Immigration Bill Moves to Senate Floor but House Has No Bill Yet

After five long days of markup, Senate Bill 744, properly known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, was approved last May 21 by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 13-5.

There were about 300 amendments filed. Senator Grassley, a Republican, had 77 and Senator Sessions, also a Republican, had 59. In the end, a number of significant amendments were approved but the core provisions of the bill remained intact. It now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote by the entire Senate.

Among the amendments that were approved were provisions intended to keep families together such as Hirono Amendment 1 introduced by Democratic Senator of Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, to exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitation, and Hirono Amendment 23 that would require the Department of Homeland Security to take into consideration the humanitarian needs of family members during removal proceedings at the border.

Senator Hirono also succeeded in pushing amendments that would make DREAM Act students eligible for federal financial aid, protect children from trafficking, and allow applicant for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to pay application fees and penalties in installments. But her proposal to allow U.S. citizens suffering extreme hardship to petition for their adult sons and daughters or siblings was voted down.

Senator Blumenthal’s amendment to allow the naturalization of DREAMers serving in the Armed Forces was approved but his proposal to move the physical presence requirement for RPI eligibility from December 31, 2011 to April 17, 2013 was withdrawn.

As to employment-based immigration, the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment of the W visa program allowing the foreign workers to change employers without losing their immigration status. Moreover, the annual number of H-1B visa was increased from 110,000 in the original bill to 115,000. The amendment further adopts a new formula that will allow a quota increase of 5,000 to 20,000 within a fiscal year. This will depend on the demand and unemployment rate for managerial, professional and related occupations.

The final bill also clarifies that I-140 or employment-based immigrant petitions would remain valid so long as the beneficiary has a new job in the same or similar classification. The amendment adopted also allows adjustment applications to be filed concurrently with immigrant petitions even if the visa number is not yet available for a supplemental fee of $500.

The bill will still be subject to deliberation and amendments in the Senate floor. The Senate will need 60 votes to successfully move the bill to the House of Representatives. No bill has been introduced in the House yet but once a House bill is passed, the Senate bill will be reconciled with the House version. A group of bipartisan members in the House are expected to release their own version of the bill in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, some 150 conservative leaders have sent an open letter to members of the Senate urging them to vote against the bill. They are now campaigning to get support from the public particularly harping on the proposed pathway to citizenship as “immediate amnesty” which only rewards lawbreakers.

Also, a group of conservatives in the House who are not in favor of the comprehensive approach are already introducing individual bills dealing with specific aspects of immigration. Many consider the comprehensive immigration bill as the only way that the proposed pathway to citizenship for the undocumented can pass. The “piecemeal approach” employed by the conservatives is seen not as a means to subvert immigration reform but as a means to kill the proposed pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.