Senate Judiciary Committee Passed Immigration Reform Bill

(Getty Images/AFP/File, John Moore)

Washington, DC– The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill on Tuesday, sending the measure to the Senate floor for consideration and giving the bill’s backers their first major legislative victory.

Members of the Democratic-controlled panel voted 13-5 in favor of the measure. If enacted, the plan would constitute the first overhaul of the nation’s immigration policy since 1986.

“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,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), said.

Spectators cramming the committee room applauded and cheered loudly following the vote.

The panel’s 10 Democrats were joined in supporting the bill by three Republicans: Arizona’s Jeff Flake, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch. Flake and Graham are two of its four Republican authors.

Both party leaders in the Senate appeared supportive of the effort, a positive sign for backers hoping to win a solid majority in the full chamber.

“I think the ‘Gang of Eight’ has made a substantial contribution to moving the issue forward,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get a bill that we can pass here in the Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) praised the “masterful” job of Leahy in navigating roughly 300 proposed amendments and advancing the 844-page bill to the floor.

Immigration reform is a priority for both parties in Washington and so far is one example of bipartisanship this year on major legislation in a sharply divided Congress.

A key political aim involves Republicans hoping to attract more Hispanics to their side, while Democrats wishing to keep that growing voter bloc squarely in their camp.

Latinos voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama’s re-election. He congratulated the committee on its work and urged the Senate to bring the bill to the floor at its earliest possible opportunity.

“The legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee with a strong bipartisan vote is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system,” he said in a statement. “None of the Committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I, but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line.”

The measure approved by the Judiciary panel would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It aims to strengthen border security while raising the cap on visas for high skilled workers and establishing a new visa program for low skilled workers on America’s farms and elsewhere.

Proponents say the change is necessary to permanently and fairly resolve the status of undocumented residents. Critics insist the proposed change amounts to amnesty, rewarding those who chose to break the country’s immigration laws.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is leading the charge against the “Gang of Eight” proposal and is a tough critic. He has tried to derail the bill at nearly every turn, arguing that adding millions of newly legalized workers to the mix over the next few years will only hurt the most vulnerable segments of the American work force. He also has raised security and other concerns.

“This will be a hammer blow to the wages and employment opportunities of American workers—both immigrant and native born,” Sessions said in a statement after the vote.

“This bill is bad for workers, bad for taxpayers and—as immigration officers have pleaded for us to hear—a threat to public safety and the rule of law,” he said.

In a defeat for backers of expanded gay rights, the committee did not approve a pair of Leahy-sponsored amendments bolstering federal support for bi-national same-sex relationships.

Specifically, Leahy had proposed recognizing same-sex marriages in which one spouse is an American, and allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor foreign-born same-sex partners for green cards given proof of a committed relationship.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican in the “Gang of Eight,” was among those who called Leahy’s amendments a poison pill virtually certain to destroy GOP support for the measure.

Leahy’s amendments could be considered again when the bill is taken up by the full Senate. Doing so, however, would be little more than a symbolic gesture, as the proposals have virtually no chance of winning the 60 votes almost certainly needed to clear the 100-member chamber.

Earlier this month, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) noted the possibility that an upcoming ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the federal Defense of Marriage Act could render the whole issue moot.

“The DOMA ruling could change this whole debate,” Durbin said. “They could eliminate DOMA and impose obligations on our federal government (relating to) same gender marriage, and that would dramatically change what we’re trying to achieve.”

The House is working on its own version of immigration reform.


–Kristine Tungol Cabagnot welcomes your questions and comments at

CAP’s Top 10 Ways the Senate’s Immigration Reform Bill Will Fix Our Broken System

Washington, DC–For the past several months, four Senate Democrats—Chuck Schumer (NY), Dick Durbin (IL), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Michael Bennet (CO)—have worked with four Senate Republicans—John McCain (AZ), Lindsay Graham (SC), Marco Rubio (FL), and Jeff Flake (AZ)—to develop a proposal to repair our nation’s failing immigration system. The product of the bipartisan “Gang of 8” negotiations is a bill titled “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” filed in the Senate early Wednesday morning.

While it is far from perfect, this historic bipartisan compromise will go far in establishing an immigration policy worthy of our heritage and fit for the 21st century. Washington-based think-tank, Center for American Progress, has compiled the top 10 ways that the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill fixes our nation’s badly broken immigration system.

1. It restores core American values. The bill would create an immigration system that honors our history as a nation of immigrants and that renews the promise that immigrants who work hard and play by the rules can achieve their dreams in America. It would halt the more than 400,000 annual deportations that tear apart families and devastate communities. It also protects undocumented immigrants from deportation if they arrived in the United States before December 31, 2011, have been continuously present since then, and have not committed any serious crimes, and it puts them on the path to achieving full citizenship.

2. It raises the wage floor for all workers. The bill allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before December 31, 2011, to apply for status as a registered provisional immigrant, or RPI. This allows undocumented new Americans to work lawfully in the United States while they wait to be able to apply for lawful permanent residence and eventually U.S. citizenship, and it prevents unscrupulous employers from underpaying them, which drives down the wages and working conditions of all workers. The bill also contains important wage and employee protections for future immigrant workers, keeping them safe from exploitation.

3. It preserves family unity. The bill removes the limitations on the number of visas that legal permanent residents can request for their spouses and minor children, ensuring that families are not separated for years while awaiting legal status. It creates a process to aggressively clear the estimated 4.4 million-person backlogs in the family- and employment-based visa systems within the next 10 years. And it creates a new nonimmigrant visa that allows individuals to enter and work in the United States while waiting for a family visa to become available. The bill recognizes that united families have a better shot at achieving the American Dream and works to ensure families can set down roots together.

4. It promotes full American incorporation. The bill allows individuals who have been in the United States with legal status and work authorization for more than 10 years, including legalized immigrants with RPI status, to apply for a green card. This provision includes immigrants who have held temporary protected status or deferred enforcement departure—two designations for immigrants who were already living in the United States when extraordinary conditions in their country of origin prohibited them from returning home—for 10 years or longer, allowing them for the first time to achieve permanent residence and to become full and equal members of society. Further, the bill allows these long-term residents to apply for citizenship three years after securing their green cards.

5. It protects DREAMers and farmworkers. The senators’ proposal acknowledges the unique circumstances confronting individuals who were brought to the United States as children and provides them with an accelerated five-year path to earn permanent residence and citizenship, unlike the 10-year path for most unauthorized immigrants. Likewise, it recognizes the high percentage of farmworkers who are undocumented and their importance to the industry. To stabilize the agricultural industry, the bill authorizes farmworkers who continue working in agriculture to apply for permanent residence five years after the bill’s enactment.

6. It levels the playing field for all employers. The Senate’s immigration proposal mandates the use of E-Verify, the government’s electronic employment-verification system, for all employers to ensure that the workers they hire are authorized to work in the United States. This mandatory program will protect the integrity of the employment system by ensuring that employers and workers are held accountable and, paired with the legalization provisions, will make sure that no undue burdens are placed on those currently without legal status. The mandate includes a five-year phase-in period to allow small businesses more time to comply with the requirements.

7. It boosts economic growth. The bipartisan legislation enables eligible undocumented immigrants to realize their full earnings potential by providing them with a pathway to legal status and the ability to work legally, including the ability to pursue higher-paying legal jobs that match their skills. Legal status also provides an incentive for workers to further their education and training. On average, undocumented immigrants will increase their earnings by 15 percent over five years under this bill, leading to a cumulative $832 billion in economic growth and $109 billion in increased tax revenues over the next 10 years. It will also create an estimated 121,000 jobs each year, benefits that accrue to all Americans.

8. It modernizes our immigration system. The Senate’s immigration bill creates a new category of merit-based green cards for individuals who meet certain criteria—for example, education level, language skills, employment, and family connections—that are determined to be in the national interest. It expands the number of green cards for highly skilled, advanced-degree professionals, creates a new lesser-skilled visa category, and establishes a bureau tasked with analyzing economic, labor, and demographic data to help set annual limits on each type of visa.

9. It enhances national security. Differentiating between who is in our country to do us harm and who is here simply to make a better life for themselves and their families makes our nation more secure in the long run. The bill requires undocumented immigrants who arrived before December 31, 2011, to register with the Department of Homeland Security and undergo criminal and national security background checks. Individuals who have been convicted of a felony or of three or more separate misdemeanors would be ineligible to remain in the United States. Likewise, individuals who are inadmissible because of other criminal, national security, public health, or morality grounds would have to leave the country.

10. It strengthens border security. The bill sets a goal of apprehending or deterring 90 percent of attempted unlawful entries in each of the “high risk” southwestern border sectors; where more than 30,000 people were apprehended in the past fiscal year. If this effectiveness goal is not met within five years, additional funding will be authorized and a commission will be formed to issue recommendations on additional targeted measures. This smart investment in border security will go a long way in ensuring that the constantly evolving border is protected.

Notably, the bill leaves out certain groups such as LGBT partners of immigrants and eliminates programs such as the diversity visa lottery, which granted 50,000 visas per year, drawn randomly from applicants from countries with historically low numbers of immigrants. Even so, the Senate immigration bill is a thoughtful and pragmatic solution that will give approximately11.1 million people a chance to become full and equal members of society, will boost our economy, and will create a 21st century legal-immigration system that reflects our values and our economic needs. Congress should continue the Gang of 8’s bipartisan spirit and pass this bill as quickly as possible.

Source: Top 10 Ways the Senate’s Immigration Reform Bill Will Fix Our Broken System, Center for American Progress, by Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress; Ann Garcia, Policy Analyst at the Center; and Philip E. Wolgin, Senior Policy Analyst for the Immigration Policy Team at the Center.

–Kristine Tungol Cabagnot welcomes your questions and comments at

Congress to Pass DREAM Act Before Nov. Elections?

As November elections neared in 2010, the Democratic supporters of the immigration reform bill known as the Dream Act kicked into high gear, pushing it toward an eventual vote in the House and Senate that December. The bill proposed conditional legal status for qualifying young people who arrived in the U.S. under age 16, provided they go to college or join the military.

DREAM Act didn’t go anywhere in 2010, but as November nears and both major parties fight for Latino votes, expect the Democratic-backed bill to figure prominently again, along with a few stripped-down mutations as Republican lawmakers formulate alternative proposals.

Read Leslie Berestein Rojas’ analysis of the tantalizing possibilities. Is there a chance (finally) for the DREAMERs? It has been a long trek.


Credit: Video Production by Kristian Tungol at Tungol Designs.

What’s it like to Live in a Family with Mixed Immigration Status?

Are you in a family that has mixed immigration status? It’s a common situation in Southern California, but seldom mentioned outside the family. What’s it like to be part of a family where some are U.S. citizens or have legal status and others could be arrested or deported? What insecurities arise at work and school? Are there things your family can’t do that others take for granted? How does mixed immigration status change the lines of authority within a family? How do you protect one another?

Help KPCC (Southern California Public Radio, click here) understand how a mix of immigration statuses works within the same family. Responses are confidential, and seen only by journalists. Nothing published without your permission.

Employers Beware: An ICE Storm of Immigration Audits is Coming

Corporate Counsel reports that, for the second time this year, auditors at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are cracking down on employers to ensure compliance with workplace eligibility laws. The government announced last week its intention to audit the hiring records of 1,000 employers of all sizes across the country. In February, the agency made a similar announcement and investigated 1,000 employers. The latest action brings the number of I-9 audits for fiscal year 2011 up to 2,300. ICE has been looking specifically at companies that traditionally hire a large volume of undocumented workers, such as the agricultural industry, the construction industry, and the hospitality industry. Other employers likely to be audited are those whose employees are privy to sensitive government information.

Easer for Cuban Immigrants to visit Family

Washington, D.C.: Chartered flights to and from Cuba can now take off and land at eight new airports in the United States. This makes it more convenient for those who are allowed to travel to Cuba, among them immigrants who wish to visit family in Cuba. Federal authorities have cleared Baltimore-Washington, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, O’Hare in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Pittsburg, Tampa and San Juan airports for handling Cuba flights. Previously, flights to and from Cuba have only been able to take off and land at three airports in the United States; in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Several airlines, including American Airlines, operate flights for charter companies. However, there are still no commercial flights to Cuba. The main reason is that the United States still restricts travel to Cuba. Only people who have religious, academic, journalistic or cultural reasons for traveling to Cuba are allowed to go. Spokespeople for Baltimore-Washington International say they already have charter companies who want to fly from BWI, but they will probably have to wait until the end of 2011 or the begining of 2012 before the first chartered flight can leave the tarmac. According to Jonathan Dean the charter companies have to work with the U.S. and the Cuban governments in order to get the necessary authorizations in place first. Cuban authorities do issue visas to travelers as they arrive on the island. However, all travelers to Cuba should obtain the appropriate visa prior to departure, along with any authorizations that might be required by Cuban authorities. Although U.S. citizens are welcomed in Cuba, they are generally not allowed by U.S. authorities to visit Cuba, even if they travel from a third country. U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba unauthorized risk criminal prosecution as they return to the United States.

USCIS Issues Employment Authorization and Advance Parole on Single Card

Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last month that certain immigrants in the United States who are applying for permanent residency (green card) or change of status now can be issued work permit and travel authorization on one single card. Individuals who have applied for permanent residency or adjustment of status and whose cases are still pending, risk having their application denied in the case that they leave the United States without first obtaining special permission, called Advance Parole. Currently, applicants who are granted Advance Parole are issued Form I-512 paper documents. The new card will look like an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). However, additional text on the new dual-purpose card will read, “Serves as I-512 Advance Parole.” Green Card applicants may get the new card if they apply for work authorization (Form I-765) and a travel permit (Form I-131) at the same time or after they apply for permanent residency or adjustment of status. Applicants will still be able to obtain Advance Parole documents and EAD cards separately, but the new dual-purpose card will be both more secure and more durable than the old Form I-512 paper document. The new card is accepted as a list-A document by employers who are completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for new employees. Individuals carrying Form I-512, Advance Parole, are not guaranteed admission into the United States. The Card is used to request parole at the port-of-entry as the applicant returns to the United States from abroad.

Nebraska Town Jumps on Anti-immigrant Bandwagon

Josh Funk of the Associated Press reports that voters in the Nebraska city of Fremont on Monday approved a ban on hiring or renting property to undocumented immigrants.  “The measure is likely to face a long and costly court battle, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying it will try to block it before it even goes into effect.”  Fremont, a town of about 25,000 people, has experienced a growth in its Hispanic population, in no small part due to the jobs at meatpacking plants. Despite a low unemployment rate, some residents worry fear that Americans are losing jobs to undocumented immigrants.

For the full article, click here.

Third Circuit Decision has Important Implications for Foreign Spouses

The following is a guest post from Chicago lawyers, Dolan Law Offices at ImmigrationProf Blog:

Last June, Diana Ali of Los Angeles and Karsten van Sander of Great Britain and Germany got married following a two-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to Plainsboro, New Jersey and started their life together. Diana had an internship at Princeton Hospital and Karsten had a green card application pending.

However, earlier this month, three immigration officials came to the couple’s home and took Karsten away in handcuffs. He was taken to a detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey where he faced deportation without a hearing and a 10-year ban on returning to the United States because of the mistake in his green card paperwork.

Here’s the problem, as seen by immigration officials: Karsten was in the country pursuant to the visa waiver program which allowed a 90-day stay for travelers from favored nations, such as Great Britain and Germany. The 90 days may be stayed if a green card application is properly filed. However, because of a mistake in Karsten’s paperwork, the green card application was not properly filed. Thus, immigration officials took advantage of a little used provision of the visa waiver program that allows people to be deported without a hearing (except in asylum cases) if they stay more than 90 days without taking appropriate actions to extend their stay.

The immigration officials took this action against Karsten because of a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision that was issued on April 22, 2010. That decision left foreign spouses with no defense against deportation if immigration officials decided to expel them because they overstayed their 90 days allocation in the country. Thus, marriage to an American citizen is no defense against deportation in Third Circuit states, including New Jersey, or in the states covered by approximately half of the other Circuit Courts of Appeals. Because Diana and Karsten live in New Jersey, a state governed by the Third Circuit, the decision applied to them.

Since taking custody of Karsten, and being contacted by the New York Times about this case, immigration officials seem to have had a change of heart and are using their discretion to allow Karsten to try to repair his immigration case. However, other couples may not be as lucky.

Source for this post: New York Times “Strict Reading of Visa Rule Trips Up More Couples”, by Nina Bernstein, May 14, 2010.

Dolan Law Offices are lawyers in Chicago who are committed to fairness and justice for all.

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