Immigration Bill Faces First Major Test

Republicans will try to kill momentum for an immigration overhaul by drowning it in a flood of amendments

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Brian Snyder / REUTERS

Immigrants stand for the invocation during a naturalization ceremony to become new U.S. citizens at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on March 21, 2013.

The Senate’s landmark effort to overhaul U.S. immigration laws faces its first pivotal challenge beginning Thursday, when it begins to consider a raft of amendments that could threaten the fragile compromise struck by a bipartisan group of negotiators.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off what is expected to be a lengthy process of debating and amending the legislation, its members will bring competing goals to the tussle. The architects of the bill, four of whom sit on the committee, will try to shepherd the bill to the floor with its core intact, while still giving colleagues a fair shot at improving the product. In contrast, opponents of immigration reform aim to sap its momentum by slowing the process and buying time for a backlash to build.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a member of the eight-member bipartisan group which crafted the bill, said he was “guardedly optimistic” about its prospects, but warned that substantial changes could torpedo its chances. “If there are efforts made to destroy that delicate compromise,” McCain said, “then it could fall apart.”

(MORE: Four Additional Hurdles for Immigration Reform)

In their bid to sink the bill, detractors will try to drown it under a deluge of amendments. By the 5 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, the 18 members of the Judiciary Committee — 10 Democrats, 8 Republicans — had filed some 300 amendments. Some are modest tweaks designed to patch holes or tinker around the edges. Many others are less helpful.

Nearly two-thirds of the amendments were filed by Republicans. A majority of those were authored by two vocal critics: ranking member Charles Grassley of Iowa, who submitted 77 amendments, and Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who tacked on 49. Ted Cruz of Texas proposed blocking a path to citizenship for anyone who has ever been willfully in the U.S. without legal status — an amendment that would strip out the heart of the bill. Sessions wants to limit the total number of worker visas. Orrin Hatch would require immigrants to submit DNA samples to authorities. His Utah colleague Mike Lee would allow unauthorized immigrants to work only as domestic servants, in roles such as cooks, maids, butlers, babysitters, janitors or “footmen.”

Opponents like Sessions and Grassley have two strategies, says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice. The first is to slow the process to a crawl. If Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy tries to accelerate it, Republicans “will claim that Democrats are shutting down Republican votes just like Obamacare. They’ll say the process wasn’t fair, and hope a backlash from the grassroots will materialize,” Sharry says. “The second thing is to frame amendments that they hope will make the proponents of the bill look bad, and fire up talk radio.”

Grassley argues a painstaking process is necessary to ensure a good bill. “This debate should be thoughtful and thorough,” he said in a statement. “It will be arduous and it ought to be deliberate.” The full bill was filed weeks ago, but the Iowan is already griping that it should be stalled until Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano answers questions posed at a hearing that focused on the Boston Marathon bombing. “How can we markup bill Thurs wo [sic] answers,” he tweeted this week.

(MORE: Immigration Reform’s First Big Test: The Boston Bombing)

To some extent, the threat of death-by-amendment comes from the left as well as the right. Leahy has filed an amendment that would extend protections for same-sex couples by allowing gay citizens to sponsor their foreign partners or spouses for green cards. While gay-rights groups have lobbied Democrats to include same-sex marriage provisions in the bill, negotiators declined to, fearing that doing so would endanger Republican support. Each GOP author of the legislation opposes the amendment, and several have said its inclusion would kill the bill.

If Leahy offers the amendment in committee, it would likely pass, since a simple majority is all that’s required. (On the Senate floor, he would face the 60-vote threshold that has become routine thanks to the constant threat of a filibuster.) Leahy could opt not to offer an amendment that could become a poison pill, but he has argued it wouldn’t tank the bill, and “it seems like he’s committed to offering it in committee,” Sharry says. “Would it pass? It seems very likely to. The question becomes: are Republicans bluffing, or are they serious that they’ll walk?”

Leahy has given some clues about how he will sequence the committee’s work, which he hopes will wrap up by the end of the month before heading to the full Senate in June. First the committee will address the technical glitches in the legislation, followed by consideration of its “triggers” — the security standards that have to be met before immigrants can embark on the path to legal status and then citizenship. Next come amendments that focus on border security, followed by immigrant visas and enforcement. If they want to preserve the bill’s bipartisan backing and win over converts, Democrats can’t swat away all Republican amendments. Gang of Eight negotiators have said their goal is to garner 70 votes, or a majority of both parties in the upper chambers, in a show of force that would put political pressure on the Republican-controlled House.

While the blizzard of amendments could be unwieldy enough to gum up the calendar, controversial bills often draw a high volume of proposed tweaks. “It’s not unheard of,” says Sarah Binder, an expert on congressional procedure at George Washington University and the Brookings Institution. “Any major legislation like this, particularly when there are some pockets of opposition, is going to attract a lot of amendments.”

A simple majority of committee members is all that’s required to send the bill to the full Senate, which means a party line vote would be enough. Barring dramatic modifications, the bill is also likely to attract the support in committee of Arizona’s Jeff Flake and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, two Republican members of the Gang of Eight. Observers say the margin in committee is likely to be 12 to 6 or 13 to 5. And yet, if the avalanche of amendments prompts Democrats to blow through them and kindles a grassroots backlash, the bill could head to the floor bruised if not broken.

MORE: Immigration Reform: The Coming Fight Over The Low-Skilled Worker Visa

29 comments
armandocdll81
armandocdll81

That illegal aliens would only have to pay a paltry fine of approximately two-thousand dollars to legalize their status is a slap in all of our faces, especially those of us who immigrated LEGALLY.  Illegals send billions in remittances each year to their home countries and spend many thousands of dollars in order to subvert and circumvent our national sovereignty. The minimum fine per alien should be closer to ten thousand dollars - it should be non-negotiable, non-tax-deductable and non-assumable. 

Criminals have to pay for their transgressions. This bill is an outrage.  

GrayLiddell
GrayLiddell

This bill is a ruse, just like the 1986 Immigration Reform Act that allowed amnesty for 2.7 million illegal aliens and promised to enforce the border and did nothing at all, thus allowing 11 million more now. If we allow this bill to pass you will have 33 million the next time. The latest news says illegal immigration has tripled in Texas in the last m onth. Tripled! Why? Illegals hoping to clean up on the estupido generosity of the dullard TV watching American middle class.

prakash
prakash

deport all who were naturalized after 1960 if they have not paid > 100K in tax. what is this anchor baby $hit. wake up americans.

drudown
drudown

How about delineating the specific, new taxation vehicle that will independently subsidize the foreseeable entitlements is a condition precedent of ANY purported path to citizenship? Enough of this nonsensical concern for avoiding a process that is "too onerous" or "dilatory" for the people that cut in front of the tens of millions of foreign nationals trying to legally immigrate here to the United States. Let's first figure out HOW WE ARE GOING TO PAY FOR THE ENTITLEMENTS.

The last time something so monumental was proposed, we set foot in Iraq and its been a long expensive slog ever since.

"After the event, even the fool is wise." - Viscount Symonds

jmac
jmac

Mike Lee, the Tea Party darling from Utah,  "offered an amendment that would more than double the number of visas offered to low-skilled workers under the bill .. "   doubling the number from 200,000 to 400,000.

It makes my head hurt.  They want them here to do dirty work so employers won't have to pay Americans a decent wage to do the job, then they cry bloody murder that they're here and certainly don't want this slave labor to be anything but slave labor.   

You use people and it comes back to haunt you.   We might be speaking Spanish as our first language as an Hispanic president takes the oath of office.  

myacct
myacct

Fix the legal immigration process first to make it easier for deserving folks to enter the country legally. Deal with the 11 million separately.

stonejwsm
stonejwsm

I want to know if this bill includes modifying the birthright part of the 14th amendment, namely requiring that a person have at least one U.S. citizen as a parent to be born a citizen. Without this, it is a waste of time. Remove this incentive and then we will see about the rest.

Lawgiver0
Lawgiver0

Self deportation would work if gov allows all the mechanisms: amend jus soli, all European countries had it but changed, why? Their countries are small land limited, they can no longer accommodate such a policy. We must show that there is no future coming here illegally, no future for them no future for their children born here. Verification of SSN. One num per person. Any made up num goes to a general pool, all must pay but only legal ones will be able to get something back in the form of benefits.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

"(On the Senate floor, he would face the 60-vote threshold that has become routine thanks to the constant threat of a filibuster.)"

Thanks, Alex, but no need to put that key point in parentheses. Bold it; it's a main tool of the R's to defeat anything. Granted, GOP obstructionism is like the scorpion and the frog parable: it's in their nature, and of course their tea party base demands it. But after the Latino vote helped sink Romney (and the women, and the African-Americans, and...), the R's should know by now that stopping immigration reform is NOT the best strategy to retake the Senate and the White House. Of course, if they really think Rand Paul or Paul Ryan will beat Hillary, they're totally a lost cause (which we commentariat already know).

CharlesEdwardBrown
CharlesEdwardBrown

NO AMNESTY and NO LEGALIZATION of illegal aliens living in the United States. We tried Amnesty in 1986 for 3 million illegals and now we have 11 million. We were promised that this would NEVER happen again since we now had laws in place to prevent any more illegal aliens from working here. We need our Federal Government to start doing their job and enforce the law. Deport all illegal aliens, secure the border and fine anyone who hires an illegal alien. This Immigration Reform bill should make it impossible for any illegal alien to get or keep a job in the US.

bobell
bobell

The compromise bill imposes such onerous requirements, both on border security and on the individuals trying to come under its provisions, that passing it as is would be a great political triumph for the Republicans. They can tell the hispanics they've passed immigration reform while telling their base that it really doesn't change anything -- except for making it even tougher to sneak across the border.

But the likes of Grassley and Sessions seem not to have figured out what's going on. Surely there's one Republican Senator with a grain of sense who can clue them in to the scam.  Or is there?

And who are the losers?  Just about everyone.

drudown
drudown

@armandocdll81 

Concur. 

If anything, the US should be granting citizenship to 20,000,000 highly skilled workers from China, India, Russia, et al.

ReformNow
ReformNow

If the republican party blocked the emigration reform, soon the illegal emigrants will be over 100,000 million.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@drudown Won't they pay for entitlements via payroll tax, the same as everyone else? 

jason024
jason024

@jmac And people thought the Democrats loved to take away hard working American jobs and give them to illegals.....

ReformNow
ReformNow

Sound so funny to have a cure to disease coming again, but not to cure the already virus killing. If you really want to fix it, cure it and block at the same time.

myacct
myacct

@stonejwsm This proposal if entertained makes your ancestor who landed here from elsewhere the first illegal in your family. So, you and all your generations, past,  present, and future are in the same boat as the 11 million.

BTW, I am NOT one among the 11 million.

carotexas
carotexas

@deconstructiva That is why they have to pass immigration reform.  I think they are holding out as long as they can because they do not want Obama or D's to get the major credit, but to hold out until after elections might be suicide.

ReformNow
ReformNow

I would like to know how to deport 11 million people with citizen children, with one illegal has at least 3 legal adult citizen. That real impact could be 3 times. And what will happen with those dirty jobs in hands of those people, are you willing to do it. What about all vegetables and fruits produced to cheap cost. No more agricultural worker anymore. And the prices will unreachable.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@CharlesEdwardBrown They already have amnesty.  Nobody is going to deport them.  Republican's may talk big, but nobody is going to actually do it.  All the bill does is make sure they aren't here to hurt us and they are paying taxes.  

Oh, and increase border security and strengthen employment rules. 


I will admit it does make them eligible for federal benefits, but not for the next decade, and they already get some of those benefits now.

jsfox
jsfox

@CharlesEdwardBrown Charlie do you have any idea what you are talking about? And no one is talking about amnesty no matter how loudly or often you say that they are.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@CharlesEdwardBrown 

How will you "deport all illegal aliens"? Details please, otherwise you're just trolling and parroting tired GOP talking points. If I want a parrot I'll buy one (though my cat would eat it).

BobJan
BobJan

@bobell The real losers are the American people. "We've got the most expensive Congress money can buy". And, we've got the most "Worthless Congress in the History of the United States". Do not ever, never, ever again elect anyone who holds a law degree. That is the most useless degree in the whole world.

drudown
drudown

@tom.litton @drudown 

No, the payroll tax earned by the State will not even come close to covering the cumulative Educational, Health Care, Judicial, Penal and Unemployment Claims costs associated with the proposed "reform". A cursory review of the data proves that the highest earners pay the vast majority of taxes. As someone in a high bracket, I take exception to the notion MY tax dollars should be diverted to assimilate into our society, e.g., the cost of bilingual education alone is crippling CA schools...to say nothing of the self-evident fact illegal aliens clog up CA emergency rooms for "free services". It is just a fact that nobody wants to address, i.e., WHO PAYS FOR THESE SERVICES BEING PRESENTLY EXPLOITED. 

Sorry, it doesn't work that way. We aren't a revolving door with no ordered immigration policy.

jmac
jmac

@jason024 @jmac1 minute ago

@jason024 @jmac  What's even worse is there's a bi-partisan bill out to bring in even more highly skilled workers.  We don't educate our children to take the highly skilled  jobs as we  recruit from India and we don't wabt to pay our lowly workers a decent wage.   The middle class is next.  Why not hire a teacher from another country for our for-profit schools and pay them a lower wage than an America?  

It's okay by me, I'm all for multi-culturalism and don't mind if we speak Spanish.  



tom.litton
tom.litton

@jmac @jason024 You would think we would be concerned by us not graduating enough engineers.  But instead the sequester shut down NASA's outreach to get kids involved in science.  Nobody even noticed....