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Senate Immigration Bill – Path to Citizenship Remains Intact as Markup Reaches Home Stretch

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Having worked through a majority of its amendments, the Senate Judiciary Committee is in the final stages of marking up the bipartisan immigration reform bill.  According to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who led the process thoughtfully and fairly, the markup is likely to finish today.

The biggest takeaway?  Although some call the path to citizenship the most controversial element in the bill, we know citizenship is actually a consensus issue that is the heart of immigration reform.  It turns out that a majority of Senate Judiciary Committee members agree.  Despite the best efforts of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT), the path to citizenship included in the “Gang of 8” bill has not only survived, it has thrived.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “The Gang of 8 found the sweet spot, crafting legislation that combines very tough enforcement with an achievable path to citizenship with legal immigration reforms.  The bill has withstood attacks and will emerge from committee stronger than when it went in. We’re on our way to a modern immigration system that works.”

Below are key takeaways from the markup process.  For a full explanation and description of the amendments and their implications, visit the amendments section of the America’s Voice website.

  • Throughout the amendment process, the path to citizenship not only survived, but thrived. The Judiciary Committee rejected all major amendments designed to weaken the path to citizenship, including triggers to further delay implementation (such as Grassley1, Grassley4, Cruz1); and reduce the number of people who qualify for legal status (Grassley11); or make the program simply unworkable (including but certainly not limited to Lee8, Lee10, Grassley11/17/43, Cornyn5).

Instead, the Committee added provisions to actually make the program more workable.  An amendment from Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), which is consistent with one also filed by Chairman Leahy, will allow immigrants who get on the path to citizenship to pay their fines in installments, rather than a lump sum.  And an important amendment from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will allow newly legalized immigrants who serve in the U.S. armed forces to access citizenship through the same process as any other immigrant serving in the military.

  • Other additions enhance enforcement practices, due process, and worker rights.  A number of amendments passed that will improve existing immigration law, such as Blumenthal2 (restricting use of solitary confinement) and Coons2 (limiting dangerous deportations); Franken7/Franken8/Feinstein6/Hirono22 (dealing with protections for children), Blumenthal8 (limiting enforcement actions at sensitive locations); and Coons 5/6 (providing access to records while in deportation proceedings/detention).  Workers’ rights were also advanced through the addition of Schumer5 (W visa portability); Blumenthal4/5 (regulating foreign recruiters); Blumenthal18 (withholding of employment records); Coons1 (notifying people of E-Verify inquiries); and Franken2/4 (dealing with E-Verify and small businesses).
  • Pro-immigrant coalition lost on some amendments, but the center held on the vast majority.  Notably, many of the amendments we supported passed on voice vote, indicating that they were in fact non-controversial.  While some amendments the pro-immigrant coalition opposed ended up passing, on balance the positives far outweigh the negatives.  But some people still haven’t gotten the message.  This afternoon, Ted Cruz is expected to offer his amendment number 3, which would prohibit anyone who had been undocumented for any period of time from every becoming a United States citizen in the future.  The amendment is clearly thought of as a “message amendment” to show how tough Senator Cruz wants to be on immigrants.  But with the GOP’s political future hanging in the balance, is that really the message he wants to send?

Concluded Sharry: “The bill emerging from the Senate Judiciary Committee is an important step forward for immigration reform. It’s not a perfect bill — the enforcement is excessive and it does not include all families — but passage out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support will bring us closer to the promised land of victory.”