Federal update: Immigration debate begins

By an overwhelming vote of 82 to 15, the Senate on June 11 voted to end debate and proceed to consideration of the comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744), which was developed by the “Gang of Eight” –a group of four Democratic and four Republican Senators—and voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee following consideration of more than 200 amendments.  (The Senate approved the actual motion to proceed by a vote of 84 to 15.) 

The Senate began floor debate last week on the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) initiated by the “Gang of Eight.” The measure is expected to consume several days of Senate floor time. Senate leaders hope the chamber will approve the bill before the July 4 recess. From the debate so far, it is clear that the three major issues are border security, issues surrounding legalization of those who are undocumented, and the cost of implementing the bill as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.   

In the House, the Judiciary Committee plans to consider several small immigration bills rather than one comprehensive package. Consideration will begin this week with a bill dealing with interior enforcement of immigration laws (H.R. 2278) and a measure addressing temporary agricultural workers (H.R. 1773).  Next week, the panel will consider a high-skilled visa bill (H.R. 2131). The bill would eliminate the current diversity visa program and reallocate those green cards to individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields.  It would also increase the number of H-1B temporary visas. 

The bipartisan group of House Members working on immigration continues to insist it will release a framework for immigration reform, but the group has not yet done so.

So far, the Senate has acted on only one amendment, voting to table an amendment by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have required the Administration to certify “effective control over the entire southern border” of the U.S. for six months before any undocumented immigrants could apply for legal status.  Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has offered a more stringent amendment linking border security and legalization, but Republican supporters of the bill are working to develop an alternative proposal, reports Politico.  

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he hopes a House bill will clear the House Judiciary Committee by the end of June, reports CQ.com, and that Congress will approve a final bill by the end of the year.  National Journal says the nature of a House bill “remains a mystery,” because House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) has not yet marked up any of the immigration bills that members of his panel have introduced on a variety of issues, and the bipartisan House group that says it is developing comprehensive legislation has not yet introduced a bill. 

Source:  AAU/APLU reports