This Week in Immigration Reform: Ramping Up

The immigration reform legislation debate is ramping up with last week’s activities including hearings at the Joint Economic Committee, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

But by far, the star of the week was the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of S.744.  By Wednesday, over 300 amendments were filed. You can find the Senate Judiciary Committee’s official list of amendments and actions here. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is on the ball with the ins and outs of the legislative process—check out their compilation of each amendment’s “stated purpose” in one document.

After the flurry of amendments,  no real surprises emerged, but Sens. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley, and Ted Cruz, all Republicans, look to be the biggest kill-the-bill proponents. On the left, the most controversial amendment covers the rights of gay couples, filed by committee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) 

The first day was focused on the bill’s first title, border security. Sen. Leahy’s office offers a “recap” on the first day of markup, including details on the 22 amendments passed, six rejected, and four withdrawn. Also helpful is AILA’s detailed summary. Perhaps the most notable accepted amendment comes from Sen. Grassley and expands the border security plan from only “high-risk” sections to the entire southern border. As reported by ABC News Univision, some of the adopted provisions on border security play a political game to attract conservative support in the House, while tougher “trigger” amendments were rejected. The markup will resume Tuesday, most likely with high-skilled temporary immigration.

We still have not seen anything from the House’s “Gang of Eight,” and as reported by The Hill, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez says if they do not introduce their bill by the end of the month, they will not introduce anything. Is the glass half empty or half full?     

Off the Hill, Monday’s Heritage Foundation report, claiming legalization would cost $6.3 trillion, has been hotly contested; the pushback from the right has been loud and swift. The fallout continued after details emerged about co-author Jason Richwine’s dissertation, which claimed “the average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population,” and tied IQ to genetics and race. On Friday, Richwine resigned from Heritage. 

There was another cost-benefit analysis last week, but it hasn’t garnered the same attention as the disputed Heritage report. According to a study requested by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Social Security Administration estimated passage of immigration reform would “boost Social Security’s coffers by more than $240 billion over the coming decade and add $64 billion in new tax revenues to Medicare. It would also increase the size of the economy by a full percentage point by 2017, and increase employment.”

Tensions on temporary workers are still simmering. On Point took up the issue of H-1B workers, with a rousing debate among panelists. My colleagues Jonathan Rothwell and Neil G. Ruiz look at the misconceptions surrounding the STEM shortage and H-1B visas. On the lower-skilled side, the New York Times reported on hiring practices for farm workers that might pit native-born and foreign-born workers against each other.

At the state level, Colorado has been the site of some immigration legislation this week. The state legislature passed laws allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and in-state tuition for some undocumented college students.