How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The Senate, the House, and the alternatives: What's next for immigration reform

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It's been two days since the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a landmark comprehensive immigration reform bill, which cleared the committee by a 13-5 vote pretty much intact.

Meanwhile, the House is working on its own comprehensive plan, but that process hasn't gone smoothly. What happens next? The simple answer would be "we wait," but it's better to wait with details. Here are a few takes on where reform plans in Congress are headed:

House disagreements: The long-awaited House immigration reform effort hit more obstacles this week, in spite of an announcement last week that a deal had been struck in principle and a self-imposed deadline to have an agreement in place this week.

There's been partisan discord over issues like border security and the E-Verify work authorization program, but especially over health care. The biggest stumbling block: whether immigrants who obtain provisional legal status should have access to government-aided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which bars unauthorized immigrants from participating.

House members have apparently reached a truce, but it got nasty, as CNN reports:

GOP members worried state or local governments would be stuck with the costs and Democrats were concerned an undocumented worker who was seriously injured or diagnosed with cancer and couldn't pay for insurance would be deported.

Earlier on Thursday one key GOP member of the group – Rep Raul Labrador, R-Idaho – threatened to quit the group and move forward writing his own immigration bill if the group failed to reach a final deal by the end of the day.

Leaving the meeting Labrador said he was satisfied that new proposal met his test that taxpayer funds wouldn't be used, though he wouldn't provide details.

What's ahead for the Senate bill: While the Senate plan emerged from committee more or less unscathed – with a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and new rules for future immigrant and worker visas – this doesn't mean more changes aren't ahead.

One challenge is whether the bill will have enough Republican support when it hits the Senate floor in June. Expect to see more of Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio, a co-author of the bill, who will likely try to rally fellow Republicans with tweaks that address GOP concerns, like border security. From the New York Times:

Mr. Rubio has said he hopes to further strengthen border security “triggers” during the Senate floor debate in June. The current bill sets up a sequence of new border measures that must be in place before illegal immigrants can gain legal status and eventually citizenship. Under the current bill, the Department of Homeland Security is directed to produce and carry out the border security plan, with as much as $6.5 billion for technology, fencing and border agents.

An aide to Mr. Rubio said he was working to offer an amendment — either on his own, or with a fellow Republican — that would take the authority away from the department and move the responsibility to Congress.

House alternatives: If the planned House bill doesn't make it, the House could still vote on a Senate-approved bill, an approach reportedly favored by some House Democrats but which the House GOP leadership isn't embracing.

But there's more going on in the House beyond comprehensive reform talks. House Republicans have already introduced stand-alone bills. And while a piecemeal approach wouldn't bode well for comprehensive reform, more stand-alone immigration bills could be on the way. A piece in the Christian Science Monitor explains what's afoot:

This time around, the Republicans aren’t banking on a small group of negotiators being able to deliver a solution – and they certainly haven’t put all their hopes behind the small bipartisan group.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia has been steering a simultaneous process of proposing pieces of immigration legislation – discreet bills on border security, on agricultural and high-skilled workers, and on enforcing immigration laws inside the U.S. – to keep the immigration reform effort alive even if the bipartisan House group founders.

All of which leads back to "we wait."

See the amendments made to the Senate bill during committee hearings here.

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