstrating great support for the legalization component.

The only other amendment that was defeated was a dangerous proposal to bar localities from having policies that keep officials from inquiring about the immigration status of the people they serve.  This amendment, introduced by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), was rejected by a vote of 48 to 49.

Among the amendments the Senate considered, a handful were adopted by either voice vote or unanimous consent.  These included amendments to:

  • Provide protection to unaccompanied minor children;
  • Clarify rules that apply to non-citizens employed as dairy workers;
  • Give localities and the Department of Homeland Security greater involvement in the location of border fencing;
  • Impose mandatory minimum sentences for people who re-enter the United States after removal;
  • Require legalizing immigrants to pay back taxes; and
  • Provide more resources for border enforcement.

This last amendment, which was offered by Judd Gregg, would create more barriers for people looking to adjust their status.  By enhancing the enforcement benchmarks or “triggers” that must be met before legalizing immigrants could adjust their status or before the temporary worker program could go into affect, it essentially extends the waiting period for undocumented immigrants seeking adjustment of status.

Finally, two other successful amendments were one to exempt children of Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas and another to establish an American Competitiveness Scholarship Program for U.S.-born workers by imposing a surcharge on certain visas given to highly-skilled temporary workers.

Amendments Waiting to Be Considered

The next week of debate will be critical.  Thus far over 100 amendments have been filed.  Some are aimed to improve the bill while others are restrictive in nature.  It is still unclear how many or which of these amendments will be taken up. Advocates hope Senators will vote in favor of improvements to the bill, especially in the areas of family reunification, while at the same time rejecting restrictive amendments that attack civil liberties and create long-term consequences for both immigrants and citizens.

Some favorable amendments that have been filed include:

  • S.A. 1183 to ensure that the spouses and children of legal permanent immigrants are reclassified as immediate relatives, submitted by Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE);
  • S.A. 1194 to change the cut-off date for the family backlog reduction, introduced by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE);
  • S.A. 1202 to sunset the point system after five years, offered by Barack Obama (D-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ); and
  • S.A. 1191 to improve treatment of immigrants seeking asylum and in detention, proposed by Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).

Among the most egregious are:

  • S.A. 1170 to require individuals to present proof of citizenship to vote, submitted by Mitch McConnell (R-KY);
  • S.A. 1234 & 1235 to prohibit immigrants applying for legal status from receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit, offered by Jeff Sessions (R-AL); and
  • S.A. 1166 to bar judicial review of visa revocations, proposed by Charles Grassley (R-IA).

To track changes to S. 1348 over the course of the debate you can visit: