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The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly Immigration Amendments

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Ahead of the start of the legislative markup tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee, immigration reform supporters and opponents on the Senate Judiciary Committee have filed over 300 amendments to the bipartisan reform bill.

Below is a snapshot of some of the most telling and important amendments filed.  In light of the fact that reform opponents have filed a greater volume of proposed amendments than supporters, we start with the bad and the ugly amendments before highlighting several of the best proposed changes.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The amendments are the latest evidence of what immigration reform opponents are up to – they want to slow-walk the bill in hopes of derailing it and to inject poison pill provisions to destroy the delicate balance the Senate Gang of 8 achieved in crafting their compromise legislation.  This is clear from the number and types of amendments offered.  Nevertheless, we are optimistic the bill’s core elements will be protected by pro-reform Democrats and Republicans.

The Bad & The Ugly

  • Senator Ted Cruz’s Attempt to Gut the Path to Citizenship: An amendment from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Cruz 3) would prohibit anyone who had been undocumented for any period of time ever from becoming a United States citizen in the future.  This would not only destroy the path to citizenship in the Senate bill—the popular heart of an immigration reform solution—but also turn its back on one hundred years of precedent in immigration policy.
  • Senator John Cornyn’s Stale “Border First” Excuse: An amendment from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) (Cornyn 1) seeks to further militarize the southern border; imposes unreasonable border triggers on almost every immigrant on the path to citizenship, including DREAMers; and hands Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) a federal role in immigration policy.  As the Wall Street Journal editorialized recently about the stale, “border first” talking point:  “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security.  It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”
  • Senator Mike Lee’s Chauffeur Carve-Out: An amendment from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) (Lee 14) would allow people to hire undocumented immigrants—but only to work as domestic servants, like gardeners, maids and chauffeurs (yes, a U.S. Senator in the 21st century actually proposed an amendment that makes it possible for them to keep their undocumented chauffeurs and nannies).  As Adam Serwer wrote at Mother Jones of this amendment, “Next: An amendment that would allow employers to feed said domestic workers stale cake.”
  • Senator Orrin Hatch’s Mandatory DNA Samples: An amendment filed by Senator Hatch (R-UT) (Hatch 3) would mandate that registered provisional immigrant applicants (RPI) submit DNA to the U.S. Department of Justice to compare with FBI databases.  In addition to the disturbingly intrusive nature of Senator Hatch’s amendment, an array of research has documented that immigrants have much lower rates of criminality than the population as a whole.
  • Jeff Sessions & Chuck Grassley’s Transparent Attempts to Derail Reform:  Arguably the two leading opponents to immigration reform in the Senate, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a combined 126 amendments (77 for Grassley and 49 for Sessions).  This includes 59 amendments that limit or obstruct the path to citizenship—which neither one of them support anyway.  Other ugly amendments from Sessions and Grassley include attempts to gut provisions that help families stay together and an amendment (Grassley 15) that denies immigrants in provisional legal status the right to travel abroad.

The Good

  • Senator Blumenthal’s “Little DREAMers” Proposal: An amendment from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Blumenthal 1) would allow young DREAMers who are still in school to get green cards after five years, instead of penalizing 10-year-olds for not having high-school diplomas (one of the stated provisions in the existing bill).
  • Senator Feinstein Promotes Family Unity: An amendment from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (Feinstein 14) allowing immigrants who entered the country before date of enactment to get on the path to citizenship, ensuring that more families can stay together and preventing one of the biggest mistakes of the 1986 law from repeating itself.
  • Chairman Leahy Wants Immigration Law to Treat All Families Equally: An amendment from Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (Leahy 7) would give equal treatment to all families, including same-sex couples, in the eyes of the immigration system.
  • Military DREAMers Amendment:  Senator Blumenthal also introduced an amendment (Blumenthal 12) that should have the backing of both parties, given recent rhetorical support for “military DREAMers” from Republicans otherwise opposed to immigration reform (a la Mitt Romney) – an amendment to allow DREAMers to access citizenship directly through military service.