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Senate immigration amendments and a House deal 'in principle' — what now?

LA Immigration March - 10

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has been debating amendments to a massive immigration reform bill since May 9, so far focusing on border security and non-immigrant visas. A debate over immigrant visas and other provisions affecting families is yet to come.

It's been more than a week since the Senate Judiciary Committee began digging into the 844-page immigration reform bill, and the end isn't in sight yet. 

Since Thursday of last week, Senate committee members have been voting on amendments, starting with border security. This week they addressed non-immigrant visas, most visibly those for high-skilled foreign workers, but also for investors, lower-skilled workers and students. 

The spotlight on the workplace also included E-Verify, an online database used by employers to confirm work authorization, which the Senate bill seeks to make mandatory. The committee's work is expected to continue next week when it takes up agricultural guest workers.

As for some of the bill's more emotional components — immigrant visas for family members (including for same-sex couples), detention, and the logistics of a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants — debate on those is to come. 

On Thursday, a House group announced it's reached a deal "in principle" on immigration reform and that a comprehensive bill is expected next month, though all this means so far is there's been an agreement to file bipartisan legislation. Meanwhile, individual House members are still pursuing their own immigration agendas.

All of which makes this a good time to take in where the immigration debate has gone since the Senate negotiations started last week — and where it's headed next. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee website has an updated list of all the amendments considered so far and where they've landed. There are also some detailed explanations of what's been on the table and what's on its way, including:

  • The Washington Post's Wonkblog, which has compiled brief explanations of 48 amendments (out of roughly 300) that have been approved so far, and what they would accomplish. Here's a notable one from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that makes a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants further dependent on border security goals: 

Securing the whole border (voice vote)

Another Grassley amendment strikes all references to “high risk” sections of the border. The bill as written would allow the path-to-citizenship section of the bill take effect when 90 percent of crossers at the high-risk sections of the Mexican border are being captured. This amendment changes that to requiring that 90 percent of crossers on all of the Mexican border be captured before the path-to-citizenship section takes effect. This amendment was opposed by pro-immigrant group America’s Voice as well as the ACLU.

  • The immigrant advocacy group America's Voice has put together descriptions of several amendments still to be debated on its site, chiefly those that affect immigrant families. These include, for example, amendments proposed to the Senate bill's residency cutoff date for those who wish to legalize. (As it stands, applicants must have been in the U.S. before the end of 2011, with more recent arrivals ineligible.) Their view of these:

Senator Feinstein’s Amendment 14 would fix this problem by moving the cutoff date to the day the bill is enacted, and Senator Blumenthal’s Amendment 15, which would move the cutoff to the day the bill was introduced (April  17, 2013) would also help. On the other hand, Senator Lee’s Amendment 7 would move the cutoff date to December 31st, 2009—dumping hundreds of thousands more people into the category of “permanent undocumented.”

  • As for the House, while a bipartisan group of representatives has announced it's struck a tentative comprehensive reform deal, this doesn't mean House members are planning to abandon piecemeal plans. These so far have involved stand-alone bills addressing agricultural guest workers and E-Verify. Where might this lead? The WaPo's Plum Line blog presents a few scenarios, including one in which the House shuns the comprehensive route:

There’s the option that Republicans have talked about, which involves chopping immigration into several different bills instead of one comprehensive bill. That option which virtually guarantees that comprehensive immigration reform dies, since supporters aren’t going to be willing to pass border security or other provisions without securing a path to citizenship.

And there you have it. The Senate committee's amendment talks are set to continue Monday.

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