Senate Committee Approves Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill
On May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amended S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” by a bipartisan vote of 13-5. A full Senate vote is likely in June.
The comprehensive immigration reform legislation was developed by a “Gang of Eight” bipartisan group of senators and introduced on April 17. The Gang of Eight includes Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); John McCain (R-Ariz.); Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.); Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Michael Bennet (D-Colo.); and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Numerous amendments were proposed during committee markups, and some were accepted.
Among other things, the bill would offer a pathway to legal permanent residence through “registered provisional immigrant status” for 10 years for an estimated 11 million undocumented persons who arrived in the United States before December 31, 2011; introduce a new visa for lower-skilled, nonagricultural foreign workers; and reduce the backlogs in the employment and family preferences. It also would create a startup visa for entrepreneurs. It would include an increase in visas for both high- and low-skilled workers. The limit on H-1B workers would increase from 65,000 to 110,000 annually, although companies with at least 15 percent foreign workers would have to meet certain conditions.
A move to give same-sex spouses equal rights under immigration law failed.
Kenneth Palinkas, president of a union representing 12,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration adjudications officers and staff, issued a statement on May 20, 2013, opposing the legislation. Noting that his union, the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, was not consulted when the “Gang of Eight” crafted the legislation, he charged that S. 744 “will damage public safety and national security and should be opposed by lawmakers.” Among other things, he said USCIS has been turned into an “approval machine” that “serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them,” and blamed an “onslaught of refugees” for “the strain put on our Social Security system” that is depleted “as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.” The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (NICEC), a union for ICE officers, blasted the legislation in a letter to Congress signed by Mr. Palinkas also.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials countered Mr. Palinkas’ statement, stating that many safeguards were added in recent years, such as an anti-fraud unit created in 2010, an increase in anti-fraud officers, scrutiny of employee decisions, a focus on security threats, and expansion of requirements for biometric screening. Commenting on one of the programs Mr. Palinkas criticized, deferred action for childhood arrivals, the New York Times quoted Peter Boogard, a DHS spokesperson, as noting that “[r]everting back to a system that treats violent criminals the same as children brought to this country through no fault of their own would only undermine the integrity of the immigration system and force law enforcement agencies to divert limited resources from focusing on those who pose real threats to their communities.” A New York Times editorial on May 21, 2013, called the letter to Congress “a screed, a grab bag of misdirection, scary talk and lies.” The editorial concluded, “The country is better served by the saner, more responsible law-enforcement officials, like the sheriffs, police chiefs and attorneys general who have lined up behind the bill, saying the current system undermines law enforcement by forcing the undocumented to live in anonymity and fear.”
Among other reactions, immigration activists in the Senate committee room chanted, “Yes, we can!” when the bill passed. A nonprofit association for the IT industry, CompTIA, also applauded the compromise bill. CompTIA released a statement noting that “[m]any of our membership are small and medium-sized technology firms that benefit from a strong pipeline of talent throughout the industry. … [W]e were pleased to see included in the legislation language akin to the INVEST and STEM visas. Allowing STEM advanced degree holders to remain in the U.S. with a green card gives [tech businesses] an opportunity to recruit talent that they might not otherwise have access to. Allowing foreign entrepreneurs willing to stay and invest in our country also makes sense, as more than a quarter of all technology and engineering businesses launched in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had an immigrant founder.”
- The text of the bill as introduced.
- The list of amendments and their outcome in the markups
- The NICEC letter