Immigration

Immigration Reform Brightens After Senate Vote


Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, conduct a Senate Judiciary Committee markup session for the 'Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act'

Photograph by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, conduct a Senate Judiciary Committee markup session for the 'Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act'

Compared with April’s gun vote and other recent Congressional showdowns, the vote on an immigration overhaul was an almost shockingly conciliatory affair. The bill passed its first big test, getting approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of 10 Democrats and three Republicans—and in a form that was barely changed from the original bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators. There were no dramatic standoffs, no 18-hour filibusters. By and large, lawmakers came ready to compromise.

Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, gave up on his amendment that would have allowed same-sex partners of U.S. citizens to get green cards. He and the other Democrats on the committee gave emotional speeches expressing regret about the concession they were making on civil rights, but the same-sex provision was never going to be a deal-breaker if it meant the reform bill’s demise.

Republicans were able to score Silicon Valley companies 5,000 additional annual visas for high-skilled workers than were slated in the original bill and, more importantly, weakened protections for U.S. workers that big unions had fought for. With the change, proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), many companies won’t have to demonstrate to federal authorities that they had made a good-faith effort to find a U.S. worker before going out to hire a high-skilled foreigner.

In the end, the legislative process worked as it was designed: Hatch got some of what he wanted, and in exchange, he voted to send the bill to the full Senate, even though he did not say whether he would support it there. As Matthew Yglesias pointed out in Slate. “If this were the health-care bill, the way it would have played out would have been that Hatch would be unable to get 100 percent of what he wanted and then that would have become a key talking point of his over why he can’t support the law.”

Now the legislation heads to the entire Senate, where its costs will be assessed. Given both parties’ eagerness to pass some kind of reform measure, a bill similar to the Senate measure stands a decent chance of passing and being signed into law.

The House of Representatives is nowhere near as close to an agreement as the Senate is, but even there, conservative lawmakers have already reportedly conceded on their biggest sticking point: a path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million people living in the U.S. without documentation. From the looks of it, immigration reform is on its way.

Dwoskin is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow her on Twitter: @lizzadwoskin.

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