Immigration Reform Effort Faces First Hurdles
Originally published by: National Journal — May 7, 2013
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As lawmakers submit their amendments to the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, alliances will be tested between both the members on the Judiciary Committee who crafted the bill and those who oppose it.
The amendments, due at 5 p.m. Tuesday, will ultimately number in the hundreds, though not all will get votes. Some points of contention are already emerging ahead of the mark up on the legislation, scheduled for Thursday.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah has had an informal alliance with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who also opposes the Gang of Eight bill in its current form. But the two senators are at odds over the issue of low-skilled workers who can come to the U.S.
Lee wants to increase the number of low-skilled workers that can come into the country on a newly-created “W” visa to 200,000, and eventually raise the cap to 400,000 – far more than the 20,000 that the Gang of Eight proposed at the outset. This could anger labor unions, who wanted fewer W visas than the Chamber of Commerce did, an argument that nearly sank a deal on low-skilled workers the Chamber negotiated with the AFL-CIO.
Sessions, on the other hand, is filing an amendment that seeks to cap the number of foreign workers granted admission to the U.S. and immigrants granted legal status at 30 million over a decade. The amendment would also make the visa system more merit-based.
“Thirty million, while considerably lower than what the Gang of Eight has proposed, is still an extremely high number and must be reduced further. But this amendment is a starting point in scaling back the extraordinary and unacceptable future flow in this bill. Reasonable immigration levels are also necessary to promote assimilation,” Sessions said in a statement. “There is simply no public support for a tripling of the immigration flow into this country as this legislation calls for.”
Lee's other amendments to make it easier to bring in high-skilled workers may face less resistance from his colleagues, including Hatch, who had similar goals in his amendments.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who supports the bill, has filed an amendment that would allow American citizens who are gay to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards. A separate amendment would provide equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex
couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.
Gang of Eight members Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., risk fierce backlash from gay rights groups if they don’t support the amendment, but Republicans in the Gang including Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona have warned that it could sink all of the legislation.
“If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not pass, it will not have the support, it will not have my support, and so I hope we can avoid this,” Rubio told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week.
Other amendments are less likely to break existing alliances. Among the roughly 30 amendments to the immigration reform package Lee is offering, for example, is a measure that would ramp up congressional oversight of border security.
Lee's amendment would require Congress to approve both the Department of Homeland Security plan to secure the border and DHS’ completion of the plan. Under the current Gang of Eight bill, DHS is required to submit a comprehensive border security strategy and fencing plan before illegal
immigrants can begin applying for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status. Lee’s amendment would require the plan also get congressional approval to begin that process.
Border security has been one of the main concerns about comprehensive immigration reform voiced by Republicans, who argue that the major failure of the 1986 amnesty law passed by President Reagan was that the border measures promised were never delivered. But it will be tough to win support from Democrats who are wary of giving Congress another avenue to hold up a pathway to citizenship if an immigration overhaul has already passed.
"If it’s a trigger, that will be an issue," Durbin said.
The lawmaker to watch will be Rubio, who, though not on Judiciary, is working with his. Colleagues who are. He has pledged to consider ways to strengthen border security to win over his Republican colleagues and has warned that the Gang of Eight bill in its current form cannot pass the House.
Lee’s other amendments, including a bipartisan measure, will seek to narrow some of the categories of people who are allowed to apply to stay in the U.S., such as those who have been sentenced to deportation or who have been deported but have come back to the country. He will also introduce a stricter process for determining how much illegal immigrants owe in back taxes and proving that they are currently employed.