Senator Mark Daly Seanad Spokesperson for the Irish Overseas and Diaspora has welcomed the news that the Immigration Reform Bill may pass the US Senate Committee stage by the end of this week. This Bill is of huge importance to the 50,000 Undocumented Irish in the United States.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will almost certainly pass the sprawling immigration overhaul bill by the end of the week, setting up a floor fight for early June.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has been pushing the panel to get its work done, holding a rare Monday markup that stretched into the evening, with additional sessions scheduled each day this week until the bill is finished.
The two biggest wild cards in the final days of the markup are whether Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wins enough concessions on high-skilled visas to persuade him to vote for the bill and whether Leahy decides to offer an amendment allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for green cards. The former could boost bipartisan support but the latter could wash it away.
Observers had expected the panel to take up Hatch’s high-tech amendments on Monday, but senators were still negotiating throughout the day. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he spent the weekend in discussions with Hatch over the Utah Republican’s proposals, which would primarily ease recruitment and hiring requirements on tech firms.
Maintaining bipartisan support has been a critical goal of the Gang of Eight senators who wrote the bill — something that was apparent Monday when Leahy and other Democrats grudgingly accepted a Republican amendment spurred by the Boston Marathon bombing that would end an immigrant’s asylum or refugee status if he or she returned to the home country.
The Gang of Eight has essentially turned back all but minor changes to the measure, maintaining unity as the committee has considered more than 140 amendments.
Despite offering the first extended debate on immigration reform in years, the legislation has competed for attention against a succession of higher-profile stories — first the Boston bombings during the bill’s release, then the spate of Obama administration scandals during the markup. The upshot: a lower-key atmosphere inside the committee room than many would have predicted a few months ago.
“This markup is something we haven’t seen around here in a long time — sitting down, day after day on one of the most important issues in America,” Schumer said.
The mood could change in the coming days as the markup moves to the pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, one of the most controversial elements of the bill. Pending amendments range from making the pathway more expansive to eliminating it altogether.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to put the bill on the floor when the Senate returns in June, his spokesman said, and the desire to finish up this week before Memorial Day was apparent Monday, when the committee rushed to wrap up debate on enforcement issues and establish new requirements on seekers of asylum and refugee status.
Senators agreed to strengthen the system for tracking visa holders exiting the country — a move aimed at appeasing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a key member of the Gang of Eight who criticized the panel for rejecting a similar proposal last week.
The committee also approved a scaled-down measure from Hatch that would establish a biometric exit system at 10 airports with the highest volume of international travelers. Six years after the law goes into effect, the systems would be set up at the next 20 busiest U.S. airports.
“We’d love to move to biometric, but we’ve got to make sure it works,” Schumer said. “This is a good start.”
The Hatch proposal was less ambitious than the amendment proposed last week from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would have required implementation of the biometric system at all points of entry and exit before granting legal permanent status to undocumented immigrants. It failed amid concerns by Gang of Eight members that the requirement would cost too much money and take too long to implement.
Sessions produced what he described as a suppressed 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security concluding that a nationwide biometric system “can be done right now” and at a lower cost than some members of the Gang suggested. He linked the report to the IRS scandal in which that agency targeted conservative groups.
“[People] don’t trust the government. The IRS can’t be trusted,” Sessions said. “That’s the truth. I’m getting doggoned tired of it.”
The Boston Marathon attacks also continued to play a role in the debate, with the committee approving a proposal that targets refugees and immigrants who receive asylum status. The amendment from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another Gang of Eight member, would end an immigrant’s asylum or refugee status if he or she returned to the home country.
The family of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased suspect in the bombings, had received asylum status, but Tamerlan had returned to Dagestan, a province in southern Russia, for six months in 2012 — a time period that has been highly scrutinized by law enforcement investigating the attacks.
Graham said that it would be “very smart” for government officials to inquire as to why refugees and asylum recipients returned to their home countries, unless it was for a “good cause” reason — such as a funeral for a loved one. Under his amendment, the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security would determine what “good cause” means.
The amendment passed the committee on a voice vote, but it was clear that Democrats — including Leahy — weren’t happy.
“There is an anxiety within the community about what this means,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who also appeared uncomfortable with the proposal.
Gaby Pacheco, a well-known immigration activist, tweeted after the vote: “We are not happy.”
Another Graham amendment, which would create a government database in order to streamline information-sharing about visa overstays, also passed without objection from senators.
The committee also took up several noncontroversial amendments Monday morning that tweaked some provisions in the bill relating to refugees and asylum recipients.
One proposal split the committee down party lines: a Sessions amendment that would limit the earned income tax credit to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. That failed on an 8-10 vote.
Meanwhile on Monday, the union representing employees who would largely process immigration applications unveiled its opposition to the Senate legislation. In a statement, the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council outlined several objections to the bill. It largely argued that the Gang of Eight legislation doesn’t fix problems in the current immigration system.
“We need immigration reform that works,” said Kenneth Palinkas, the union’s president. “This legislation, sadly, will not.”