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This Week in Immigration Reform: SJC Sends Immigration Reform to the Floor

The border fence is seen in Mission, Texas (REUTERS/Eric Thayer).

Big news in immigration policy: Last night, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send S.744 to the Senate floor. In a 13-5 vote, Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake joined their Democratic colleagues. Much of the day was focused on contentious amendments aimed at making the pathway to citizenship impossible for undocumented immigrants. Sen. Hatch’s reworked high-skilled amendments were approved. “With a heavy heart,” Sen. Patrick Leahy withdrew one of the most controversial amendments extending immigration protections to gay couples. 

A brief recap of last week’s markup: Last Tuesday the Committee wrapped up amendments regarding border security and began discussion of temporary high-skilled workers. Notably, the Committee rejected the use of a biometric entry-exit system as a trigger for beginning the legalization process (expect Sen. Rubio to bring it up again) and approved an amendment that doubles labor certification fees, allocating them to STEM education. On Thursday the Committee addressed E-Verify.

The House’s Gang of Eight – Democrats Luis Gutierrez (IL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), John Yarmuth (KY), and Xavier Becerra (CA), and Republicans Raul Labrador (ID), John Carter (TX), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), and Sam Johnson (TX) – has come to an “agreement of principles” and will release a bill in the near future. The road was (and still is) rocky, with talks looking like they might unravel right before their self-imposed deadline of last Thursday. Rep. Carter is a vocal critic of the Senate bill and anti-immigrant rhetoric is harsh in the House, so expect this bill to be more conservative than S.744.

In the meantime, the Rep. Bob Goodlatte is not satisfied with S.744 and House Judiciary Committee is still working on its piecemeal approach to immigration reform. Over the last week it held hearings on its two bills, covering E-Verify and a temporary agricultural worker program, as well as the Senate’s bill. Next up is a bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) addressing “rules for highly skilled and educated foreign workers.”

It is well documented the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) union isn’t happy with the Schumer-McCain bill. But another agency union is joining them – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – claiming “the bill would fail to address an ‘insurmountable bureaucracy’ at the federal agency.”

How does your legacy on immigration issues affect your election prospects? It depends on who you ask, but it promises to play a role for Republicans eyeing 2016 or former U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo’s potential bid for Colorado governor. For one Republican, it was enough to change parties: the Republican National Committee’s State Director of Florida Hispanic Outreach switched his affiliation to Democrat because of the “culture of intolerance” toward immigrants.

There is a slew of government reports from the last week to check out:

  • The Congressional Budget Office released their 2013 update to “A Description of the Immigrant Population.” It includes some great top-level statistics about the foreign-born population in the United States.
  • The Congressional Research Service released a report finding “a widely touted Border Patrol initiative to send migrants back to Mexico far from the points they are caught entering the U.S. illegally has one of the worst track records at discouraging people from trying again.”
  • The Census Bureau released a report estimating “net international migration is projected to overtake natural increase as the driver of population growth in 2032.”
  • USCIS released the latest DACA applicant numbers.  As of April 30, they received 515,922 applications.

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