Let the Amendment Games Begin!

Bipartisanship was the name of the game yesterday and it was well on display during the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S. 744), In all, 32 amendments were offered from both sides of the aisle and 21 were accepted in bipartisan votes except for one. The committee’s work is far from over, however, as there are about 270 more amendments that could be offered, including a combined 126 from Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

Yesterday’s markup focused on border security and included several amendments designed to beef up enforcement mainly along our southern border. One such amendment came from Sen. Grassley and it would require the government to apply its comprehensive border strategy to the entire Southern border, not just high-risk areas. Also accepted were amendments by Senators Flake and Grassley to increase oversight of Department of Homeland Security enforcement strategies.

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Of course, there were amendments offered that would have gutted the core of the bill, including those that would have delayed or made the implementation of the legalization process impossible. These amendments, however, were soundly defeated. Among those defeated was Sen. Sessions’ (R-Ala.) plan to require the completion of a double-layered fence along the entire 700-mile southern border, even in places where it is unnecessary.  While increasing border security is certainly a fundamental principle embodied in the bill, such a fence would be ineffective and irresponsibly wasteful.

With day one over, we now prepare for Tuesday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider amendments to Title 4 which includes provisions related to employment based immigration.

While it is true that many amendments represent an earnest effort to make improvements to S.744, many still are either grossly misinformed or simply ugly, anti-immigrant amendments intended to kill the bill. Below is a preview of some of those amendments you can expect to see offered in the coming weeks.

Homeruns!

Several senators have offered amendments intended to strengthen the legislation and they really knock it out of the park.  Among them, one from Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would change the physical presence cutoff date for legalization from December 31, 2011 to the date of enactment.  Sen. Feinstein’s amendment would maximize the number of people eligible to apply for the initial step of Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status  which is a fundamental goal of reform

Senator Hirono (D-HI] has filed amendments that would maintain family unity as the cornerstone of our immigration system and promote the economic stability of immigrants and their integration into our country.

Two other amendments would also strengthen the bill as well as benefit all American workers alike. The first comes from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose amendment would protect  immigrant workers by preventing employers from using the threat of an ICE raid to deny them their rights.  The other has been filed by  Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). His bipartisan amendment would address the problem of errors in the databases used by E-Verify to check the employment authorization of workers and would protect workers wrongly identified as unauthorized to work through E-Verify.

Foul Balls!

Some amendments would only weaken the bill and diminish the positive socioeconomic impacts of immigration reform.

There are also a number of amendments filed that would seek to make the legalization process unworkable and which would restrict the number of people able to earn their citizenship.  We are also concerned about amendments that would remove confidentiality provisions. These are necessary in order to give people the confidence needed to apply for the process. We are also opposed to those amendments that  would add new barriers to eligibility beyond the ones already included in S. 744. Such amendments undermine the ultimate goal of the legislation.

Strikeouts!

Still, other amendments appear to be nothing more than ugly attempts to undermine efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, striking out all along the way.  One such amendment, comes  from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) would eliminate the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a centerpiece of the bipartisan agreement.  We have said many times before that  the Latino community and the American people will not view as legitimate any process that does not allow people to earn their citizenship. .   Several other amendments would significantly delay or impede the legalization process, and others would eliminate programs necessary to integrate new Americans into mainstream society.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to markup S.744, maintaining momentum is critical.  The goal is not just to move the bill through the committee process, but also to send a clear message to all of Congress that immigration reform cannot be delayed any longer.  As Senator Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in his opening remarks at the first day of the markup, “The system is broken and the American people have given us a mandate to fix it.”

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