Last night Comprehensive Immigration Reform took a dramatic step forward when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 5 to pass the Senate Immigration bill. It now moves to the full U.S. Senate for consideration. The Senate is expected to begin debate on the bill in early June.
I watched much of the debate on-line from my office, and I was extremely impressed throughout the two-week mark-up by the Senators on the Committee, particularly Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Senators were thoughtful, well-briefed on issues, and courteous. Senator Leahy kept the discussion moving without cutting off Senators in the debate. The Committee methodically debated over 200 amendments, thoughtfully covering topics ranging from the non-controversial (requiring multiple future GAO studies to evaluate the impact of immigration reform) to the very contentious (stripping immigrants of the right to health care and other benefits). Everyone was heard, votes were taken, and the Committee moved on to debate the next amendment.
All told, the Gang of Eight’s members of the Committee (2 Republicans and 2 Democrats) held together. They worked to provide bipartisan support (or, in many of the votes, opposition) to amendments, assisting those provisions that “strengthened” the underlying bill, and defeating those provisions that would have gutted it.
The final amendment considered by the Committee brought some of the greatest drama. Chairman Leahy introduced a provision to extend full immigration benefits to same-sex couples in those states that recognize same-sex marriages. Senator Leahy was emotional in his support of the provision, announcing plainly that he intended to have it voted upon. He then opened the amendment up for debate, first to the four Gang of Eight members on the Committee, and then to others. The feedback was virtually unanimous, with Senators on both sides predicting that the bill would go down in defeat if the provision were adopted.
Again, the debate here was courteous and compelling, with Senators on both sides of the issue clearly explaining their thoughts. Senator Lindsay Graham put it something like this: “Senator Leahy, you have me on immigration reform – you don’t have me on marriage reform.” Senator Charles Schumer emphasized his support for marriage equality, but said that if the Leahy amendment became part of the bill there would be a “defeat for immigration reform and for marriage reform.”
In the end, Senator Leahy reluctantly withdrew his amendment, clearing the path for final passage. After numerous remarks applauding the Chair, the Gang of Eight, and the Committee’s process (as well as a few remarks that provided a preview of issues that will likely come up in next month’s debate by the full Senate), the Committee passed the bill with strong bipartisan support.
Immigration Reform is not only alive, but its prospect for becoming law may be stronger than ever.
Mooers Immigration has long been engaged in Comprehensive Immigration Reform, responding to Congressional inquiries on policy and law issues. We are regularly asked to assist elected officials and their staff to understand both the benefits and consequences of various proposals for reform.