Thursday, May 24, 2007

The good, bad and ugly: Today's Senate immigration action

It's a given that no one likes the current immigration compromise moving through the Senate. So there's no need to rehash all the pro's and con's of the bill.

But since there is still a chance this thing might see the light of day and actually make it out of the Senate, it's important to try our best to influence those who are supposed to represent us to make the necessary changes to it.

In general, the debate thus far has followed a predictable path. Democrats, in concert with the labor unions and the immigrants-rights lobby, have been trying to limit guest worker programs and add more labor protections to them. They have also tried to ease the quotas and restrictions on family based immigration and family reunification.

The Republican immigration hawks are trying to stiffen penalties and limit participation in legalization programs, and the corporate wings of both parties are just trying to get the bill through with as few changes as possible.

Yesterday we had one major change to the bill when the total number of Y-visas guest workers was cut in half. There were also a few important modifications made by both side of the aisle.

  • Senator Bingaman (D-NM) entered an amendment to cut the number of Y-visa guest workers from 400k to 200K – despite opposition from Kennedy (D-MA) and Martinez (R-FA) - the amendment passed - 74-24.

  • Senator Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment that attempts to improve the way the federal government treats those unaccompanied alien children in its custody who have no other family members in this country - amendment was agreed to by voice vote.

  • Senator Graham (R-SC) introduced an amendment calling for mandatory minimum penalties for those who have been removed from the country and attempt to reenter unlawfully. The amendment calls for a minimum mandatory jail sentence of 60 days for anyone previously removed and who attempt an unlawful reentry or is found to be present unlawfully in this country. It also calls for jail sentences ranging from a minimum of one year to a maximum of 20 years for those who attempt to reenter unlawfully after having been convicted, prior to removal, of 3 misdemeanors or 1 felony. - amendment was accepted by unanimous consent.

  • Senator Gregg (R-NH) introduced an amendment to provide additional resources aimed at shoring up the southwest border, above what is already called for in the underlying bill. Specifically, the amendment calls for an additional 375 miles of real and virtual fencing along the border, additional CBP agents, and detention beds above what is already called for in the underlying bill It also requires certification that the requirements have been satisfied before implementation of certain other provisions in the larger bill can be triggered , including the new worker program. Finally, that the Secretary of DHS certify in writing that they have achieved and demonstrated operational control over 100% of the U.S.-Mexico land border. - amendment was accepted by voice

That brings us to today's action:


Menendez/Hagel Amendment - amendment to restore the ability of over 800,000 U.S. citizens to be reunited with close family members. Without this bipartisan amendment, they would lose their place in the legal immigration line and get shifted into the untested and unpredictable Point System for visa allocation. Reducing opportunities for citizens who have waited to be reunited with close family members should not be part of the overall compromise. This amendment limits the damage to families and should be the first amendment to be debated and voted upon today.

Clinton/Hagel Amendment – this amendment would treat spouses and minor children of permanent residents as 'immediate relatives' for immigration category purposes. If adopted, the amendment would mean that spouses and minor children would no longer have to endure up to five years of waiting for their visas.

Menendez/Obama Amendments - offer two amendments that would reduce the negative impact on family reunification that would be created by the new Point System. (1)would end the Point System after 5 years unless Congress studies and extends it and (2) give family members a better chance of emerging from the Point System with enough points to qualify for a visa

Dodd/Hatch Amendment - This bipartisan amendment would undo damage in the compromise that makes it more difficult for the parents of U.S. citizens to obtain a visa. The compromise would place a limit on the number of visas for parents at roughly half the current usage. The amendment retains the limitation but raises it to 90,000 visas per year or roughly the current usage.

Sanders (I-V) Amendment(#1223) an amendment to significantly increase employer fees on H-1B Visas and use the resulting resources for scholarships in math, science, engineering and nursing education. The scholarship program would award merit-based scholarships of up to $15,000 per year for students to pursue associate, undergraduate or graduate level degrees in mathematics, engineering, nursing, medicine, or computer science. The scholarships would be awarded to over 65,000 American students each year and would be funded by increasing the current $1,500 employer fee per H-1B worker to $8,500 per worker.


McCaskill Amendment - . In addition to the $5,000 fine, would add various application fees and eight or more year process for eventual legal status that is already in the compromise, the potential McCaskill Amendment would force individuals seeking legal status to admit to the misdemeanor of entering the United States without authorization and to perform hundreds of hours of 'community service.'


Cornyn (R-TX) Amendment - Expanding Restrictions on Immigration Benefits and Due Process (#1184)
The amendment severely limits who would be eligible for legalization programs. Makes anyone who is inadmissible under 212(a) ineligible for the legalization program. This is virtually the entire undocumented population. Also makes ineligible anyone unlawfully present for one year or more and subsequently reentered. Significantly expands class of “Aggravated Felony” crimes and makes them retroactive. Gives the AG unreviewable discretion to use secret evidence to determine if an alien is ‘described in’ the national security exclusions within immigration law. Adds new grounds of deportability for convictions relating to social security account numbers or social security cards and convictions relating to identity fraud

Coleman (R-MN) Amendment– (#1158) - an amendment to outlaw state and local policies that prevent their employees—including police and health and safety workers—from inquiring about the immigration status of those they serve if there is “probable cause” to believe the individual being questioned is undocumented. Essentially outlaws "sanctuary" legalization or policies by municipalities and states. There is no exception where such policies are necessary to protect the health and safety or promote the welfare of the community

There are probably a few I've missed as these amendments are coming out fast and furious.

Please take the time to call your Senators to let them know what you think of these various amendments.

If we are to end up with this legislation passing, we need to do all we can to make sure it's at least better than what we started with at the beginning of the process. It will be a long summer of immigration debate so get ready to start participating ....or you've got no one to blame but yourself if when it's all over and you don't like what we end up with.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be directly connected to your Senators’ offices. OR Call your senators using this toll-free number: 1-800-417-7666

[UPDATE]: 6:00 PM EST - Coleman Amendment defeated by one vote. - Sanders Amendment passes 59-35

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