Committee Nears Vote on Immigration 05/20 07:19
The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming this week to pass a landmark
immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions,
setting up a high-stakes debate on the Senate floor.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming this week to
pass a landmark immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to
millions, setting up a high-stakes debate on the Senate floor.
First, the committee must resolve a few remaining disputes.
One involves amendments over high-skilled immigrant visas sought by the
high-tech industry but opposed by labor unions. The bill as written increases
the availability of these visas, but includes restrictions aimed at ensuring
U.S. workers get the first crack at jobs. Silicon Valley companies view some of
the restrictions as too onerous and are lobbying to soften them.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, seen as a swing vote on the committee, is on the
side of the high-tech industry, while Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is championing
the labor position. Lawmakers and lobbyists have been trying to find a
compromise that could win Hatch's support for the overall bill without
alienating Durbin, one of its authors.
There's also a disagreement over whether gay Americans should be given the
right to sponsor their foreign-born spouses for green cards like straight
Americans can. Gay rights groups are pressuring Judiciary Chairman Patrick
Leahy, D-Vt., to offer an amendment allowing this, but Republican authors of
the immigration bill insist that they'll abandon their support for their
legislation if such a measure is included.
Both disputes were put off until last week as lawmakers negotiated behind
the scenes and weighed their options. The three public work sessions the
Judiciary Committee held over the last two weeks featured little suspense, as
committee members waded through some of the 300 amendments that were filed to
the bipartisan bill. The legislation seeks to dramatically remake the U.S.
immigration system and allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled
workers into the country.
Committee members accepted a number of Republican-sought changes to the
bill, including provisions tightening up border security. But majority
Democrats and the two Republican committee members who helped write the
legislation --- Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
--- fended off major changes, branded "poison pills," that could jeopardize the
delicate compromises at its core.
This week, in addition to the high-tech and gay marriage disputes,
amendments will focus on the crucial sections of the bill dealing with the
13-year path to citizenship the legislation offers the 11 million people in
this country who are here illegally.
Democrats have the votes to ensure committee passage of the legislation by
the end of the week, before Congress breaks for its Memorial Day recess. The
outcome is less certain on the Senate floor, where Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D-Nev., has promised the measure will be considered in June. Less certain still
is the outcome in the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio,
has not said publicly how or when he'll proceed with bringing immigration
legislation to a vote.