On May 21st, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee finished weeks of work on immigration reform by passing S. 744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill, by a bipartisan vote of 13 to 5. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered 300 amendments filed by Senators, only some of which would have improved our immigration system. For the most part, Senators stood firm against a number of detrimental proposals that, if accepted, would have taken away from the core principles of the bill. The legislation emerged with its core provisions largely intact, including new visa programs for high-tech and low-skilled workers and new investments in strengthening border control. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the four “gang of eight” Senators on the Committee, the core principles of the bill were essentially maintained.
Amendments regarding H-1B workers represented some of the most substantial changes to the bill. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), representing the bipartisan group that authored the bill, negotiated a compromise with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) to relax some restrictions on high-tech companies that seek to hire foreign engineers and computer programmers. The legislation already would raise the annual limit of H-1B visas, from 65,000 to as many as 180,000, but Sen. Hatch had lobbied to eliminate other restrictions on U.S. companies seeking to hire engineers and programmers from abroad. The compromise amendment removes the requirement that companies first offer tech jobs to Americans for all firms, except those that depend on foreigners for more than 15 percent of their workforce (H-1B dependent employers).
Attempts to introduce amendments regarding same sex marriage, however, were not successful. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) attempted to add protections for same-sex couples, but ultimately withdrew the amendment. During an emotional debate, Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said they favored Leahy’s amendment, but that they would not support it because Republican members of the bipartisan group, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said they would drop support if the provision were added to the legislation.
The Committee has completed work on the bill, and it is expected to move to floor action for further debate in early June. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to bring up the bill before the full Senate quickly. When the bill hits the floor, many Senators, those with good intentions and those with the sole purpose of stopping immigration reform altogether, will offer amendments. The next hurdle for this bill is to make it through the Senate floor debate with its core provisions intact, and with at least 70 votes.
At that point, the focus will shift to the House of Representatives to develop its own immigration reform bill. The House has already begun work on the topic and on May 22nd, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “S.744 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Lessons learned or Mistakes Repeated?”
At the end of the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “The dysfunction in our current immigration system affects all of us and it is long past time for reform. I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action.” President Obama, who has made immigration reform his top second-term priority, issued a statement praising the committee for approving a bill that is “largely consistent” with the principles he had outlined. “None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I,” Obama said, “but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line.”
The immigration attorneys at MMHPC will continue to monitor the progress of immigration reform in Congress. If you have questions about immigration reform and how it may impact your situation, please contact our attorneys.